German unification was sealed 20 years ago with the signing of the Unification Treaty between the Federal Republic of Germany and the German Democratic Republic. The building that is now the headquarters of the Federal Foreign Office also played an important role in this context. The building served as the “Haus der Parlamentarier” (house of parliamentarians) for the members of the GDR People’s Chamber. It was there that the People’s Chamber passed the law on the Unification Treaty on 20 September 1990.
The Federal Foreign Office’s main building at Werderscher Markt reflects 20th century German history in a way that few other buildings in Berlin do. Constructed beginning in 1934 as an addition to the Reichsbank, it became the seat of the Central Committee of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED) after the Second World War.
Haus der Parlamentarier (house of parliamentarians)
After the fall of the Wall in 1989 and the election of the GDR People’s Chamber on 18 March 1990, the first and only freely elected representatives of the GDR moved into the Haus der Parlamentarier. In addition to the Palast der Republik (Palace of the Republic), they were now able to use the Central Committee’s building for their parliamentary work. With a government ruling just seven sentences long, the despised SED headquarters was transformed into a place that signalled a new democratic beginning: the “Haus der Parlamentarier”.
After the Palast der Republik had to be closed due to asbestos, the final three plenary sessions were moved to the Haus der Parlamentarier instead of being held in the usual hall. This is why, for example, the outcomes of the “Two plus Four” negotiations were presented in what was then known as “Lenin Hall”, and today is the Weltsaal (world hall) of the Federal Foreign Office.
Following the final debate, this was where the members of the People’s Chamber approved the Treaty on the Establishment of German Unity on 20 September. The nearly thousand-page treaty regulated the accession of the GDR to the Federal Republic of Germany. The chief negotiators for the Federal Republic of Germany and the GDR, Wolfgang Schäuble and Günther Krause, had previously signed the Unification Treaty on 31 August 1990 at the Palais Unter den Linden in Berlin.
German unification was complete. In just six months, the brief history of the Haus der Parlamentarier had witnessed its highlight and come to an end.
The Berlin office of the Federal Foreign Office has an unusual history when it comes to architecture and how the building was used. What is now known as the “old building” was built from 1934 to 1940, originally as an addition to the Reichsbank. 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. Towards the end of the Second World War, the Reichsbank building was badly damaged and the upper stories were completely burned. 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 in 1959 and had decisive influence in determining GDR politics over the next 30 years. Following major renovations and the construction of an additional new building, the Federal Foreign Office moved its headquarters from Bonn to the complex in Berlin in 1999.
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