'Fort Knox at the Brandenburg Gate': German Critics Slam New US Embassy

By David Gordon Smith in Berlin

Part 2: A Home Depot Knight's Castle

But the harshest words come from the respected Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. The paper's critic singles out the embassy's windows for scorn, saying they "look as if a bankrupt homeowner had bought them in a home-improvement store near Fargo in order to get his house ready for the winter. Such windows are exactly what the 'critical reconstruction' approach is meant to prevent -- the invasion of the industrially produced throwaway aesthetic, the plastic culture of the suburbs in the historic city center."

"On the whole, the American embassy -- with its cheap materials, its narrow windows which resemble arrow slits, its defensive tower which has everything except for battlements -- looks as if it was originally planned for another, more unsettled part of the world," the author continues. "Of course an embassy needs security features -- but the French, British and Italians manage to achieve that without giving the observer the impression that he is about to enter the Green Zone in Baghdad. Is that the message of the embassy: that the Americans suspect that their German representation is located in a completely uncivilized wasteland, located beyond the permafrost line and populated by aggressive maniacs, and that they want to secure it as a result?"

"The new US Embassy in Berlin fits together with trends towards nostalgia in architecture -- it is the knights' castle that you can knock together with items from the home-improvement store," continues the FAZ's critic. "On the other hand, there is hardly a modern building -- with the exception of bunkers and pesticide testing centers -- which is so hysterically closed off from public space as this embassy. There is not a single window on the upper part of the building's south side. Here America shows itself as living a completely impenetrable, erratic bunker existence. One doesn't need to be as bitchy as certain angry passers-by, who postulated that the top part of the building must be home to the 'wellness and waterboarding' area, to be disturbed by such a lack of windows."

"If a building could stand with its arms crossed, it would look like this one," the paper writes. "Perhaps it is also typical of the first decade of the 21st century that public space, which once looked like a promise, is now perceived as a threat. The stranger, who was once the projection surface for the most beautiful collective and private fantasies, could be a terrorist, have AIDS or be transporting the plagues of globalization like factory closures, migration flows or bird flu."

"The American Embassy does not reflect the image of a country that was once a melting pot for immigrants from around the world, a place for new beginnings and reinventing oneself. The embassy represents a country which has been traumatized by 9/11 and the consequences of globalization -- a nation which is now so protected by armor that it can no longer see the world."

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