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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

2 Berlin Landmarks Battle for Same Spot

BERLIN -- A panel of experts has recommended that Berlin rebuild the facade of a huge Prussian palace demolished by communists and raze the building that replaced it, where East Germany voted for reunification.

But the panel's proposals look unlikely to end a dispute about what to do with the city's abandoned central Schlossplatz that has raged since the Berlin Wall fell and which has exacerbated lingering resentment between East and West Germans.

Nor do they answer the question of how the cash-strapped capital, which is already struggling to finance other major renovations, will pay for a project that the panel estimates will cost some 770 million euros ($678 million).

Hannes Swoboda, the Austrian head of the commission tasked by the government to consider what to do with the historic square, told a news conference last week that the panel had only narrowly voted in favor of rebuilding the facade of the Prussian palace.

"This issue will remain hotly contested even when the building has been erected," he said. "This is not a general statement against new architecture. It is a statement in respect of the particular location in the center of Berlin."

Despite condemnation from leading German architects who favor a modern building, experts have suggested resurrecting the baroque facade will help attract sponsors.

The 18th-century, 600-room palace at the end of Unter den Linden Avenue, offsetting Berlin's majestic cathedral opposite, was the residence of Germany's last kaiser, Wilhelm II, until he was exiled after defeat in World War I.

The building was gutted by World War II bombs, but its facade remained standing until 1950 when East Germany's first Communist ruler, Walter Ulbricht, declared it "a decadent symbol of Prussia's militaristic past" and blew it up.

The proposal to rebuild the palace comes as Germans have been debating a controversial suggestion that the state of Prussia should be reborn if Berlin and the surrounding state of Brandenberg agree to merge after a referendum expected in 2006.

Swoboda said while the facade might recall the Prussian past, the inside should incorporate the values of the East German "People's Palace," built on part of the site in 1976.

The concrete and copper-colored mirror glass Palace of the Republic housed East Germany's rubber-stamp parliament that voted in 1990 to unify with the West, but also a concert hall, cafes and a bowling alley that were popular among East Berliners.

Swoboda's commission said the new palace would incorporate libraries, art collections, theater, film and other cultural offerings. "The tradition of a house for the people, that openness, should be reflected in the new building," he said.

Swoboda handed his report to Transport Minister Kurt Bodewig, who said the government would consider over the next year how the new building could be used and paid for, before addressing the thorny issue of its design.

Looking out onto the weed-infested square near the Berlin town hall, Berlin Mayor Klaus Wowereit said the city would work with the national government to push the project forward. "This wound must be closed," he said.