Austerity budget in Germany makes a new victim in Berlin


BERLIN (eTN) – The announcement of drastic austerity measures will affect one of Berlin’s future attractions: the reconstruction of the baroque castle in the heart of the city has been postponed by another three years. Berlin City Castle used to stand in the heart of the historical town, next to unter Den Linden until 1950 when the East Germany communist government decided to destroy it as it represented a symbol of “Germany’s imperialism.” Its reconstruction was already evocated at the end of German Democratic Republic (GDR) time and has gained pace with the reunification of Germany. GDR “Palast der Republik” replaced the castle in 1976. The building accommodated then East Germany’s parliament, as well as restaurants and stages for the public. The 30-year-old structure finally was dismantled between 2006 and 2009.

The reconstruction of the baroque castle on its previous location has been marred with polemics, as many German political groups questioned its necessity and lashed out at costs for the re-edification. Originally, the castle reconstruction has been estimated at €552 million of which €440 million would have been paid by the federal government. Only the outside facades would be reconstructed with an open possibility to reconstruct some of the former rooms at a later stage. The castle will serve as a center for culture, sciences, and research under the name “Humboldt Forum.” It will take over all collections of the current museums for ethnology and for Asian arts, which are currently located in ageing exhibition buildings in the western part of the city, in Dahlem. Humboldt University will also use parts of the structure for library and research purposes and will also show collections of ethnologic interests. The construction would be completed after three years’ work.

The decision has infuriated both Berlin Senate (city government), as well as the Association for the Reconstruction of the Castle, which already collected €18.5 million from donations for the reconstruction. Berlin Mayor Klaus Wowereit qualified the German government’s decision as short-sighted. “This is a fully symbolic austerity gesture, as it will bring no financial benefits at all,” he declared to Berlin media. The mayor estimates that the delay will indeed force the Museum for Ethnology in Dahlem to secure finances to renovate its buildings. The collection has been in Dahlem since the early seventies and has on display some 500,000 items. The Berlin Senate estimates that necessary work to renovate and maintain the structures could cost up to €300 million. The government has promised that the castle reconstruction is only delayed and not canceled. Despite a Bundestag vote in 2007 for the castle reconstruction, one inhabitant from Berlin still feels today that the reconstruction should not take place due to Germany’s financial troubles. Tourists and visitors will still have to be happy with a small-scale castle reproduction and a photo exhibition for a few more years.