Over the last half of the 20th century, a bold vision of a Europe “whole and free” guided the efforts of thousands of dedicated Americans and Germans. The partnership withstood incredible pressure – and achieved monumental results. The story of the last half-century of German-American relations is indeed a remarkable chapter in the history of diplomacy. Now, at the start of the 21st century, the construction of a new American Embassy in a unified Berlin has begun. The decision of the State Department to return to the historic site on Pariser Platz symbolizes America’s support for a reunified Germany and its commitment to a strong transatlantic partnership.
The history of America’s diplomatic relations with Germany goes back to 1797. John Quincy Adams (the son of President Adams and later to become America’s sixth President) was appointed Minister Plenipotentiary to Prussia. An experienced diplomat, John Quincy Adams was the first permanent representative of the United States to a German-speaking nation. Arriving in Berlin from a three-year tour in The Hague, he settled in a residence at the corner of Friedrichstrasse and Behrenstrasse. At that time and up until the first decades of the 20th century, American diplomats normally used rented office and living space. As a result, the Embassy in Berlin changed locations frequently.
The Blücher Palace on Pariser Platz was purchased in 1930 as part of a broader State Department initiative to acquire property abroad. The New York Times reported that the new Embassy in Berlin on Pariser Platz would “be the envy of the whole diplomatic corps and unquestionably the most imposing and handsome ambassadorial quarters in the German capital.” Before the Embassy could be relocated, the building was gutted by fire. In 1939, parts of the Embassy moved from Bendlerstrasse 39 into the refurbished building, but this occupancy was short-lived. Heavily damaged during the war, the Blücher Palace was demolished by the East German government in April 1957. Until the Berlin Wall came down in November 1989, the property Pariser Platz 2 was part of the non-accessible border zone between East and West Berlin.
With the fall of the Berlin 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 formal transfer of the American Embassy from Bonn to the building on Neustädtische Kirchstrasse in Berlin took place on July 7, 1999 – marking the end of the transitional period in which the U.S. diplomatic establishments in Bonn and Berlin functioned under the formula “one Embassy, two locations.”
The building on Neustädtische Kirchstrasse, however, was also a temporary address. The U.S. government announced plans in 1992 to rebuild an embassy on the U.S. property at Pariser Platz. The final design is a transformation of the original 1996 winning competition design by American architects Moore Ruble Yudell of Santa Monica, California. 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.
The new American Embassy closes the last frontage on Pariser Platz. Extending back to the intersection of Behrenstrasse and Ebertstrasse, the building complements Berlin’s historical city center and urban park spaces.
An embassy is a symbol of a nation’s foreign presence, identity, and diplomatic intentions. The decision to build the new American Embassy at the historic Pariser Platz site is an affirmation of the strong commitment of the United States to the on-going German-American relationship. The new American Embassy in Berlin is a reflection of America while at the same time complementing the architecture of this very historic setting in the heart of Europe.