Palast der Republik

The Humboldt Forum, Germany’s answer to the British Museum and the Louvre of Paris, reopened this month in the rebuilt Berlin Palace after almost two years of controversy and debate.

The Forum combines the collections of the Ethnological Museum of Berlin and the Museum of Asian Art, with many pieces acquired (or stolen) during the colonial era.

Palast der Republik Berlin Germany
The Palast der Republik at night in August 1976 (Bundesarchiv)

The building is a reconstruction of the Hohenzollern residence that was torn down by East German authorities in 1950 to make way for the Palast der Republik, which was itself torn down post-reunification. Both demolitions were controversial — and both, I think, were a mistake. (Although renovating the asbestos-filled Palast might have been more expensive than knocking it down and building something new.)

The Palast was designed by architect Heinz Graffunder and the Building Academy of the German Democratic Republic in the modernist style and opened in 1976. In addition to the unicameral, and toothless, parliament of communist East Germany, it contained two large auditoria, art galleries, a bowling alley, restaurants and a theater.

Let’s take a tour.

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The Designs of Norman Bel Geddes

Norman Bel Geddes was an American industrial designer and futurist who had a major influence on the streamlined Art Deco design of the 1930s and 40s.

Geddes started out as a theater set designer before opening his own industrial design studio in 1927. His early work included such consumer products as cocktail shakers and radio cabinets. He quickly moved on to more ambitious projects, including a teardrop-shaped car and the amphibian Airliner Number 4.

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Art Deco

The Roaring Twenties were a period of great paradoxes. After the First World War, the world was experiencing a period of vitality and exuberance, new technologies and styles. At the same time, it was a period of political and social contrasts which ended with the Great Depression.

Art Deco is the aesthetic which best incarnated the aspirations of those years and their yearning for modernity.

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