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New prospects for Berlin buildings with dark past

The Reichstag building, new seat of Germany's parliament, is not alone in representing a democratic government's reuse of a historically tainted structure.

Sebastian Redecke, a critic for the Berlin-based architecture weekly Bauwelt, says that after World War II, both East and West Berliners demolished buildings in an attempt to erase ideologically incompatible layers of history.

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After deciding to move to Berlin, some city planners envisioned an entirely new government quarter. Their budget forced them to reconsider such sites as Hermann Gring's air-force headquarters or the Third Reich's central bank.

"It follows from very practical reasons that these buildings are used and seen as a symbol of Germany's surmounting of a very dark time," says Mr. Redecke. After all, many of these structures are solid constructions, he says, and other countries have no problems finding use for buildings from the fascist era, such as Italy's citta universitaria, or university city, in Rome.

When the Foreign Ministry comes to Berlin, part of it will be housed in a building doubly branded: During the Nazi era it was the site of the Reichsbank, where the gold of murdered Jews was stored. Later, the building was the seat of the East German Politburo, the executive committee of the Communist Party.

Likewise, the Finance Ministry will be located in the former Nazi aviation ministry; the Labor Ministry will take over the former propaganda ministry; and the Berlin branch of the Defense Ministry will move into the old war ministry, where German officers who attempted to assassinate Hitler were executed in 1945.

But when the new Jewish Museum was recently unveiled here, a furious, seemingly interminable debate arose around the planned Holocaust Memorial. In this urban landscape heavy with the past, city planners were reminded that it's still difficult to reach a public consensus on how to remember past crimes.

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