"God grant that not only the love of liberty, but a thorough knowledge of the rights of man may pervade all the nations of the earth so that a philosopher may set his foot anywhere on its surface and say "this is my country".’
The hope cherished by Benjamin Franklin and engraved in stone in the foyer of the Congress Hall serves to remind us of the mission of the House of World Cultures, which is now resident in the building. Benjamin Franklin is also the patron saint of the foundation of the same name that was set up to construct the Congress Hall in Berlin. Its activities were closely linked with the US government’s commitment to Berlin during the 1950s and 1960s.
At the time of the International Building Exhibition, where an elite group of international architects was invited to submit proposals and ideas for architectural designs for the Tiergarten, an American commission travelled to Berlin to prepare the US contribution. The result was the project for a congress hall that would serve as a centre of cultural, educational and scientific advancement encouraging greater and more extensive international communication. From the very start, the building was commissioned with the goal of promoting intercultural dialogue.
In May 1955, a non-profit foundation was called into being under the chairmanship of Mrs. Eleanor Dulles, the sister of the then US Secretary of State. In the eyes of the foundation, which financed the construction of the Congress Hall, the architectural concept incarnated its goals. Emphasis was placed on the symbolic character of the building as a "forum of the free exchange of ideas". Benjamin Franklin was chosen as the patron saint of the foundation two reasons: firstly, he embodied the idea of intellectual freedom "not only in legend, but also in deed"; secondly, the 250th anniversary of Benjamin Franklin’s birthday coincided with the year (1956) the foundation stone of the Congress Hall was laid.
The Benjamin Franklin Foundation did not, as originally intended, conclude its work when the construction of the Congress Hall was completed in 1957, but continued to work for the reconstruction of West Berlin for thirteen years in all.