HISTORY OF THE SITE
Loved and hated, adored and reviled, gone, yet not forgotten: on the site now occupied by the Humboldt Forum, there once stood the Palace of the Republic. It was the seat of the Volkskammer – the GDR parliament – and a site of representation, but also a venue for both official and popular culture, with modern design, contemporary artworks, 13 restaurants and cafés, a disco and a bowling alley. To this day, it remains a presence in many people’s minds.
In March 1990, the first freely elected Volkskammer met in the Palace of the Republic, where it ratified the GDR’s accession to the Federal Republic, marking an end to the Palace of the Republic’s GDR history. A few days later, it was closed by the Berlin authorities due to asbestos contamination. In 2002, it was decided to ‘rebuild’. What for some was good riddance to a building representing the injustices of the GDR state, others perceived as the erasure of history and the devaluation of East German life stories.
The Palace of the Republic is virtually written into the Humboldt Forum’s DNA: the Palace’s concrete basin forms part of its foundation; and addressing the history of the site, from Medieval times to the present day, is one of the Humboldt Forum’s central purposes, as stated in its founding statutes. Since 2014, our colleagues have been collecting, researching, publicising and curating resources connected with the Palace of the Republic, creating an ever-expanding network. Our growing collection includes substantial parts of the interior decor. Twelve key objects can be found on permanent display as ‘Flashbacks’ in various locations around the building, and the Palace of the Republic plays a central role in the ‘Video Panorama’ exhibition area. Exhibitions, events and publications have already cast light on the Palace from a number of perspectives.
PROGRAMME: THE PALACE OF THE REPUBLIC IS PRESENT
Under the title ‘The Palace of the Republic is Present’, the Humboldt Forum will place an even more intensive and wide-ranging focus on the theme over the coming years. The programme follows the four phases of the Palace of the Republic in chronological order: the multipurpose GDR building used as a place of representation, politics and culture; the seat of the first freely elected Volkskammer; the controversial ruin; and finally, the symbol of East German identity it represents today. What is special about this programme? The curatorial work will be reflected within the program, making it visible to all: the cross-departmental formation of the team; the identification of interests and requirements; the personal perspectives from outside; and the input from experts. The Palace of the Republic provides a narrative and discussion impetus for a critical examination of the history of the site and for a discussion of political and social developments – across Berlin, Germany and beyond. The programme will request memories, invite discussion and interaction, and tie in with current issues – emotions, contradictions and uncertainties included.
A diverse programme will explore the theme chronologically over the next few years. It will look at architecture and its use from 1973 to 1989, the peaceful revolution in 1989/90, the Schlossplatz debate and its interim use until its demolition in 2008, and finally the memorial site and current debates. Guided tours will introduce objects from the Palace of the Republic’s history, offer insights into the background and the working process, and recount personal stories. Events and performances, installations and invitations, discussion cafés and publications will all serve to bring the public together with eyewitnesses, and offer the opportunity to discover the various aspects of the Palace of the Republic.
The Palace of the Republic is a catalyst for examining power and participation, and discussing the significance of symbolic, political, identity-creating places in the present day – a highly topical issue.
THE PROGRAMME WILL CONTINUE OVER SEVERAL MONTHS WITH A SPECIAL EXHIBITION