The Next Disaster? Berlin Lays Cornerstone of Troubled Palace

PHOTO: The construction site of the Berlin Palace in Berlin is shown, May 22, 2013.

The cornerstone was laid on Wednesday on the reconstruction of the Berlin palace that was once home to Prussian rulers. The need for such a structure is debatable, and funding looks shaky. It could become yet another addition to Germany's collection of cursed construction projects.

It is difficult to determine which of Germany's trio of construction-project nightmares is the most embarrassing.

Is it the Elbe Philharmonic Concert Hall in Hamburg, a stunning new structure that was supposed to be finished in 2010 at a cost of €114 million ($151 million) to taxpayers -- but which will actually be opened in 2017, with a public price tag of €780 million?

Or is it the new, subterranean train station in Stuttgart that is €2 billion over-budget, under-loved and of questionable utility?

Or does Berlin's new international airport get the nod, a project which has been delayed so many times that there currently is no opening date scheduled -- and which costs millions each month because nobody can figure out how to turn off the lights?

It is a difficult choice, to be sure. And this week, it potentially became even harder with the addition of another large project seemingly destined to join Germany's blacklist of construction catastrophes. On Wednesday, the cornerstone for the reconstructed Berliner Schloss was laid in the heart of the German capital despite myriad questions regarding the need for such an expensive replica of the seat of Prussian power. But the real questions surround the project's funding: It is still, two years after federal and state funds were made available, not yet clear who will pick up a significant chunk of the tab.

Funding the Façade

The new structure is supposed to look a lot like the old, the seat of Prussian power that was heavily damaged in World War II and completely demolished in 1950 to make way for the Palast der Republik, which housed communist East Germany's parliament. Indeed, the winning design, submitted by the less-than-famous Italian architect Franco Stella in 2008, calls for a façade on three sides that will be remarkably similar to the original (the fourth side facing the Spree River is to be a modern concrete-and-glass exterior).

It took a further three years, and a significant amount of highly public bickering, for Germany's parliament to finally agree to fund the project, to the tune of €478 million, with the city-state of Berlin committing to an additional €32 million. The final price tag, however, is supposed to be €590 million.

The €80 million gap, of course, is by design. That is how much the historically accurate façade is supposed to cost -- and it is a sum that project backers have pledged will be covered by private donations. Indeed, according to Wilhelm von Boddien, who heads up the foundation promoting the palace, the donations are flowing in. An additional €28.5 million is to be raised for the dome.

As it turns out, however, von Boddien's confidence is slightly misplaced. Thus far, only some €10 million in private donations have been made available. Even more problematic, contracts for façade construction have to be in place by the end of the year so as to guarantee that the palace will be finished by 2018, as planned.

Bringing Back 'Iron Tooth'

SPIEGEL has learned that, in order to make up for the shortfall, the German government has pledged provisional funding, even as there is no guarantee that private donations will ever be sufficient to repay taxpayers for their largesse.

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