My madcap adventures in Germany during my year as a Fulbright Scholar.

07 March 2007

Finally, the long-promised post about embassies.

For quite a while I’ve been suffering under the misconception that embassies exist largely to serve that particular foreign population who live in the country (and to do various diplomatic things, I suppose).

This is clearly not the case, since most embassies are surrounded by a ten-foot metal fence, complete with barbed wire and guardhouse. While their architecture tends to be pretty good (with the notable exception of the Swiss Embassy), the security is off-putting. However, in an emergency, you deal with it. When my passport was stolen I went to the U.S. Consulate in Barcelona and was granted entrance to the secure compound merely by showing a copy of the stolen passport. It was amazingly simple.

Somehow, I don’t think that would be the case here. See, this is the American Embassy in Berlin:

No way you’re gaining entrance to that place. Note the permanent barricades. A German wanting to get a student visa to the U.S. or an American looking to replace a stolen passport would, in fact, travel to a completely different part of town to the “Consular Section.”

The British Embassy also has heavy security:

At least their barricades are pretty (and removable; the middle two sink into the ground), and there is still pedestrian access, as far as I can tell.

Well by now you might be wondering what the point of this post is. Don’t worry, I’m coming to it.

You see, with embassies that old real estate slogan is eminently applicable, for all anyone seems to worry about is location, location, location. Most are located just south of the Tiergarten, near the Kulturforum. The Swiss probably have the best location, across the street from the Reichstag, and near the new Hauptbahnhof, but, as I’ve said, their embassy is painfully ugly, so it doesn’t really count. Plus, they’re Swiss. Boring.

See? Ugly.

The British embassy is located just a block away from the Brandenburger Tor, on a side street, and the U.S. embassy is about a block further away, also on a side street. But here comes the sticking point: the Russian embassy is located on Unter den Linden, less than a block from Pariser Platz and said Brandenburger Tor. And, well, we Americans can’t allow the Russians to have a better location, can we?

So, the Americans are building a new embassy, and, this you’ll have to file under “What the hell were the Americans thinking?”, it’s located on Pariser Platz, next door to the Brandenburg Gate:

See the cranes? That’s where they’re building the new embassy. The current embassy, with its full-time police protection and permanent cement barricades located in a good but discrete and out-of-the-way location, simply won’t cut it. Apparently, we feel the need to build a brand new embassy on what must be the single most expensive and sought-after piece of real estate in all of Germany…next to the biggest tourist attraction in the city.

You can’t get within 5 meters of the current embassy! How the hell are they going to handle the millions of tourists standing around outside the new embassy’s front door?



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