Undiplomatic?

2008.11.30

Embassies, as you’d expect, often seem like a physical representation of their country, intentional or not.  It’s especially true in Berlin, where so many were recently purpose built (as opposed to say, London, where embassies have taken often taken over existing buildings). 

If you’re not aware already, Berlin’s embassy district, to the south of Tiergarten, is a must for any archi-minded tourist as it provided an opportunity for each nation to show off through the medium of architecture.  The US, France and the UK have theirs not far away, around Pariserplatz, but some have located away from the pack.  In the case of the Dutch (see previous post) they probably felt a bit more ‘urban’ and relaxed on the east side of town.  They’re not a major power broker, but they’re close enough to the action. 

But this doesn’t explain the siting of the Chinese embassy, a further few hundred metres east, on the other side of the Spree, the Chinese.  It seems slightly stranded.  Perhaps, as a newcomer to global power, it didn’t have an existing site that was large enough to reclaim when the wall came down.  I say ‘large enough’, because although the embassy goes largely unnoticed in this odd location, it’s actually colossal.

I cycle past it a lot on my way into the centre of town, and didn’t realise what it was for a while; it’s clearly not a building bothered about what people think of it.  In fact, a less welcoming structure is hard to imagine.  A while ago I stopped to take photos, expecting the police guarding the entrance to ask me what I was doing (I made ready to stand my ground over civil rights if they tried to stop me), but actually they seemed if unbothered, perhaps even slightly embarrassed on behalf of the sheer unfriendliness of what stood behind them.  The only saving grace is that directly across the road is a rather good chinese restaurant.

The embassy (on the right) from the river

and the front, but not really the entrance.  The pedestrian entrance is at the side, and has something ‘cheap sci-fi’ about it:

 

Enough already about a building I don’t like.  As if to counteract the oppressive effect of the embassy, directly across the river stands something far more inspiring.

It’s an office for the Sozialverband Deutschland, Rolandufer 6, by Léon Wohlhage Wernik Architekten.  The most interesting bit is the interior, where the atrium becomes a sort of greenhouse.

By a bit of a coincidence, Léon Wohlhage Wernik actually did the Indian embassy here in Berlin, as well as offices for the state of Bremen, both worth a visit.

(Final image by snooker68 on Flickr).

4 comments

  1. Aha! My ugly embassy… finally someone got you…
    Just shamed on it when i first saw it. Luckily enough, for me, that the educational department office is somewhere else.
    By the way, the Senate Department for Urban Development is located quite close to this site( Am Köllnischen Park 3), where you can see the gorgeous city model of berlin, really worth visiting.

    Wangwenjun, December 1, 2008
  2. The Chinese Embassy is the building that was originally built in the dying days of the GDR as a magnificant new headquarters for the official Free German Trade Union Federation. I don’t know how the Chinese connection came about.

    Tom Zweifler, January 2, 2009
  3. Thanks Tom – a neighbour mentioned to me that it was a refurb of a previous GDR building, but didn’t know any details. Another fact for the archive!
    Jim

    jimnkatie, January 3, 2009
  4. Das in Berlin-Mitte an der Spree gelegene chinesische Botschaftsgebäude, wurde 1988 nach Plänen des Architekten Jens Ebert errichtet. Nach der deutschen Wiedervereinigung wurde das Gebäude zum Berliner Congress Center umgewandelt. Das Gebäude wo die Chinesische Botschaft im Jahr 1999 aus Bonn umzog, war vorher ein Hotel und bevor es ein Hotel war, war es der Sitzt des ehemaligen Gewerkschaftsbundes FDGB. Der multifunktionelle Gebäudekomplex besitzt eine Grundfläche von 7.900 m³, die gesamte Baufläche beträgt 26.000 m³.
    http://ontour.kinder-hauptstadt.de/index.php?id=14
    http://www.frankensteinconsult.de/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=16&Itemid=17

    Runar Runart, April 19, 2009

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