Germany wants to buy its Prague embassy building where history was made 20 years ago

20-08-2009

The German Foreign Ministry wants to acquire Prague’s Lobkowicz Palace, the seat of the German embassy. For thousands of East Germans, the compound was the last stop on their way to freedom in August 1989, two months before the fall of the Berlin Wall. In exchange for the historic building, German authorities are offering the Czech Foreign Ministry a palace in Berlin.

Hans-Dietrich Genscher on the embassy’s balcony, September 30, 1989, photo: CTKHans-Dietrich Genscher on the embassy’s balcony, September 30, 1989, photo: CTK In September 1989, West German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher came to Prague to deal with a situation unseen in the communist world. Some 4,000 citizens of communist East Germany had gathered on the premises of the West German embassy in their flight from the totalitarian state. On September 30, Minister Genscher appeared on the embassy’s balcony, and told the crowd they could leave for the free world.

The Lobkowicz Palace in Malá Strana in the heart of Prague has housed the German embassy since 1974 but it’s always been rented to the German Foreign Ministry. Twenty years after that famous “balcony scene”, the German government wants to acquire the building by trading it for a suitable property in Berlin that would serve as the seat of the Czech embassy. Jens Plötner is the spokesperson for the German Foreign Ministery.

“Since the mid 1990s, we’ve toyed with the idea to get this historical object into German state ownership. We have held intensive negotiations with the Czech side, and now we are close to reaching an agreement. The next step is to name experts to assess the value of both the Prague palace and a building in Berlin which would be a suitable counter-offer.”

The Lobkowicz Palace, photo: CTKThe Lobkowicz Palace, photo: CTK For its part, the Czech Foreign Ministry says it is willing to consider the exchange, but that no agreement has been concluded to date. The ministry’s spokesman, Milan Řepka, says that Prague has to consider the country’s best interests.

“The important thing is that no agreements or contracts have been concluded. Negotiations on expert levels are still going on between the two foreign ministries. We’ll have to see whether such a transaction is advantageous for the Czech Republic.”

But it could be, according to German officials. Berlin is ready to offer the Czechs the former seat of the American mission in Berlin, a large 19th palace in the very centre of the German capital. Also, the current Czech embassy in Berlin, completed in 1978 as a fine example of Brutalist architecture, needs thorough renovation.

One thing is certain however – the Lobkowicz Palace in Prague will not change ownership in time for the celebrations of the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Iron Curtain.

20-08-2009