I've always been fascinated Berlin's urban wastelands, areas made empty and not yet re-filled for one reason or another. When I was a child, I used to go to a park by the canal near where I lived, which had an area of rough ground at the back of it, beyond a fence. The earth there was dry and cracked, with unfamiliar plants growing in it. To me, it was the moon: what must have been an area of ugly waste ground to an adult was a place of wonder from my child's perspective. The derelict houses further towards the canal, surrounded by their overgrown gardens, were equally fascinating. Here were places which, it seemed, humanity had forgotten; they were my little secret.

I think the same feeling, that there are secrets to be uncovered, is one of the things which draws me to Berlin, a place where history often seems to be very much on the surface, sometimes neatly preserved, sometimes left ignored and forlorn and sometimes being churned over by by diggers and bulldozers.

The Temporäre Kunsthalle

A spectre is haunting Schloßplatz - the spectre of communism. More specifically, the spectre of the Palast der Republik (palace of the republic), a building which was home to the Volkskammer, the East German legislative chamber, along with a large hall (for concerts and other events), a theatre, numerous restaurants and cafés and a bowling alley. It stood here on the Schloßplatz (best translated as palace square) - called Marx-Engels Platz in the GDR days - between 1976 and 2008, though demolition began 10 years earlier, with the removal of asbestos inside, along with all the interior fittings; its shell then stood empty until 2006, when it was finally decided to demolish it completely.

The building in the picture isn't the Palast der Republik and yet anyone not looking too closely could be forgiven for thinking it is. The building is the Temporäre Kunsthalle, best translated as temporary art gallery (though a Kunsthalle is specifically a kind of gallery that has no collection of its own, used for mounting temporary, this one's a temporary gallery for temporary exhibitions). It's been clad like the Palast der Republik by artist Bettina Pousttchi, who calls the work Echo. It highlights a feeling among some Berliners that the East German past is being swept under the carpet too quickly. After the Palast's demolition, the words "Die DDR hat's nie gegeben" (the GDR never existed) were graffitied on the remnants of its foundations facing the Spree, as if their writer felt that the demolition was an attempt to remove the GDR from history completely.

The Berliner Dom

At the moment, the area has just been grassed over. Eventually, the area will be occupied by a replica of the royal palace - the Berliner Stadtschloss - which stood here before it was demolished in 1950. The claim made at the time was that it was in too bad a state to be repaired, having been hit by bombs in World War II, but the drive by the Soviets, in whose sector it stood, to create a socialist city centre free of such symbols of Prussian militarism seems to have been the overriding factor in its demolition. Some therefore see the demolition of the Palast der Republik as history repeating itself and suspect more political motives, as the "DDR hat's nie gegeben" graffiti highlights.

More information about the Palast der Republik can be found on this website, while information about the Schloss (and the history of Schloßplatz in general) can be found in German here.

Spittelmarkt (U2)
Alexanderplatz (U2, U8)
Hackescher Markt (S3, S5, S7, S75)
Alexanderplatz (S3, S5, S7, S75)
Schloßplatz 10178 Berlin

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