A history involving surveillance by Hitler’s Gestapo and the communist Stasi secret police means that most Germans are unusually sensitive about spying. Berlin was outraged by disclosures last year that Chancellor Angela Merkel’s mobile phone was being bugged by the US National Security Agency. But even the Germans have to spy. Yesterday, the first 170 of 4,000 spooks moved into a new €912m (£755m) Berlin headquarters of Germany’s main intelligence service, the BND.
The concrete and glass monster covers an area equivalent to 35 football pitches in the centre of the capital and replaces the current BND HQ at Pullach, near Munich. The BND’s spymasters say the new centre is needed to bring the intelligence services back to the centre of power. But critics claim it is a huge waste of taxpayers’ money and that planning blunders and rows with contractors have nearly doubled the original estimated costs.
“The complex is not only, huge and ugly, it is also massively expensive,” said Berlin’s Green Party MP Christian Ströbele. More galling for the BND’s detractors perhaps, is that – irrespective of the Merkel phone debacle – Germany’s intelligence services have pledged to continue working with the despised NSA.
But the BND has made one gesture designed to appease the public’s resentment: architects have subtly camouflaged the 66ft high radio mast on top of the new building. It now looks – somewhat incongruously – like a Miami Beach palm tree.