Embassy of the United States in Berlin

Embassy of the United States in Berlin

The Embassy of the United States in Berlin maintains diplomatic relations and represents United States interests in dealing with the German government. The U.S. Embassy in Germany has not always been in Berlin.

Embassy history


The U.S. Embassy in Berlin probably began with the 1797 appointment of John Quincy Adams to the then capital of Prussia, Berlin. At the time these missions in Berlin, Prussia were called legations, and there were other American legations in other parts of what would later become a unified German state. There were breaks in these formative years of German-American diplomatic relations where there was no official American diplomatic presence in Berlin. After the late 1800s the term "embassy" would be used to describe the American mission to the new unified German empire. There was also a break in relations with Germany during World War I. In these early years the Embassy (or legation) of the U.S. in Berlin would change as frequently as a new Ambassador changed his residence, the two being the same. The last temporary embassy location was on Bendlerstraße 39 (now Stauffenbergstraße), close to the Tiergarten.


In 1930 the Blücher Palace, located on Pariser Platz, was purchased as a new and permanent home for the U.S. Embassy in Berlin. There was a fire in the Blücher Palace on April 15, 1931 before it could be fully utilized and converted for Embassy use. Money shortages in America, due to the Depression, plus soured relations with the Nazi regime (after 1933) further delayed the refurbishing of the damaged building. In fact Ambassador Dodd asked the State Department not to rebuild or refurbish on the site because of the use of Pariser Platz as a Nazi showcase for rallies and marches. In the meantime the Embassy operated out of location in the Tiergarten area on Stauffenbergstraße (then known as Bendlerstaße). In 1938 Ambassador Hugh Wilson (Dodd's replacement) was recalled to the U.S. by President Roosevelt in protest over the Kristallnacht (the rampage orchestrated by the Nazis against Jews in Germany). In 1939 American Embassy staff finally did move into the chancery on Pariser Platz, now finally refurbished and usable, but made the move somewhat under duress because Nazi building head Albert Speer had ordered embassies in the Tiergarten area vacated in preparation for the grand Nazi city plan called "Germania". From 1939 to 1941 there was no Ambassador assigned to Berlin, and the Embassy was led by a Chargé d'affaires. With World War II underway, and the U.S. still a non-combatant, the staff at the embassy had placed large letters spelling "USA" on the roof of the building hoping this might help avert British bombings. Nevertheless British bombing of Berlin brought bomb damage to the U.S. Embassy chancery, and its temporary closure - or so it was thought. Four days after the attack on Pearl Harbor the U.S. and Germany were at war and the embassy ceased operations altogether and its personnel were interred for five and a half months in the "Grand Hotel Jeschke" at Bad Nauheim (famous American diplomat George F. Kennan was part of this interred group). [Michael S. Cullen: “ [http://images.zeit.de/text/2008/28/A-US-Botschaft Kriegerische Idylle] ”] The Swiss, as a neutral state, took over the building for the rest of the war.

Mission Berlin (1945–1990)

At war's end the U.S. Embassy, now even more severely damaged by many months of Allied bombing, was just barely inside East Berlin (Soviet zone), straddling the demarcation between the Soviet and American sectors. The East German government would demolish the ruins of the Embassy building in April 1957. In 1949 Bonn became the capital of West Germany, and a U.S. Embassy was opened there. The Soviet inspired state of East Germany (GDR) was set up about the same time, and despite Allied objections East Berlin was made its capital. For many years the U.S. position in regards to East Berlin was to not recognize it as the capital of East Germany. The position held that Berlin should only be the capital of a unified Germany, thus the temporary West German capital in the unlikely town of Bonn.

However, in lieu of an Embassy the U.S. State Department had a presence in West Berlin called ‘’U.S. Mission Berlin’’ [also sometimes referred to with the acronym USBER] . Mission Berlin was located on Clayallee in the upscale suburban part of West Berlin called Zehlendorf. Berlin was an occupied city, with a status very different than any other part of East or West Germany. This status of being occupied would technically last until 1994 when foreign forces left Berlin. Under these conditions U.S. Mission Berlin was in many matters under the authority of the commanding U.S. General in West Berlin, and not under the authority of the U.S. Embassy in Bonn, thus operating in a historically unique position. The General in charge would sometimes give direction and orders to U.S. State Department personnel as the need arose. Possibly the best example of this involved E. Allan Lightner, head of the U.S. Mission (c. 1959-1963) who was involved in an incident that lead to a serious stand off between American and Soviet forces in 1961 (see Checkpoint Charlie#Diplomatic incident of October 1961). Nevertheless, the Mission also wielded influence in its own right. This was seen when the city of Berlin wanted to nominate someone into the higher ranks of the city police department. On such occasions the U.S. Mission would have to approve the nomination for it to go forward — an example of occupation power authority vested in the U.S. Mission.

The U.S. Mission to Berlin was housed in a building that was part of a series of structures that formed the former headquarters of the Luftwaffe for Berlin defense during the Nazi years. This complex became the headquarters of the Berlin Brigade, part of the United States Army Berlin command in Berlin during the Cold war years. On the end of some of these buildings were Nazi ornamentations. The purely Nazi symbols were removed, but to this day large cement eagles can be seen at the corners of some of the buildings (including the one to be used by U.S. Mission Berlin) minus the swastikas that used to be below their feet. The complex had numerous buildings, several of which were quite large. One of these had one portion of one its wings serve as the U.S. State Department's Consular functions. Unique to Berlin at that time, U.S. Army MP's served as guards to this U.S. State Department facility, instead of the normal Marine Security Guard contingent at all other U.S. Embassies. The presence of U.S. Marines at the Mission might have been seen as a movement towards establishing a full fledged Embassy, which the U.S. was careful to avoid.

Embassy in East Berlin (c. 1974–1990)

Throughout the time Berlin was formally under four-power control, the U.S. was insistent that Berlin, East or West, should not be considered a capital until Berlin was unified. Relations with the East German state were hampered because of this policy, and by the erection of the Berlin Wall in 1961. The wall made the site of the former U.S. Embassy, still owned by the U.S. government, an inaccessible vacant lot that was part of the security zone separating east and west Berliners. The site became accessible after the Berlin Wall came down in November 1989, but remained a vacant lot until the 2004 groundbreaking for construction of a brand new U.S. Embassy.

In the early 1970s the U.S., along with most other western states, finally decided to grant diplomatic recognition to East Germany. However, this recognition did not extend to recognizing East Berlin as part of the GDR or its capital. The treaties establishing the U.S. Embassy in East Berlin referred only to East Germany's "seat of government." Since 1977 located its facility at Neustädtische Kirchstrasse 4-5, just several blocks from the former Blucher Palace site in the Mitte district. The building was built in the late 1800s as a club for Prussian officers, and after World War I became the home to a craft guild. This five storied, gabled building was leased to the U.S. by the East Germans. The building no longer retains any of its original interior features. The exterior retains much of its original stone facade.


With the fall of the Berlin wall and the unification of Berlin in 1989–1990, the U.S. State Department found itself with two main office facilities in "one" city: a Chancery in the former East Berlin, Mitte district (U.S. Mission to East Germany), and the Clay building in the Zehlendorf district of the former West Berlin (U.S. Mission Berlin). In accordance with the reality of a unified Berlin that was now officially part of the Federal Republic of Germany, the Department of State announced that, effective October 3, 1990, the status of the United States Embassy to East Germany and of the United States Mission Berlin were to be changed. The two missions were 'closed' and replaced by a single representation under the title United States Embassy Office Berlin. It was further announced that this new entity would function as an integral part of the U.S. Embassy to the Federal Republic of Germany located in Bonn. From 1990 to 1998 Embassy Office Berlin would act as a satellite of the Embassy in Bonn.

The 1990 announcement also indicated that "during a transition phase, some functions, including consular services for Berlin and the territory of the former GDR, will also be carried out at the location of the present United States Mission at Clayallee". That 'transition phase' would turn into what is seemingly a permanent presence in the Clay compound for some of the Embassy's functions.

For several more years (1990-1994) Allied and Soviet/Russian forces would remain in Berlin. In 1994 American, British, French and Russian forces removed their remaining troops, finally leaving Berlin no longer an occupied city. In September 1998 the Embassy in Bonn began a year long migration to Berlin, and for that year there was, as the U.S. Embassy described it, “one Embassy, two locations”. Contentions arose during this period as not all locally hired Embassy personnel in Bonn were needed in Berlin. A complicated scheme was implemented that saw some employees quit, some transfer to other U.S. facilities in Germany (other than Berlin or Bonn), and some make their way to Berlin. Also, some long time U.S. Mission Berlin/Embassy Office Berlin personnel were forced to either move to other American locations in Germany or to quit.

Starting in 1999 the U.S. Embassy in Germany was located only in Berlin. 1941 was the last time Berlin had been the host city to an American Embassy in an undivided Germany. Until 2008 the Embassy continued to operate out of the Chancery (the Neustädtische Kirchstrasse 4-5 building in the Mitte district of Berlin) and an Annex (the Clayallee building). The new building officially opened on July 4, 2008.

Consular functions are carried out at the Clay building, just as they were during the period of occupation. In fact many Berliners still commonly refer to the Clayallee building as the "Consulate", event though it is an annex to the Chancery. After the U.S. Army left Berlin in 1994, this building in its entirety became a U.S. State Department facility. The other buildings part of the Clay headquarters (U.S. Army) have largely reverted to the German government. The Clay building is located in the southern part of Berlin some six kilometers from the main Chancery.

Since 2001, the streets around the Neustädtische Kirchstrasse building have been closed and heavily fortified with barriers and fencing. In response to complaints by Berliners the Berlin government has made it clear that these security measures are temporary and will be removed now that the Pariser Platz embassy building is operational.

Non-German employees: Virtually all of the "locally hired" employees at the U.S. Embassy to East Germany (1977-1990) were not German, but were from other countries — a group sometimes still called TCNs (third country nationals). This was so because it was believed the extremely hostile intelligence threat precluded trusting any locally hired personnel (i.e., East Germans) in East Berlin. Many of the TCNs working in East Berlin were from Great Britain or other western European nations, and virtually all of them had to commute from residences in West Berlin. It was also not unusual to see similar nationalities employed in the U.S Mission in West Berlin, although they probably formed only a large minority, with locally hired Germans predominating. Amongst the non-Americans staff at U.S. Embassy Berlin there is still a large minority contingent of non-Germans.

Pariser Platz site

The new €180 million Chancery building, conceptualized in 1996 by Moore Ruble Yudell, has its main entrance facing north towards the famous Pariser Platz. Its eastern side fully abuts an existing bank building, and the west side of the land faces a main road artery. The south side also faces a street, towards the German Holocaust memorial. Pariser Platz is most famous for the Brandenburg Gate at its western entrance; the small "Haus Sommer" building, also housing a bank, is in between the northwest corner of the new U.S. Chancery and the Brandenburg Gate. Close by to Pariser Platz and the new Chancery is the Reichstag building, home to the German Bundestag. The significance of the new Chancery's location, and the prestige it brings to the U.S. Embassy is hard to overstate. Located on Pariser Platz, or on the same city blocks that surround Pariser Platz are the French and British embassies as well as the Hotel Adlon. It is worth noting that with the exception of the Brandenburg gate, which was heavily damaged in World War II, all other former structures that surrounded Pariser Platz were destroyed in the war or later demolished by the East German government by 1960. From that time until after German unification in 1990 Pariser Platz was nothing but open fields on either side of the street Unter Den Linden. In 1992 it was concluded that a new U.S. embassy building would be built on the site, and in 1993 a memorial stelle announcing such was placed in the open field.

Construction of all replacement buildings on Pariser Platz finally began in the mid 1990s, and by the late 1990s was complete, with one very obvious exception: The proposed U.S. Embassy building. The U.S. is the last Allied nation to have its Embassy building plans in Berlin accomplished; France has moved into its new Chancery in 2000, and Britain did the same in 2002, both in the Pariser Platz area. The design for the new Chancery, by American architectural firm "Moore Ruble Yudell Architects & Planners", was finalized in 1996. Since that time, and until construction started in 2004, parts of the building design were changed multiple times, largely due to security considerations and the sometimes conflicting wishes of the Berlin government to retain free public access around all building on the Pariser Platz site. Delays in funding by the U.S. Congress only worsened the delays in construction and the project languished for a time. Nevertheless waivers to U.S. government security standards were in place virtually from the beginning. The 1998 United States embassy bombings and the subsequent focus on embassy security saw the needed waiver of security standards rescinded by the Diplomatic Security Service, the law enforcement and security arm of the U.S. State Department. High-level talks between the U.S. and German governments over security issues at the Pariser Platz site would drag on for almost five more years before an agreement was reached and a new security waiver was issued, this time by the U.S. Secretary of State himself (Colin Powell). Amazingly the security waiver stood even after the attacks in America on September 11, 2001.

The main sticking points for the U.S. side had been the amount of 'stand-off' distance between the public street and the Embassy facade, with fears of a vehicle-borne bomb being the biggest factor taken into consideration. The proposed realignment of the street on the west side of the proposed Chancery was met with alarm by historical preservationist, who argued that the street realignment would take away from the Brandenburg gate's appearance. Also, on the south side of the proposed Chancery is the recently completed German national Holocaust memorial, which is officially known as the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. This memorial itself was mired in deep controversy during its planning and construction. Moving the street south of the proposed Chancery would likely impinge on the Holocaust memorial.

Slight variation to the above referenced streets bordering the Chancery site were agreed upon by the U.S. State Department. Anti-ram bollards, that fit architecturally with Pariser Platz were also agreed upon.

On the 6 October 2004 construction began. The completion, or "topping out" of the main structural parts of the building, on October 10, 2006, was cause for a German construction ritual called "Richtfest".

The new Chancery will likely not be big enough to house the large number of U.S. Embassy personnel. It is possible that one of the two currently used Embassy buildings will continue to be used after the new Chancery is occupied, most likely the Clay Allee building. Parking will be severely limited at the new Chancery.

In German media the building of the U.S. Embassy was strongly criticised for its aesthetic appearance, which was multiple described as very banal and ugly — especially if compared to the ambitious Embassys of many other states in Berlin. For example Die Welt summarised it under the headline "Ugly but safe - the new US-Embassy" [ [http://www.welt.de/kultur/article2027722/Haesslich_aber_sicher__die_neue_US-Botschaft_.html "Hässlich aber sicher – die neue US-Botschaft"] , Die Welt, 23. Mai 2008, von Hans Stimmann]

Mission Germany

The U.S. Embassy in Berlin oversees all of the U.S. Diplomatic functions in Germany, including U.S. Consulates in Frankfurt, Hamburg, Leipzig, Munich and Dusseldorf. The Embassy will refer to this in a collective term: "Mission Germany". However, the Consulate General of the United States in Frankfurt, which is the largest U.S. Consulate in the world, has vast regional responsibilities for Europe, and other nearby areas. This sets it apart from the Embassy in Berlin. The Consulate in Frankfurt asserts a certain amount of independence from the Embassy in Berlin, and has done so for several decades. In practical terms the Consulate in Frankfurt is somewhat self sufficient, whereas the other U.S. Consulates in Germany rely to a greater degree on the Embassy in Berlin to provide oversight and support in areas such as finance, general services and security. A few offices part of Mission Germany have stayed in Bonn, occupying a small portion of the former U.S. Embassy site. This was done to allow effective liaison with a few German federal agencies who did not make the move to Berlin.

Amerika Haus Berlin

Also in Berlin was a facility called the Amerika Haus, which was for many years an operation of the now defunct U.S. Information Agency, or USIA. The Amerika Haus was a two story modernistic building located near the Zoo station and the Kurfürstendamm. It had a small yard around its front and space on either side, which made it stand out in the heavily built up commercial area surrounding it. On the side of the structure were huge block letters, spelling out "Amerika Haus", in sky blue. Although technically always considered part of the U.S. diplomatic mission in Germany, Amerika Haus Berlin operated with some degree of autonomy. But as security concerns and reporting chain-of-command issues increased, Amerika Haus was brought more under the umbrella of the head of U.S. Mission Berlin (before the fall of the Berlin Wall) and later the Principal Officer in Berlin and the Ambassador in Bonn. When USIA was absorbed into the State Department in the late 1990s Amerika Haus lost its last shreds of independence. The viability of the library in Amerika Haus lessened to the point that the facility was closed and given to the German government in 2006. Note: There were other Amerika Haus facilities located in other German cities, such as Hamburg.

Former Ambassadors / Significant Embassy personnel


For a complete list see:
United States Ambassador to Germany (includes historic, W. Germany and Unified Germany)

* United States Ambassador to East Germany (East Germany)

* William Edward Dodd, 1933-1938
* Hugh Robert Wilson, 1939-1941
* John Kornblum, 1997-2001
* Daniel Coats, 2001-2005
* William R. Timken, Jr., 2005-Present

Significant personnel:
* Alexander C. Kirk
* Leland B. Morris
* George F. Kennan
* E. Allan Lightner (head of U.S. Mission Berlin 1959-1963)
* Harry J. Gilmore (last head of U.S. Mission Berlin, became the first Principal Officer of Embassy Office Berlin in October 1990)

ee also

*Embassy of Germany in Washington

External links

* [http://www.usembassy.de/ Embassy of the United States- Berlin] Official U.S. Embassy Berlin web page

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