During the notorious "phonic war at the Wall", a high school graduate from Reinbek near Hamburg experienced the historic moment when the world was divided in two.

During his first visit to Berlin in 1961, he saw the West Berlin Senate driving large loudspeaker vans along the wall that was just being built to call on people in East Berlin to flee with marching music and loud appeals.

The Hamburg merchant and architecture lover Wilhelm von Boddien opens his memories with this curiosity from the history of Berlin's division.

When he first arrived from the deserted Linden Boulevard at the empty parade ground on the Spreeinsel, where the city palace had stood until 1950, he had little doubt that the palace would one day be rebuilt in a reunified Germany.

This, however, required more than thirty years of private commitment, with which Wilhelm von Boddien organized interest far beyond Berlin, the political majorities and finally also 117 million euros in donations for the rebuilding of the Hohenzollern residence.

"Without Wilhelm von Boddien, the palace would not exist," states the liberal publicist Hermann Rudolph in the foreword to Boddien's "Memoirs" and calls its building success one of the "most surprising and astounding twists and turns in Berlin's richly twisted history".

Finally on the home stretch

At the beginning, von Boddien tells of the resistance of well-known art historians, especially from the GDR, to the demolition of the palace, which, despite bomb damage, continued to be used as an exhibition and administration building.

The government of the GDR then spoke of "reconstruction at a different location", had thousands of photos taken of the partially destroyed building before the blast and the remains of the baroque sculptures deposited around Berlin.

After the fall of communism in 1989, von Boddien searched the East Berlin landfills with a few comrades-in-arms from East and West, where he often found complete herm pilasters by Balthasar Permoser or genii by Andreas Schlueter.

At times, allotment gardeners had towed away the spolia as party furniture and were not amused when the friends of the castle asked for them to be returned.

As a result, von Boddien had to buy some of the fragments at a high price – "otherwise there would have been no chance of getting more original parts".

The author also describes the search for measurement images and construction plans as tedious, especially since the palace architects Andreas Schlueter and Eosander von Göthe fell out of favor with the stingy soldier king Friedrich I and left Berlin with the construction plans.

Celebrities from business and politics

When the big building competitions began in the revived capital after 1991, von Boddien founded his castle association in order to have a very immodest say in urban planning: "But I had an invaluable advantage: I was a nobody, had no name and no reputation to lose." Great In 1993, the full-size simulation of the palace façade attracted attention.

The French theater decorator Catherine Feff painted the facade on nine thousand square meters of foil and hung it on a steel frame on the Spree island.

In order to involve the opponents of the castle, von Boddien asked the gallery owner Kristin Feireiss to present an exhibition there with contemporary architect designs.

In 1950, the professional public still protested against the demolition of the castle, but the following generation fought against its reconstruction.

With the Bundestag decision of 2002 to reconstruct the palace but to finance the historic façade through donations, the project was finally on the home straight.

The promise to attribute entire building elements to major donors and to mention them on certificates and tapes motivated many donors.

Boddien liked to surround himself with celebrities from business and politics, but always with an eye on the next donation.

The extensive name dropping in the book of memories suggests less a craving for recognition than the sense of mission of an almost fanatical cultural proselyte.

When the opponents could no longer prevent reconstruction, they began to move the palace initiators into the right-wing extremist camp.

Von Boddien describes the initiator of this campaign, the Kassel architecture professor Philipp Oswalt, as a man who has been trying for years to "publicly discredit and even criminalize" him.

It began in 2008 with a criminal complaint – rejected by the public prosecutor – against Oswalt, which accused Boddien and board members of the castle association of embezzling donations and taking personal advantage.

And the fight isn't over yet: Oswalt recently obtained an injunction against von Boddien's memoir because some of the dates and attributions in it are inaccurate.

The publisher will now correct the affected five sentences.

At the very end of his memoirs, von Boddien hopes for a further correction: that he will also be cleared of the accusation that he was close to right-wing extremist supporters.

The latest news that the Humboldt Forum Foundation, after examining the donors, rejects all political suspicions against the association, will of course only appear in the new edition of the history of the palace.

Wilhelm von Boddien: "The Berlin Palace Adventure".

Memoirs of an idealist.

Wasmuth & Zohlen Verlag, Berlin 2022. 192 p., ill., born, €24.80.