Once the "glittering center of East Berlin," the Palast der Republik, the former home of the lower house of the East German Parliament and "East Germany's greeting card" to the rest of the world, will be torn down in coming months amid extreme controversy:
Germany's lower house has approved the demolition of one of communist East Germany's ugliest, but best-loved buildings. The vote to tear down the Palace of the Republic concludes a heated debate spanning over a decade.
Last-minute efforts by two opposition parties to save the Palace of the Republic have failed. The Bundestag voted by an overwhelming majority to tear down the building, which opened in 1976 to house both the East German parliament and an entertainment complex that was unparalleled behind the Iron Curtain.
Unique among government buildings throughout the world, the bronze glass Volkspalast, constructed on the site of the German royal family's Hollenzollern palace (which was demolished by the East German government in 1952), embraced multiple dimensions of East Germany's public realm:
Many eastern Germans have fond memories of the palace, with its giant dance floor on hydraulic lifts, bowling alleys, a wine bar, a theater, cafes and an international list of concert headliners including Harry Belafonte and Carlos Santana.
Some East Germans nicknamed it Ballast der Republik ("Ballast of the Republic") or Erichs Lampenladen ("Erich's Lamp Shop", referring to East German leader Erich Honecker and the 1,001 lamps hanging in the foyer).
Since Reunification, the building's vast, crumbling interior has housed a succession of art installations, concerts, and other cultural events. Architects attempting to stave off the Palast's demolition note that its severe form might be seen as benign if it had been built in West Germany, but that its location in Berlin--and therefore its "historical complicity" with the politics of the GDR--make its preservation impossible:
According to Dagmar Richter, today’s architectural decisions are motivated first and foremost by a need actively to erase traces of East Germany. Since 1989, urban planners have been acutely aware that banishing the city’s communist legacy is a matter of both psychological and physical transformation....
“Architecture here is much more about politics than aesthetics,” she said, explaining the drab, minimalist look of many 1950s East German buildings. “That always meant architecture had less of an opportunity to be expressive than in a highly consumerist society like the US.”
Meanwhile, a chorus of urban planners and conservative politicians believe that it's time for the building to go. The current plan for the Palast site is to replace the building with a replica of the Hollenzollern palace, despite complaints that the Prussian kings were no more lovable than the Communist leadership.
The Palast manifests the 60s-era theories lately being resurrected everywhere in all of its multipurpose glory and eerily utopian mixing of functions. It all reminds me of the kind of urbanism present in Koolhaas' recent work. (Coincidentally, he likes the Palast.)
And it's only 30 years old. I wish I could find photos of the dance floor.