Berlin - Germany's finance ministry - the Bundesfinanzministerium (BMF) - plans to expand near its Nazi-era headquarters in Mitte to consolidate offices that are currently spread across seven sites in central Berlin. The extension would be built across the street on Wilhelmstraße at a cost of about €322m and provide space for a finance academy, conference centre, hotel and canteen.

"First a second chancellor's office and now a second finance ministry?" asked parliamentarian Gesine Lötzsch (Die Linke). "The federal government is spreading out in Berlin like an octopus."

The details were contained in a letter from finance ministry official Bettina Hagedorn, who was responding to a Lötzsch inquiry. Lötzsch is irked by the plans, in part because of the expected permanent changes corona has made to office culture.

And the ministry doesn't need a second canteen, she says, since the first one is already "under-utilised."

"The ministry also doesn't need a convention centre with 500 seats and 150 hotel rooms," Lötzsch said - Berlin already has enough. "The federal government needs to invest in new jobs and not in more bureaucracy."

The finance ministry's approx. 2,150 employees work at various locations including the headquarters - the Detlev Rohwedder Haus - at Wilhelmstraße 97 with 1,316 offices, and the Postblock at Mauerstraße 75 with 228 offices. Both buildings belong to the federal government.

The ministry also leases space at Charlottenstraße 14/15 (155 offices), Charlottenstraße 82 (78 offices), which has actually not yet been occupied, Leipziger Straße 51 (20 offices), Leipziger Straße 126 (161 offices) and Markgrafenstraße 58 (99 offices).

Limited space at the moment

It also has two sites in Bonn. It would abandon both Bonn sites as well as the rented offices once the new construction was complete.

The ministry's Hagedorn defended the plans as part of her response to Lötzsch.

"The planned conference centre is to be used primarily by the BMF for national and international work as a communication forum," she wrote. "The construction is urgently needed due to the scarce capacities in the Detlev Rohwedder Haus."

The largest room, the Matthias Erzberger Hall, can only accommodate up to 256 people. The planned 150 rooms are intended for "the accommodation of participants in training and continuing education events at the federal finance academy."

Spread over seven locations

Lötzsch, who is also her leftwing party's deputy in the Bundestag, or lower house of parliament, would rather see new residential construction on Wilhelmstraße. Eighty per cent of the ministry's employees, she said, worked from home during the pandemic, and perhaps 40 per cent will continue to do so after the pandemic.

"So we have an office surplus, not an office shortage," she said.

Lötzsch is also concerned that construction will cost more than €322m - the estimates don't include equipment and auxiliary costs, she said. 

The ministry's headquarters was originally constructed in 1936 as the air ministry of Nazi Germany by architect Ernst Sagebiel, who also built Tempelhof Airport. It served as a home to several ministries in East Germany and then became home to the Treuhand, the government agency that sold off former East German assets, from 1991 to 1995.

It's named after Detlev Rohwedder who headed the agency but was assassinated, most likely by leftwing terrorists, in 1991.