Posts Tagged ‘Palast der Republik’

Berlin’s “Citizens in Motion” memorial

Monday, October 2nd, 2017


Berlin’s impending “Citizens in Motion” – Buerger in Bewegung – memorial will commemorate the protest movement that toppled the East German communist regime and led to the reunification of Germany in 1990. In June 2017, more than a quarter of a century later, a memorial to freedom and unity received final approval by the Bundestag (lower House of the German Parliament). The monument is expected to open in 2019, the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

What the Citizens in Motion memorial will look like

Citizens in Motion will consist of a steel bowl-shaped structure, 180 feet in length and 60 feet across. Inscribed with Wir sind das Volk (We are the people) and Wir sind ein Volk (We are one people), the memorial honors the men and women who caused the Berlin Wall to fall in 1989 and led to the German reunification one year later. The structure will hold up to 1400 people. When at least 20 more people stand on one half of the structure as opposed to the other half, the bowl will gently tip to one side, similar to a teeter-totter. The visitors themselves then become an active part of the monument.


Berlin's planned "Citizens in Motion memorial to commemorate the men and women who who caused the Berlin Wall to fall in 1989 and led to the German reunification one year later. Rendering: Milla & Partner.

Berlin’s impending “Citizens in Motion” memorial, which commemorates the men and women who caused the Berlin Wall to fall in 1989 and led to the German reunification one year later. Rendering: Milla & Partner.

Concept of Citizens in Motion

Memorials are normally passive objects of contemplation. Citizens in Motion will be interactive. The monument will come to life when people gather on it. Designed by Stuttgart-based architect Johannes Milla & Partner and Berlin choreographer Sasha Waltz, Citizens in Motion is designed to illustrate how people have to act in concert to effect change.

As the East German economy crumbled and people fled to the West, the East German people began to hold gigantic, non-violent, pro-democracy demonstrations, which led to the fall of Berlin Wall and the socialist government. Then another enormous task faced the German people: Bringing together two Germanys, which, despite a common language, had experienced dramatically different political and economic realities for over 40 years. The road to a German memorial to commemorate freedom and unity was equally difficult. Everything from design, location and cost was controversial. The ensuing debates demonstrated that freedom and unity require participation and interaction.

Where will the Citizens in Motion memorial be located?

Citizens in Motion will be positioned in front of the Berliner Stadtschloss (Berlin City Palace) in the city’s historic center. The Berlin City Palace is currently undergoing reconstruction and will house the Humboldt Forum when completed. Read: Berliner Stadtschloss to Humboldt Forum The original Berliner Stadtschloss was demolished by the East German regime in 1950 to make way for the Palast der Republik (Palace of the Republic), the East German parliament. Read: The Palace of the Republic lives on In 1989, the square in front of the Palace of the Republic was a site of mass demonstrations, which contributed to the collapse of the Berlin Wall.


For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, “Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom,” click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of


Erich Mielke – Master of Fear

Monday, May 1st, 2017


Erich Mielke headed the feared East German Ministry for State Security (Ministerium fuer Staatsicherheit – MfS) for over 30 years. The agency became known as the STASI. From 1957 until shortly before the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, the Stasi was enormously powerful, making Erich Mielke the most influential man in East Germany, right behind Communist Party leader, Erich Honecker. One hundred thousand full-time agents and up to two million unofficial “citizen helpers” were under Mielke’s control. His agency stifled opposition by using assassination, kidnapping, execution, denunciation and intimidation to keep the 16.5 million East Germans in fear. In a 1993 interview, Holocaust survivor and Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal said that the Stasi was “much, much worse than the Gestapo.”

Erich Mielke, head of the Stasi from 1957 to 1989. Photo courtesy of Bundesarchiv.

Erich Mielke, head of the Stasi from 1957 to 1989. Photo courtesy of Bundesarchiv.

Erich Mielke’s Pre-Stasi Days

Erich Mielke’s parents were founding members of the Communist Party of Germany (Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands – KPD, making Erich a second-generation communist. Born into poverty in 1907 in Berlin, he joined the communist youth movement at age 15 and the KPD at age 20. During the late 1920s and early 1930s, when the Communist party and the Nazi party were frequently involved in violent armed conflicts, Mielke was member of the communist paramilitary forces.

Together with another member of the paramilitary forces, Erich Mielke shot two Berlin police captains in 1931. Their names were Paul Anlauf and Franz Lenck. Mielke escaped prosecution by fleeing to the Soviet Union. He was not tried for the murders until 1993 when incriminating papers were found in his home safe during a search. While in exile in the Soviet Union, Erich Mielke attended the Communist International’s Military-Political School and the Lenin School in Moscow.

From 1936 to 1939, Mielke served as an operative in Spain’s political police. Upon the defeat of the Spanish Republic, he fled to France, was imprisoned, but managed to escape to Belgium. His activities during World War II remain largely unknown. In 1945, at he end of the war, a law enforcement agency closely associated with the Soviet Secret Police ordered him to return to Occupied Germany. His assignment was to build up a security force in the Soviet occupation zone, which involved tracking down Nazis, anti-communists and hundreds of members of the Social Democratic Party. The number of arrests exceeded the number of available spaces in existing prisons so that eleven concentration camps were re-opened or newly established.

Erich Mielke’s Stasi Days

With the establishment of the Ministry for State Security in 1950, Mielke was appointed deputy director of the institution. In November 1957, he became the head of State Security. At that time, the Stasi had 14,000 full-time employees. By 1989 that number had increased to near 100,000. Along the way, Mielke helped Erich Honecker to topple Walter Ulbricht as the party leader.

Erich Mielke’s Final Stasi Days

On 8 October 1989, Erich Mielke and Erich Honecker ordered the Stasi to implement “Plan X,” a plan to arrest and indefinitely detain 85,939 East Germans during a state of emergency. On 13 November 1989, a few days after the opening of the wall, Erich Mielke gave a speech at the Palace of the Republic (Palast der Republik) and in which he said, “I love all – all people.” On 3 December 1989, Erich Mielke was expelled from the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (Sozialistische Einheitsparty Deutschlands – SED). Four days later he was arrested and imprisoned on remand in Hohenschoenhausen. http://www.walled-in-berlin/j-elke-ertle/berlin/hohenschoenhausen-prison-part1/ Soon thereafter he was released due to medical reason and arrested again three months later for “crimes against humanity” and “perversion of justice.” He was moved to several prisons in succession. In 1993, the by then 85-year-old Erich Mielke was sentenced to six years in prison for the murders of Captains Anlauf and Lenck in 1931. At the end of 1995, Mielke was released due to ill health. He died at the age of 93.


For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of Walled-In is my story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.

The Striking German Chancellery

Monday, July 18th, 2016


The German Chancellery in Berlin, known as the Bundeskanzleramt, is one of the largest government headquarters in the world. Occupying 129,166 square feet, it is more than twice the size of the White House in Washington. While the Chancellery’s architecture is modern, Germany’s Parliament, the Reichstag, just across the adjacent open plaza, has an “old-world” look. The Bundeskanzleramt’s simple and open design is to symbolize transparency in government.

German Chancellery in Berlin, photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2016,

German Chancellery in Berlin, photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2016,

Location and architecture of the Chancellery

The German Chancellery is located in a bend in the River Spree and consists of three connected structures. At the heart of the grouping stands a nine-story white cube. Its entrance is framed by a series of freestanding columns. Large glass facades give it an airy look. This is where official receptions and presentations are hosted. The two connecting wings house the administrative staff.

German Chancellery in the bend of the River Spree. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2016,

German Chancellery in the bend of the River Spree. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2016,

History of the German Chancellery

The German Chancellery was established in 1871 as Reichskanzlei (Imperial Chancellery) of the German Empire. The Reichskanzlei was located in the Wilhelmstrasse, just a little over a mile southeast from the current location. In 1939, construction was completed on the Neue Reichskanzlei (New Imperial Chancellery) in the Vossstrasse, also close to the current location. The New Imperial Chancellery was damaged during World War II and subsequently razed by Soviet occupation forces.

After World War II and the division of Berlin and Germany, Bonn became the seat of the West German government. In 1949, the West German Chancellery moved to Bonn. At the same time, East Germany created the Volkskammer (People’s Chamber), the East German Parliament. The Volkskammer eventually moved into the Palace of the Republic in East Berlin.

In the summer of 1999, the government of the reunited Germany returned to Berlin. Until the new German Chancellery building was completed, the Chancellor’s offices were temporarily housed in the former State Council building (Staatsratsgebaeude). In spring of 2001, the current Bundeskanzleramt opened for business.

The Chancellor’s apartment

While located in Bonn, a separate bungalow had served as the private residence for the Chancellor and family. Although an apartment for the Chancellor is located on the top floor of the central Chancellery cube, current Chancellor Angela Merkel prefers to live in her private apartment. She and her husband, Professor Joachim Sauer, reside at “Am Kupfergraben 6,” across from Museum Island in the Mitte District of Berlin. Contrary to the extensive security that surrounds top State officials in the United States, Merkel’s apartment building is watched over by just two policemen. There are no blocked streets, no police vans and no armed guards.


For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, “Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom,” click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of












Berlin’s Humboldt Box

Monday, June 27th, 2016

The Humboldt Box in Berlin is a temporary information center and exhibition space for the Humboldt Forum reconstruction project. The Forum will occupy the site of the former Berliner Stadtschloss (Berlin City Palace),, which gave way to the Palast der Republik (Palace of the Republic) in the 1970’s. Both edifices were eventually razed for various reasons.

The reconstructed City Palace – renamed Humboldt Forum – will serve as a cultural center. Its exterior will resemble the former Stadtschloss; its interior will be modern. An extension of Berlin’s State Museums and Humboldt University, the Humboldt Forum is currently under construction with an anticipated completion date of 2019. Upon completion of the Forum, the Humboldt Box will be dismantled.

Why the Humboldt Box?

The idea of the Humboldt Box is based on a similar structure that once stood at the Potsdamer Platz when that area underwent extensive construction. That structure was called the “Info Box.” Its purpose was to raise public awareness of the Potsdamer-Platz-project. The plan succeeded and the Info Box attracted close to  nine million visitors. Similarly, the Humboldt Box, which opened in 2011, now ranks among the city’s top attractions.

What is on Display in the Humboldt Box?

Spread across 32,000 feet and five floors are a number of exhibition and event spaces, a video screening area, a gift shop, a restaurant and large terraces overlooking the construction site and the central city.

On the first floor, the Stiftung Berliner Schloss-Humboldt Forum, (Foundation Berlin Palace-Humboldtforum) outlines the history of the site and the plans for its development. Also highlighted is the hi-tech construction technology used in the project. A tremendously detailed, large-scale model of “Berlin around 1900” is on display. It was created and donated by Horst Duehring.

Model of "Berlin around 1900" on display at the Humboldt Box. The model was created and donated by Horst Duehring. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, April 2016,

Model of “Berlin around 1900” on display at the Humboldt Box. The model was created and donated by Horst Duehring. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, April 2016,

On the second and third floors, the Ethnological Museum, the Museum for Asian Art and the Humboldt University outline their plans for the Forum and exhibit part of their collections.

The fourth floor is reserved for private events.

On the fifth floor visitors can relax in the restaurant while taking in the panoramic view across the construction site and Museum Island.


For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, “Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom,” click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of


The Palast der Republik lives on

Monday, June 20th, 2016

Berlin’s Palast der Republik (Palace of the Republic) and the Berliner Stadtschloss (Berlin City Palace) shared the same physical site at different points in history. Located at the Schlossplatz, across from the Berlin Cathedral and the Lustgarten, the former Stadtschloss served as royal residence during the Prussian era. In 1950, East Germany’s socialist government demolished the symbol of Prussian imperialism and constructed the Palace of the Republic on the same spot a quarter of a century later. In 2008, it too was razed. The government of the reunited Germany leveled it because the structure was contaminated with asbestos. In 2013, reconstruction of the exterior of the former Stadtschloss began. The new building is scheduled to open in 2019 as the “Humboldt Forum.”

Palast der Republic (Palace of the Republic), image by

Palast der Republik (Palace of the Republic), image by

Function of the Palast der Republik

The Palast der Republik was an East German prestige project. The contemporary structure, covered almost entirely in brown mirror-glass, was not only the seat of the former East German Parliament; it also served as a cultural center, a “Peoples House.” In addition to two large auditoriums, it housed a theatre, art galleries, restaurants, cafés, a post office, a bowling alley, a giant dance floor and a discothèque. Important events at the Palace of the Republic included party congresses of the Socialist Unity Party (SED), East Germany’s 40th anniversary state gala in 1989, which Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev attended, and concerts of famous orchestras such as the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig.

Debate over the fate of the Palast der Republik

Following the discovery after German reunification in 1990 that the building was heavily contaminated with asbestos, the Palast der Republik was slated for demolition. A fierce debate ensued. Some former East German citizens had fond memories of the building; others wanted to get rid of this symbol of the former Communist regime. The majority of East Germans agreed on one thing: They opposed tearing down the Palace of the Republic because it represented a part of East Germany’s history. Eventually, the parliament of the reunited Germany decided to demolish the building. They stated that the decision was based on cost considerations.

Reuse of components of the Palast der Republik

Between 25,000 and 35,000 tons of steel were salvaged during the demolition of the Palace of the Republic. The steel was shipped to various sites, but mainly to Dubai for the construction of the Burj Khalifai, the world’s tallest skyscraper. A small amount of steel was used to make Volkswagen engines. Granite slabs from the Palast der Republik line a skate park in Berlin-Tempelhof.


For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, “Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom,” click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of

Palace of the Republic

Thursday, March 27th, 2014

Berlin’s Palace of the Republic — Palast der Republik — was the seat of the legislature of the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) from 1976 to 1990. Constructed between 1973 and 1976, the exterior of this cubic building was defined by its distinctive bronze mirrored windows and the interior by its unique multi-purpose concept.

House of the People

When the East German government decided to build the Palace of the Republic in the 70s, the country was hurting financially and could barely afford the construction. Nonetheless, East Germany built the most modern cultural building in all of Europe at the time. One part of the building housed the People’s Chamber, the legislature of the East German government. The other served a multitude of cultural purposes as the House of the People. Here citizens could visit art galleries, a theater, a bowling alley, a post office, a discotheque and thirteen restaurants. Cultural, political, academic, and social events at the Palace of the Republic included famous concerts and events, party congresses and even the state gala on the eve of the 40th anniversary of the German Democratic Republic in October 1989, which was attended by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. It is difficult to image nowadays that ordinary people would be allowed to be entertained within meters of government being conducted. I think it would be a security agent’s worst nightmare.

Former Stadtschloss

The Palace of the Republic was not the original building on this site however. The location had once been home to the former Berlin City Palace–Berliner Stadtschloss–an edifice dating back to the Prussian-era. In 1950, the East German government demolished this heavily World War II-damaged building to make room for the Palast der Republik. But just prior to German reunification in 1990, the modern monument to the people had to be closed to the public because of asbestos contamination. By 2003, the asbestos was declared removed, but soon more was found. It was then that the German parliament voted to demolish the Palace of the Republic altogether. The action ran against the opposition of many former East Germans, and what was to be constructed in its place became the subject of many heated debates.


Eventually, the German government decided to rebuild the Prussian-era Stadtschloss, not the Palace of the Republic. Its last vestiges were removed in 2008.

Construction of a new Stadtschloss began in 2013. It will be called the Humboldtforum house the Humboldt collection and gallery of non-European art. Three facades of the new palace will be exact replicas of the Prussian-era Stadtschloss, but the interior will be a modern one. Construction is in progress and is expected be completed in 2019.


For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of






Stadtschloss Berlin Reconstruction

Thursday, July 18th, 2013

Following years of heated debates, the Stadtschloss Berlin reconstruction is ready to start. On June 12, 2013, German President Joachim Gauck laid the foundation stone for the 590 million euro project.

The Stadtschloss Berlin (Berlin City Place) was a royal and imperial palace in the city’s center. Originally built in the 15th century as a fort to guard the crossing of the River Spree, the castle stood on Fishers’ Island, now known as Museum Island. Throughout the intervening centuries its face continued to change until the famous architect Andreas Schlueter finalized its appearance in the middle of the 18th century.

Stadtschloss Berlin ca. 1920

Stadtschloss Berlin ca. 1920

The Stadtschloss Berlin served as the residence to various Electors of Brandenburg and to the Hohenzollern Kings of Prussia. Following the demise of the German Empire in 1918, the palace was turned into a museum. Badly damaged during Allied bombings in World War II, it ended up in the eastern sector of the city. In 1950, East German leaders decided to demolish rather than to repair it. More than a decade later, East Germany built a new Staatsrat building (Council of State) on part of the site and added the Palast der Republik (Palace of the Republic) in the 1970s. When the Palast der Republik, a large modern building, was found to be contaminated with asbestos shortly before German reunification in 1990, it was closed to the public. Following unification the new Federal government of the united Germany demolished the building and left the area a parkland, pending a decision on its ultimate future.

Heated debates arose. Some citizens advocated for the Stadtschloss Berlin reconstruction. Others suggested that the exterior baroque facades be rebuilt, but a modern interior added. Some advocated the retention of the Palast der Republik to preserve its historical significance. Others argued for a public park. Lobby groups formed, and finally, after two decades of passionate debates, the Stadtschloss Berlin will return to the heart of Berlin.

A key figure in the debates has been a businessman from Hamburg, Wilhelm von Boddien. He founded and heads the Association Berliner Schloss. Upon project completion in 2019 the Stadtschloss Berlin reconstruction will house a modern museum containing collections of African and other non-European art.


For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of Walled-In is my story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.