Amid fanfare, US Embassy returns to historic Berlin site
BERLIN - Former president George H.W. Bush inaugurated the new US Embassy in Germany at its pre-World War II site yesterday, a return that he said symbolized the fulfillment of "a great and noble dream" of European freedom and unity.
Bush, who was president when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989 and supported German reunification less than a year later, spoke alongside Chancellor Angela Merkel at the site in front of the Brandenburg Gate - the symbol of Germany's postwar division and then of its unification.
The embassy completes the post-reunification rebuilding of the Pariser Platz, the square in front of the gate, which once stood in the fortified no man's land behind the Berlin Wall.
"Today, we fit one of the last pieces of a historic puzzle into place," Bush said. "The reality that it lays bare - a new American Embassy in the capital of a unified Germany, fitting in the heart of a Europe that is indeed whole and free and at peace, is in fact a great and noble dream realized."
"To my fellow Americans, I simply say: welcome home," Bush added in a speech after he and Ambassador William Timken used golden scissors to cut a red, white, and blue ribbon outside the embassy.
The site of the modern limestone-fronted building has a turbulent history. By the time US diplomats moved into the embassy in April 1939, Washington had already recalled its chief envoy to protest the Nazis' anti-Semitic pogrom the previous year.
The remaining diplomats left in 1941 after Germany declared war on the United States. The building was heavily damaged during World War II and later razed by communist East Germany.
For nearly three decades, the site stood in East Germany's heavily fortified border zone. Just across the wall, Bush's predecessor, Ronald Reagan, in 1987 delivered his famous speech in which he implored then-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to "open this gate" and "tear down this wall."
Merkel, who grew up in East Germany, said the embassy's return to the Brandenburg Gate was a "special and moving moment" for Germans.
"Going through the gate has become normality, but we do not forget who helped champion its opening: the United States of America," she said.
"Before the opening of the wall, I lived a few meters from here, close to the wall; and for many years of my life, I could not imagine ever walking through this gate," Merkel added.
Merkel thanked Bush for his role in helping Helmut Kohl, then West Germany's chancellor, "bring about [German] unification in peace and freedom."
Bush praised Kohl and Gorbachev, whose efforts helped pave the way for the fall of the wall: "History will remember these two seminal leaders as men of rare vision and singular courage."
The US Embassy's return to its old home - within sight of the Reichstag, the seat of Germany's federal parliament, and the sprawling Holocaust Memorial - has been considerably slower than German reunification.
First plans for the embassy were drawn up in 1996, three years before the German government moved to Berlin from Bonn. In recent years, the United States has used what was once its embassy to East Germany.