Italians retain Fascist trimmings for refit

Berlin's giant Nazi-era Italian embassy will formally reopen this week, complete with Mussolini's Fascist symbols on display, after a £14m revamp that has restored the building to its former grandeur.

The 200-room complex on Tiergartenstrasse was built between 1938 and 1943 as Adolf Hitler's "present" to the Italian dictator and was part of the Nazi leader's grandiose plans to turn Berlin into "Germania", the intended capital of a vast empire.

But after the Second World War it remained a near-derelict, bombed-out shell and only one wing of the building was used, as a consular office.

On Thursday, however, the Italian President, Carlo Ciampi, and his German counterpart, Johannes Rau, will inaugurate the immaculately restored building in a ceremony designed to show that both countries have come to terms with their history. "It was the right decision to restore everything and retain the traces of history because we are not trying to be politically correct," said Silvio Fagiolo, the current Italian ambassador. "The Berlin embassy is a place of continuity."

The Fascist symbol - two stone fasces, a bundle of rods with a projecting axe blade - has been removed from the embassy'slavish reception hall to be put on display in the inner courtyard, directly above a huge bomb shelter.

Restored golden birds of prey, Renaissance fireplaces and marble columns inside show that no expense was spared when it came to building what was briefly the embassy of Germany's closest wartime ally. Friedrich Hetzelt, a protégé of Albert Speer, Hitler's chief architect, modelled the embassy on an 18th-century Roman palazzo, which the Nazi leader greatly admired.

The Italian and German architects who did the €20m restoration have stopped short of creating a complete replica of the 1943 embassy. The outside walls are pockmarked and a bomb-shattered colonnade overlooking the central courtyard has been left a ruin - as testimony to the defeat of Fascism.

Yet it still presents an eerie reminder of the days when Berlin was capital of the Third Reich. And it stands next to the renovated embassy of Japan, another wartime ally of Nazi Germany.

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