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.