Crucial meeting in cool ambience of an old palace that survived war

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The Independent Online

Yet it is to this, at first sight, unlikely, Berlin venue that Germany's fraught politicians are retiring for talks to hammer out a coalition agreement that could rescue the country from its crisis.

No 2 Friedrich-Ebert Place was built more than a century ago as a palace for the president of Germany's parliament. It still has an underground tunnel linking it with Lord Foster's now-revamped Reichstag assembly only a stone's throw away. It survived the Allied bombing and the Soviet army's capture of the capital.

But for decades during the Cold War, the soot-blackened building was stranded in the Communist eastern half of the city, next to the Berlin Wall. The East Germans used its turn-of-the-century chambers as the headquarters of a state-run recording company.

But today the building is an oasis of calm refinement, an escape from the television cameras and the maelstrom of everyday politics. Lavishly restored as Berlin's Parliamentary Club, its lawns sweep down to the River Spree, uniformed waiters in dining rooms attend tables decked with crisp, white cloths.

Chancellor Gerhard Schröder has blamed the media for talking down his chances of success in last Sunday's inconclusive general election, but he need not fear inquisitive journalists here. The press is banned and entry is by invitation only.

In its tranquil garden Mr Schröder met Angela Merkel, his conservative rival, for the first time since the election. They will meet again in the club next Wednesday for a second round of possible coalition talks.

Bullet holes aside, No 2 Friedrich-Ebert Place may provide just the right ambience for a solution to Germany's latest political crisis.

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