Trying to Save Berlin Relic From the Dustbin

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BERLIN - Some buildings are harder to love than others. No matter how many good citizens jump to their defense, they can't seem to shake a bad reputation.

But by any standard, the Palace of the Republic here is a particularly tough case. Opened in 1976 as the home of the East German Parliament, the huge steel-and-concrete building, clad in bronze-colored windows, has become an emblem of a failed ideology. The government padlocked it soon after reunification of the two Germanys in 1990, gutted its interiors toward the end of the decade and has since been trying to tear down what's left of it. Now, after years of delays, demolition could begin as early as this month. Yet in the last year or so, a growing chorus of voices has been rising in defense of the building.

These are not grizzled old Communists hoping for a return to the glory days of socialism. They are architectural activists, mainly in their late 30's and early 40's, who refuse to see the Palace in purely ideological terms. Less dogmatic than their elders, they have cited elements of the building's beauty that many Germans - conditioned by decades of cold war oratory - find difficult to to see.

Their cause is broader than a single building: it is a revolt against historical censorship. Like preservationists struggling to save 2 Columbus Circle in New York or late-Soviet landmarks in Moscow, they are fighting those who insist on pitting history against modernity, people who would seek to smooth over historical contradictions in favor of a more simplistic narrative. Their battleground is the world their parents left them: the oft-maligned Modernist buildings of the 1960's and 70's.

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