Berlin stories: Erich's Lamp Shop may keep shining

All this has made the former East German parliament building even more of an eyesore. This cubist confection of steel and copper-coloured glass, plonked on to the island in the River Spree, was hated both aesthetically and as a symbol of oppression. Stripped to a shell since the rubber-stamp parliament ceased to exist, its demolition seemed a formality. Yet ageing Communists have been joined by lovers of kitsch in their opposition to sweeping away "Erich's Lamp Shop", as the Palace of the Republic is more affectionately known - the name is due to the huge number of light bulbs it once contained. There has also been a row over its planned replacement, a faux Disneyland copy of the Hohenzollern royal palace that once stood on the site.

Not only that: the copper cube has been reinvented as a cult tourist attraction. The basement was flooded and turned into a boating lake, and last month artists erected a massive gleaming white mountain and hotel inside it. The building is currently hosting an art exhibition, aptly enough, on death.

It was all meant to come to a close this weekend, with the wrecking balls due in December. But there has been a last-minute reprieve. The exhibition will now continue until mid-November, amid rumours that the cost of demolition - some€60m (£40m) - and the money the "People's Palace" is raking in, are prompting second thoughts. Could the lamp shop live on?

Jailhouse chic

They have a special magazine for inhabitants of Berlin's prisons, called Lichtblick (Ray of Hope), and it seems to confirm that even among jailbirds, the capital is the only place to be.

Lichtblick last week reported an upsurge in small ads placed by prisoners begging to swap their cells in Munich, Frankfurt and Leipzig for a room with a (barred) view in Berlin. "Landsberg Prison is near to Munich, and even has a swimming pool and football field!" wrote one criminal, in an attempt to entice a Berlin prisoner southwards. Although such exchanges are allowed under German law, there's one small problem. Berlin's jails are already full to the brim.

Capital costs

"Can you put a price on this?" sighed a friend as we strolled down tree-lined Unter den Linden, enjoying the autumn sunshine. No, I thought. And then someone did. There has been frenzied debate about how much investment has been sucked away from other parts of the country and ploughed instead into upgrading Berlin into a world city.

Bild, the country's most pugnacious tabloid, has started printing a daily "Berlin Debt Clock" to tell everyone just how much it is costing. Berlin, it bellowed, is in the red to the tune of €59,398,405,478.85. The Pariser Platz alone had cost around €300bn.

"Maybe the World Cup will save the city," said my friend as we sipped cappuccinos at a pavement café. And then we thought about all the football fans who will cram into Berlin next summer and decided that sometimes it was better not to think about such things.

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