German Chancellor Angela Merkel was just named the Time Person of the Year, a nod to her role as the de facto head of the European Union and the leadership she showcased during a string of crises this year, from working to resolve the Greek debt, attempting to manage a massive influx of refugees, and battling terrorism. As one of the world's more powerful government leaders, Merkel wields influence across the continent, so it's not surprising her official home reflects a certain pomp and circumstance. Those who view the White House or 10 Downing Street as impressive symbols of national power should check out the 129,166-square-foot German Chancellery, or Bundeskanzleramt, which contains government offices along with an official apartment for the Chancellor on the top floor. Bigger than the White House (which measures approximately 55,000 square feet), the building opened in 2001, and as one may expect for a project imbued with so much national significance and symbolism, it has its detractors. In fact, the German public has given it a handful of nicknames: Kohllosseum (a reference to Helmut Kohl, who held the office in the '80s and '90s), the Bundeswaschmaschine (which translates to the federal washing machine), or more bluntly, the Elefantenklo (elephant bathroom).
Located in a bend in the River Spree in Berlin, near the Reichstag, the Chancellery consists of three buildings, a central main office set inside a simple white brick cube flanked by two smaller buildings filled with administrative staff. Charlotte Frank and Alex Schultes, German architects who won a public contest to design the building in 1994, were given the challenging task of creating a relevant and regal home for the German head of state without recalling negative historical associations (the land upon which the building sits figured into Albert Speer's proposed plans for a grand Berlin). Their award-winning plan aimed to resolve these two issues with a series of simple, elegant forms. A centerpiece of the federal government's official move from Bonn to Berlin, the Chancellery opens up onto a garden and courtyard, with irregular columns and curved concrete forms that recall the monumentalism of Kahn and classic temple architecture, such as Hagia Sophia. Merkel's predecessor, Gerhard Schröder, supposedly asked for something "more Bauhaus." While it's not quite the people's house, like the American seat of government, it does allow tourists and local to visit for one weekend a year, usually in August.
An small, 200-square-meter, two-room flat on the top floor is traditionally set aside for the Chancellor, but Merkel has chosen to live elsewhere in Berlin, at her own apartment in the Mitte district. Not surprisingly, her current private residence is off limits. But those wanting to see how she lived before becoming a famous politician can check out her old apartment on Prenzlauer Berg in Berlin where she lived from 1986 to 1990, which is listed on Airbnb. It's also the place where a story supporting Merkel's famous low-key style originated. Supposedly, on the night the Berlin Wall fell, Merkel, who lived blocks away from one of the main checkpoint, was chilling out in a nearby sauna.
∙ All Berlin coverage [Curbed]