Hi everyone! Welcome to the last post of my Biography of a City: Berlin series. In Blog 1, I mentioned that there was a long debate on whether or not the Palace of the Republic would be rebuilt. In Blog 2, I mentioned that asbestos was found inside the building which was problematic for those in defense of reconstruction. Once World War II came to an end, the Wall fell, and East and West Berlin unified again. The once split city had to decide how to move forward which was not always easy due to differing opinions. Today, I want to share more details about the opposing arguments in regards to the Palace of the Republic.
Those who were in favor of demolishing the Palace argued that it signified the hardships experienced during the split of East and West Berlin from 1961-1989. This group felt that due to the recent history the structure would be better to be forgotten than rebuilt, rather than dwelling on it's long history under Prussian rule. The structure is located in the former socialist Berlin and housed the German Democratic Republic Parliament. Those who lived in the East were completely cut off from the West and experienced many hardships due to strict government rule. The government controlled media and even hired people to spy on their loved ones. No one could be trusted because a lot of people gave in to the pressure of being a spy out of fear from governmental prosecution.
Those who were in favor of rebuilding the Palace of the Republic felt it was important because of it's history during Prussian rule. This group argued that regardless of what it stood for during the split of Berlin, it was a Prussian building for much longer than it was under East Berlin rule, which was a more valuable long-term memory. The Prussian monarch ruled from 1525 until the German Revolution in 1918.
The Palace was rebuilt and demolished many times for different reasons such as not enough funding, asbestos, and difference of opinion. In 2006 it was ultimately decided that the structure would be rebuilt in honor of the Prussian Stadtschloss.
I feel that it is positive that after so much back and forth on the building it was decided to be rebuilt in honor of the former monarch. Although life was hard during the separation of Berlin, it is worth noting that the Prussian rule was standing much longer than the oppressive Wall. I understand that it may not represent the same thing for everyone, but ultimately these facts are worth noting and taking into consideration.
This situation reminds me of what happened when the People's Republic of China took over rule of China. The communist party rejected traditional views which included the elaborate palaces the former empire created. The party destroyed many of the structures, but later found new value to the traditional buildings and decided to recreate modern buildings that mimicked the traditional architecture.
For today's blog post, I will be focusing on the danger of asbestos and the way it relates to the short story, The Heart of the Republic. Blog 1 introduced Fabian's father who led construction at the Palace of the Republic. Fabian shares that his father became ill after several years of construction at the former Prussian Palace. He miraculously heals from his ailments and long hospital stay, only to pass away mysteriously shortly after.
The Palace of the Republic wore several hats throughout the years and was left alone mid construction while the government and people debated over what would be the most appropriate purpose of the building after so many political transitions. Some felt it should be demolished and some felt it should be restored due to its elongated history. Those in favor of the demolition argued that asbestos was found within the building, whereas those in favor of its restoration valued the rich history the structure attained. In addition, there was some doubt that there was indeed asbestos in the building and speculation that it was an excuse to demolish the Palace of the Republic once Berlin reunified.
Asbestos is a mineral that has a long history of usage that dates back 4,000-4,500 years to ancient civilizations and was known to be fire-proof. The mineral gained popularity again during the 19th century Industrialization period in places like Canada, Italy, and Germany. It was considered a valuable material because it was multi-functional and aided in the efficiency and longevity of construction. By the early 1900's, doctors began to notice an increase of deaths related to lung disease in mining towns. By 1990, asbestos was widely known to be an unhealthy building material and was fazed out in most countries that once utilized it as a valuable tool.
Although there was some speculation that the claim of asbestos contamination within the building, to some it was of great concern because of the recent findings in the decades before. The building wound up being reconstructed and re-purposed, however at the time it was thought to be a legitimate concern by many. What are your thoughts on this German conspiracy theory?!
Inspiration for today’s post was drawn from a short story called: The Heart of the Republic by Fridolin Schley for my Biography of a City: Berlin class. Our assignment is to create a three-part blog post each with a different theme regarding one short story. In honor of my recently added Humanities section on the blog, I decided to share my project with you all!
The story begins with the main character Fabian traveling to the famous structure his father helped build, The Palace of the Republic. Once he arrives, a musical event is being held at the building, and he is able to sneak in without a ticket or repercussions. Once he enters the building, he wanders each floor while getting lost in thought viewing the art and reminiscing the memory of his father, who had passed away. He recalls his father’s stories about the structure and the turmoil he experienced at the end of his life due to extensive exposure to asbestos as a managerial architect.
For my first post, I want to provide a little background on The Palace of the Republic. The building has a rich history and has held many different purposes throughout the years due to the evolving governmental structure in Berlin. The history of this structure begins with a different name: The Berlin Palace also known as Stadtschloss under Prussian rule. The Prussian Empire ruled from 1870 until its collapse post World War I in 1918.
After World War I and World War II there was some damage done to Stadtschloss, but the public felt it could be repaired and should be restored due to its extensive history. However, when the communist regime took over East Germany, the palace was partially demolished in 1950. The new structure, The Palace of the Republic, was formed in its place during the split of East and West Germany in the 1970’s. It took a little over 2.5 years to build, 32 months to be exact, and was completed on April 23, 1976. It was a multi-functional building that housed the East Berlin Parliament in addition to an auditorium for hosting concerts, theatrical shows, and more.
In 1990 when Germany was unified again, the building was shut down due to suspected asbestos toxicity. There were many protests from those who opposed the demolition of the historical building for sentimental reasons, however the government ignored demands and began deconstruction anyway. There was a standstill for many years on deconstruction and reconstruction, but in the early 2000’s the modern German Parliament decided to refurbish the site. Construction is expected to be completed in 2019.
The short story, The Heart of the Republic, is a fictional story that follows a family whose father is affected by the asbestos after working on the building for many years. Fabian describes the deconstruction while visiting the site as an adult, “The walls for the most part had been torn down, the whole room was a fleshless skeleton, crossed by weight-bearing steel girders and metal poles… The pattern of collapsed brick walls, individual columns sticking up…” (page 174). I love the poetic description that shows the emotion behind his view of the partially demolished building. His father loved that he was partially responsible for building The Palace of the Republic and his love for the building is in turn passed down to his son Fabian. Fabian was a small child during the construction his father led, and as an adult he has new found appreciation for the site. In my next post, I will be sharing more about what asbestos is, why it is harmful, and the long-term effects of exposure.