On a lovely Sunday afternoon in August, the federal ministries of the German capital of Berlin held their annual open day and we were looking for some undemanding diversion from work. We checked the information home page: The Ministry of Finance wooed visitors with international organic street food in the garden (now that was something) and a talk with Mr. Schäuble, the finance minister. And it will also be possible to take part in a guided tour through the historic building – we love historic buildings and street food!
The Ministry of Finance was built in the 1930s by the German architect Ernst Sagebiel, who also built the now abandoned airport in Berlin-Tempelhof. Planned as a representative building for the Reichsluftfahrtministerium, the Aviation Ministry of the Third Reich, it was finished within two years, just in time for the Olympic Games in Berlin in 1936. Contrary to all the surrounding buildings, it has not been destroyed by allied bombs in spite of its enormous size. After the war it was used as living quarters by the Soviet military, and later as administrative offices of the GDR. The building saw some major historical events: In one of the smaller assembly rooms some important Third Reich officials pitched the outline for the Wannsee Conference, and in 1949 the GDR was proclaimed in another of the conference halls.
In 1999 the building came to house the German Ministry of Finance, which moved here from the previous German capital of Bonn. It is still the biggest office building in Europe with 1600 offices, 17 staircases and a total length of 7 km of aisles.
“Some employees agreed to clean up their offices, so that you can have a look inside!” the guide casually remarks. Curiously we peek into the cubicles of the public servants – they are pretty small, because the ministry has been a listed building since the 1990s, so the original 1930s room plan cannot be altered nowadays, quite unlike in GDR times, when walls were added, changed and moved. The aisles on the other hand are astonishingly wide. They were designed for three air force officers passing each other without difficulties.
And then our group files into the Finance Minister's corridor, where taking pictures is not allowed. After passing some offices we reach the anteroom:
"Documents for M – to be picked up by the driver" declares a large sign on the table.
- Who is M? -
The actual centre of power is somewhat larger than the other offices we saw and pretty much non-descript.
Apart from the guided tour through the edifices we also saw a stunt show by German customs officials (sort of boring), and yes, we had some really good street food as well. We left before M arrived.
If you ever are in Berlin at the end of August, do check on the Open Day of the Ministries for unexpected discoveries and probably some good street food!