July 4, 2008.
Today the U.S. Embassy celebrated U.S. Independence Day and the Grand Opening of the new embassy building on Pariser Platz.
Chancellor Angela Merkel, former President George H.W. Bush, and Ambassador William R. Timken, Jr. spoke about the historical significance of the new embassy site which serves as a living symbol of the German-American partnership. As a tribute to the 60th anniversary of the Berlin Airlift, a group of Airlift pilots also participated, among them Col. Gail Halvorsen, the original candy bomber. The traditional fireworks display closed the program in the evening.
The history of America´s diplomatic relations with Germany goes back to the late 18th century. The American Consulate in Hamburg was one of the first U.S. Consulates. It was established in 1790 to negotiate commercial trade. Within the following decades, consuls, and consular and commercial agents were appointed to several cities in what is now Germany.
John Quincy Adams (the son of President Adams and later to become America´s sixth President) was the first Ambassador to a German-speaking country. His official title was Minister Plenipotentiary to the Kingdom of Prussia. When he arrived in Berlin in 1797, his first residence was Pariser Platz 1 – between the Blücher Palace, the future embassy of the United States, and the newly constructed Brandenburg Gate. In his memoirs, Adams recalled that he was questioned at the Berlin city gate by a sentry who had never heard of the United States of America.
Pariser Platz during the 1930s
In 1931, the U.S. government purchased the Blücher Palace on Pariser Platz as part of a worldwide State Department initiative to acquire and upgrade U.S. diplomatic facilities. Up until that point, American diplomats like John Quincy Adams who lived first at Pariser Platz 1 and then at the corner of Friedrichstrasse and Behrenstrasse, normally rented office and living space. As a result, the Embassy in Berlin changed locations frequently.
The Blücher Palace was chosen for its prime location. The U.S. State Department intended to renovate the property and establish a showcase embassy on Pariser Platz but shortly after the purchase, the building was gutted by fire. Before the United States got around to renovating the historic building in the middle of the Great Depression, Hitler came to power. The move back to Blücher Palace finally took place in 1939 – but the world was on the verge of war and the Ambassador had been recalled to Washington. The embassy remained open, issuing visas for German Jews seeking asylum until Hitler declared war on the United States on December 11, 1941.
The palace was heavily damaged during the war. Along with other buildings that lay half in ruins on the square, it was demolished in 1957. The Brandenburg Gate was all that remained of the once-proud Pariser Platz. When the Berlin Wall went up in August 1961, the square became part of the non-accessible border zone between East and West Berlin.
With the fall of the Wall in 1989, the U.S. Embassy to the German Democratic Republic on Neustädtische Kirchstrasse 4-5 and the U.S. Mission in West Berlin located on Clayallee in Berlin- Dahlem combined to become the „American Embassy Berlin Office.“ The American Embassy was formally transferred from Bonn to the building on Neustädtische Kirchstrasse in Berlin on July 7, 1999. It was, however, a temporary address. The U.S. government announced plans in 1992 to rebuild an embassy on the U.S. property historic Pariser Platz site as an affirmation of the strong commitment of the United States to German reunification and German-American partnership.
In the center of the courtyard stands a Totem, a 13-meter-high steel sculpture specifically designed for the embassy by the American artist Ellsworth Kelly. In 1996, the United States Embassy awarded the American architects Moore Ruble Yudell of Santa Monica, California the contract to design Pariser Platz Two in the first State Department design competition in decades. But just as the construction project was about to get underway, security challenges arose. The bombings of the U.S. Embassies in Tanzania and Kenya required the U.S. State Department to tighten its security regulations. The final design is a transformation of the original proposal. The architects worked closely with the State Department and the urban planning authorities of the City of Berlin to meet site, architectural, security, and program requirements.
Sol LeWitt (1928-2007) designed a large-scale mural for the new embassy building. The new U.S. Embassy closes the last frontage on Pariser Platz. Although the building was designed to complement the architecture of the square, it also incorporates architectural and artistic elements that make it uniquely American. There is a quotation from the Constitution inscribed in the stone walls of the entrance rotunda on Pariser Platz. The dome on the roof is meant to be a symbol of the U.S. government´s presence on foreign land. Sol LeWitt´s star mural is on display for all to see in a glass walled room on the corner of Behrenstrasse and Ebertstrasse. The United States now has a permanent diplomatic home in Berlin. The Stars and Stripes once again fly on Pariser Platz.