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In Berlin, the Reichstag is under wraps

A knot here, a knot there. Except for tying a few big strings, Christo's wrapping of the Reichstag was complete Friday and working its magic.

Opinions ranged widely on the $11-million draping of Germany's once and future parliament, one of Europe's biggest art events of the year: "Brilliant!" "A sleeping grandfather," "A castle with a secret," "Should have spent the money on the Third World."

Climbers and others involved in the massive project worked through a week of blustery winds and occasional drizzle to veil the 101-year-old, war-scarred Reichstag with 70 panels of lustrous silver fabric.

By this afternoon, the final lengths of almost 10 miles of blue rope will be in place to complete the wrapped-and-tied effect.

The wrapping comes off starting July 6. Then renovation begins so the Reichstag can house Germany's parliament when the government moves from Bonn by 2000.

Since first seeking permission to wrap the building in 1971, Christo and his wife, Jeanne-Claude, have become known for such projects as dotting blue and yellow umbrellas around the California and Japanese countrysides and wrapping Paris' Pont Neuf bridge.

The Reichstag was their "sleeping beauty."

Berliners are more apt to call it a Klotz, a block, or, figuratively, a monstrosity. The sandstone building has a forbidding air; its original graceful glass dome was not put back in a 1960s restoration, so the building is lower than its 445-foot front would seem to demand.

The Reichstag is sad evidence of Germany's tortured path to democracy. It housed a weak parliament during the German Empire and suffered a devastating fire in 1933 that gave Hitler a pretext to impose dictatorship.

In 1945, the Soviet Red Army focused its battle for Berlin on the Reichstag, and from 1961 to 1989 it stood beside the Berlin Wall as a museum and last sentinel on West Berlin's side.

"I think it's a brilliant idea to wrap the Reichstag. It's the most historic building in Berlin and maybe in Germany, and now people are thinking about it," said Jana Kuchinke-Hofer, a Berliner in her 20s.

"I thought at one point it was like a castle with a secret behind it, like in the fairy tales," she said.

Is the wrap undignified, as opponents have claimed?

"It is," Kuchinke-Hofer said, "but it's still good to do it. It shows we're not all that serious."

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