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18 Oct 2010

Old ghosts: Former Iraqi embassy

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Photojournalist Stefan Boness visits the former Iraqi Embassy in East Germany – which has lain derelict for 20 years

Relics of two fallen regimes endow the Iraqi Embassy to Communist East Germany with a unique historical fascination. The prefab Eastern-bloc building is still home to faded Iraqi documents and photographs of Saddam Hussein – nearly 20 years ago after it was abandoned following the fall of the Berlin Wall. Embassy staff left the building for the last time in January 1991 – the year Iraqi forces marched into Kuwait. Since then the 5,000 sq m site has fallen into ruin, its decline accelerated by vandals and grafitti artists. But what remains is an intriguing snapshot of office life in the base of an Arab dictatorship in a Communist republic: overturned chairs, worn-out sofas, ravaged desks and filing cabinets, rusty typewriters and telex machines, shards of glass on the floor everywhere; and heaps of embassy files, official brochures, documents, letters, photos, and pictures of the country’s leader. Iraq was the first non-socialist country to recognise East Germany as a state, in 1969, and the embassy was built three years later – evidence of strong relations between the two nations. But in its present state the building, which has been replaced by an embassy to a unified Germany across Berlin, is a powerful reminder of how one country has changed – and another vanished.

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