Reichstag cover-up blows Berlin life off course

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The Independent Online
STEVE CRAWSHAW

Berlin

"First, the wind; second, the wind; third, the wind." Those were the problems that the master wrapper said he feared, in advance of the Big Week. Yesterday the problems came.

For most of the day, work was halted because of strong breezes. The professional climbers who were to lower the silvery curtains from the roof of the building started at 5.30am, but could not get far.

Christo could not complain of a lack of interest. Despite the wind, thousands gathered to gaze at the Reichstag, although there was little to see. The bundling-up of the former and future German parliament - the largest and probably the last of Christo's wrapped buildings - brought traffic to a standstill.

Berliners shook their heads with resignation. "If it's like this at the weekend," said one driver, "just wait and see what it will be like when people get back to work tomorrow."

Streets around the Reichstag have been closed to traffic and stalls set up to sell T-shirts, books and posters of the Bulgarian-American artist who became famous for tying objects up with string. Christo is paying for his latest project, due to cost pounds 5m, from the sale of his sketches and designs over the past 20 years.

Typical of the enthusiasts outside the Reichstag was Andreas Kiso from Dortmund who saw the Christo action as a dividing line between Germany's past and future. "It's good that he's doing it. The Reichstag has a mixed history and this puts it into the past. When everything is unwrapped, the building will have a new character." Jochen Bremer, 38, a stonemason, said: "It seems a nice idea. And if he wants to pay for it, why not?"

More than 100,000 square metres of drapes will cover the outside walls and the inner courtyard. The building will remain covered for a fortnight, after which the rebuilding of the Reichstag to designs by Sir Norman Foster will begin. The parliament is expected to move in shortly after the next elections in 1998. The German government's move from Bonn to Berlin should be complete by 2000.

For Christo, the wrapping of the Reichstag is the fulfilment of a 24- year dream. But his chances of success once seemed slim. There were worries about Cold-War complications and fears that the wrapping would seem disrespectful. Three times he was given a categoric no.

When it came before the German parliament last year, Christo at last got his way, although Chancellor Helmut Kohl and most of the cabinet voted against the project.

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