BERLIN (AP) _ Glass-sheathed skyscrapers went up in the former no man's land of the Berlin Wall faster than anyone had imagined. But it's a palace whose cornerstone was laid in 1443 that's generating the most architectural angst in the reunited German capital.

The palace isn't even there anymore, at least not the one the Kaisers lived in. East Germany started dismantling the baroque building, which was damaged in World War II, 50 years ago Thursday.

The question that divides east and west Berliners today is whether to rebuild the Berlin City Palace or keep the ``Palace of the Republic,'' the socialist-realist parliament building erected in its place.

A federal commission is being formed this fall under orders from the Cabinet to settle the dispute.

It took about four months in 1950 to reduce the immense palace to dust and make space for the smaller parliament building and a marching ground intended to handle 800,000 communist flag-wavers. The destruction was condemned by preservationists as an ``incomprehensible'' act of ``cold-blooded murder,'' but the communist leaders insisted all the fuss would die out quickly.

It hasn't.

Ever since the fall of the Wall, backers of reconstruction have been pushing to restore the old palace, home to Prussian kings and once the central feature in Berlin's architecture at the other end of the stately Unter den Linden boulevard from the Brandenburg Gate.

``To complete the old center would give back to the people a piece of identity,'' said Wilhelm von Boddien, head of the group pushing for a rebuilt palace. The new building, to contain a cultural center, museum and office space, would cost an estimated $523 million.

Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, whose temporary office overlooks the empty square and the crumbling parliament building, has offered moral support.

``If I had to express a wish, then I'd be for the palace,'' Schroeder said last year. ``And that's simply because it's beautiful.''

Yet a counter-campaign has been formed to save the East German ``Palace of the Republic,'' which is undergoing asbestos removal that should be completed by late next year. More than just home to the rubber-stamp parliament, the building was a place where East Germans could celebrate weddings, go bowling and enjoy cultural programs.

``We should let the people keep this possession,'' said Lieselotte Schulz, chairwoman of the Society for the Preservation of the Palast der Republik, who recalls sipping coffee with friends and hearing Beethoven's Ninth Symphony in the building. ``We don't have a Kaiser. The palace would just be a memorial, a reconstruction and not a real palace anymore.''

Von Boddien counters that the East German building, a box-like construction with copper-tinted windows, is just ugly.

Architecture critics have compared it to what one finds ``on the way to any American airport,'' he says. Besides, the palace won't cost that much more than any other plans for the space, he insists.

Roland Kratt, who was reading the informational panels erected on the empty square by reconstruction boosters, said he would support keeping both old and new.

``I think we need a historic symbol in the city center to remind us of our past,'' said Kratt, a businessman from Sauerland. ``But nothing too big or too expensive though.''