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Palace 2.0 mixes history, consumerism

Marketplace Staff May 8, 2008

Palace 2.0 mixes history, consumerism

Marketplace Staff May 8, 2008


KAI RYSSDAL: In a different era, today was known as VE Day. On May 8, 1945 World War II Europe was over. By the late spring of that year, scores of cultural landmarks in Germany had been destroyed, including some former royal palaces. Some of them were rebuilt quickly. Others were lost, until now.

Brett Neely reports.

BRETT NEELY: The Braunschweig palace in central Germany is an imposing building dating back to the 18th century. It’s got columns and statues of royalty on horseback, but walk inside . . .

NEELY: A grande ice cafe latte.

. . . and instead of suits of armor or priceless tapestries, there’s a Starbucks. Everything about the palace is fake. The original building was bombed out during the war. The ruins were demolished in 1960. Palace 2.0 is just a facade. It was finished last year and serves as a fancy entrance to a $300 million shopping center called the Palace Arcades. The locals like the mix of history and consumerism.

LOCAL WOMAN: I think it’s wonderful. It’s not really a new building. It’s new-old.

LOCAL MAN: At first I was against it, but now I really like sitting here.

The new palace has revitalized the center of Braunschweig, bringing new stores, new tram lines and nine million new visitors in the mall’s first year, says manager Jan Tangerding.

JAN TANGERDING: Of course there are critics who say: “Look, that big block back there is a shopping center,” but they’re relatively few and getting quieter.

The Braunschweig palace is part of a fake palace boom across Germany. A conference center planned for Hanover will look just like the Herrenhausen palace that was wiped out in 1943. In Potsdam, the state parliament just voted to move into a $200 million replica of a baroque palace. Frederick the Great stayed there sometimes. It was also destroyed in the war. Total cost, around $200 million. In Berlin, the government plans to rebuild the decimated former home of Prussia’s royal family. That tab, $700 million. Palace-building hasn’t advanced much in the past couple of hundred years. Stone masons, sculptors, 80 percent of the cost is labor, only now the workers are paid union wages. Why spend this much money to rebuild palaces that few Germans can even remember?

PETER SCHABE: It’s linked to an anxiety about globalization. People want a place to identify with, and they want to create cities that looked like they did a long time ago.

Peter Schabe works for the German Foundation for Historic Preservation. He says a lot of Germans are sick of modern architecture. These new-old buildings remind Germans of their proud past, while conveniently skipping the 20th century. This back-to-the-past movement started in Dresden, which was flattened by Allied firebombing. After Germany reunified in 1990, the city’s famed, domed Frauenkirche was resurrected from a pile of rubble. Today, nearly eight million tourists a year flood the city. Cities without palaces to rebuild, such as Frankfurt, don’t want to be left out.
They’re building brand new “historic districts.” Gabi Dolf Bonekaemper teaches at Berlin’s Technical University.
She says there are serious drawbacks to the palace boom. Money spent creating fake new buildings means less money going to preserve authentic historic buildings.

GABI DOLF-BONEKAEMPER: Germany is full of castles, schloesse, that are sold for one euro, because no one would really want to invest any cent into them, because they are badly situated.

She says what saved those buildings during the war, isolated location, may condemn them now.

In Braunschweig, Germany, I’m Brett Neely for Marketplace.

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