Berlin loses its symbol

Berlin's mayor said Thursday he hopes demolition will begin soon of the gutted building that once housed East Germany's parliament - a prominent structure the fate of which has divided Berliners for more than a decade.

Mayor Klaus Wowereit did not give a precise date for the start of demolition work on the Palace of the Republic, widely expected later this month, but said a consortium had already been chosen to carry out the work.

To some an eyesore, and to others a nostalgic reminder of a more predictable life in communist East Germany, the bronzed-glass palace - which also served as a concert hall, with restaurants, a disco and a bowling alley - dominates Palace Square at the end of Unter Den Linden boulevard in the heart of the revived German capital.

The building has been closed since asbestos contamination was discovered in 1990.

Germany's parliament is due to debate Jan. 13 calls for a moratorium on demolition by two opposition parties - the Greens and the Left Party, which is dominated by ex-communists.

Since its closure, the building has been at the center of a row over whether to rebuild a Prussian palace on the site that was heavily damaged during World War II and was dynamited in 1950 by East Germany's communist government.

The German parliament voted in 2003 to approve the demolition of the Palace of the Republic, and has voted in principle to rebuild three of the four facades of the former Prussian palace.

Still, it remains unclear who would fund the new building and how it would be used, the AP reports.


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