The Berlin headquarters of the Federal Foreign Office has an unusual history when it comes to architecture and how the building has been used. What is now known as the “old building” was built from 1934 to 1940, originally as an addition to the Reichsbank. This was preceded by the last free competition until 1945, in which architects including Mies van der Rohe and Walther Gropius took part. The design by Heinrich Wolff was built, incorporating both conservative and modern elements.
During the Second World War, one of the Reichsbank’s main duties was financing the war and, in particular, procuring gold to buy raw materials and weapons. The Reichsbank sold off the gold reserves of the countries conquered by Germany and the property of the National Socialist regime’s victims, and its participation in the crimes committed in concentration and extermination camps led to its Director being sentenced to life imprisonment during the Nuremberg Trials.
Towards the end of the Second World War, the Reichsbank building was badly damaged and the upper stories were completely destroyed by fire. Nevertheless, the building was used beginning in June 1945 as the city of Berlin’s counting house and from 1949 as the GDR Ministry of Finance. The Central Committee of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany moved into the building in 1959 and had decisive influence in determining GDR politics over the following 30 years.
In 1990, the building was renamed the Haus der Parlamentarier (House of Parliamentarians) when the members of the first freely elected GDR People’s Chamber moved into offices here. As the Palast der Republik (Palace of the Republic) had to be closed because it was heavily contaminated with asbestos, the last sessions of the People’s Chamber took place here, during which the members ratified the Unification Treaty, amongst other things.