Berliner Stadtschloss

The Stadtschloss (German: Berliner Stadtschloss, in English the Berlin City Palace), was a royal palace in the centre of Berlin, capital of Germany. The palace bore features of the Baroque style, and its shape, finalized by the mid 18th century, is attributed to Andreas Schlüter, whose first design is likely to date from 1702, though the palace incorporated earlier parts seen in 1688 by Nicodemus Tessin. It was the principal residence (winter residence) of the Hohenzollern Kings of Prussia from 1701 to 1918 (the German Emperors from 1871 to 1918) and a museum following the fall of the German Empire in 1918. Damaged by Allied bombing in World War II, although possible to repair at great expense, the palace was demolished in 1950 by the German Democratic Republic (GDR) authorities, despite West German protests. Following the reunification of Germany, it was decided to rebuild the Stadtschloss.

History up to 1871

The German word Schloss (literally "castle") is usually translated as "palace", and the later Stadtschloss replaced an earlier fort or castle guarding the crossing of the River Spree at Cölln (a town, which, on 1 January 1710, united with neighbouring Berlin under the latter name). The castle stood on Fishers’ Island, now known as Museum Island. In 1443 the Hohenzoller Frederick II "Irontooth", Margrave and Prince Elector of Brandenburg, laid the foundations of the first fort or castle ever erected in Berlin in a section of swampy wasteland north of Cölln. At the completion of the castle in 1451 Frederick Irontooth moved in from Brandenburg's prior residence in Brandenburg upon Havel. The main role of the castle and its garrison in this period was to establish the authority of the Margraves over the unruly citizens of Berlin, who were reluctant to give up their mediaeval privileges to a centralised monarchy. In 1415 King Sigismund had enfeoffed the Hohenzollern with Brandenburg, who were now establishing their power and withdrawing electoral privileges, which the cities had alienated in the prior Brandenburgian interregnum (1319–1415).

The castle also included an originally Catholic chapel. In 1454 Frederick Irontooth, after having returned - via Rome - from his pilgrimage to Jerusalem, elevated the castle chapel to become a parish church, richly endowing it with relics and altars.Pope Nicholas V ordered Stephan Bodecker, then Prince-Bishop of Brandenburg, to consecrate the Chapel to Erasmus of Formiae.

On 7 April 1465, at Frederick Irontooth's request, Pope Paul II attributed to St Erasmus Chapel a canon-law College named Stift zu Ehren Unserer Lieben Frauen, des heiligen Kreuzes, St. Petri und Pauli, St. Erasmi und St. Nicolai. This collegiate church became the nucleus of today's Evangelical Supreme Parish and Collegiate Church, neighbouring the former site of the castle.

In 1538, the Margrave Joachim II demolished the palace and engaged the master builder Caspar Theiss to build a new and grander building in the Italian Renaissance style. After the Thirty Years War (1618–48), Frederick William (1620–88), the "Great Elector", embellished the palace further. In 1688, Nicodemus Tessin saw courtyard arcades with massive columns in front. Not much is known about the alterations of 1690-5, when Johann Nering was the court architect. Martin Grünberg had carried on with the alterations in 1695-9.

In 1699 the Elector Frederick III of Brandenburg (who took the title King in Prussia in 1701, becoming Frederick I), appointed the architect Andreas Schlüter to execute so-called second plan in the Italian manner dating from 1697. Schlüter's first design is likely to date from 1702, who planned to rebuild the palace in the Protestant Baroque style. His overall conception of the shape of a regular cube enclosing a magnificently ornamented courtyard was retained by all the building directors who succeeded him. In 1706, he was replaced by Johann Friedrich Eosander von Göthe, who designed the western extension of the palace doubling its size. In all essentials, Schlüter's balanced, rhythmical articulation of the façades was retained, but Göthe moved the main entrance to the new west wing.

King Frederick William I, who became king in 1713, was interested mainly in building up Prussia as a military power, and dismissed most of the craftsmen working on the Stadtschloss. As a result, Göthe's plan was only partly implemented. Nevertheless, the exterior of the Palace had come close to its final form by the mid 18th century. The final stage was the erection of the dome in 1845, in the reign of Frederick William IV. The dome was built by Friedrich August Stüler after a design of Karl Friedrich Schinkel. Thereafter, only smaller changes in the palace’s exterior took place. Major work took place inside the palace, however, engaging the talents of Georg Wenzeslaus von Knobelsdorff, Carl von Gontard and many others.

The Stadtschloss was at the centre of the Revolution of 1848 in Prussia. Huge crowds gathered outside the palace to present an "address to the king" containing their demands for a constitution, liberal reform and German unification. Frederick William emerged from the palace to accept their demands. On March 18, a large demonstration outside the Stadtschloss led to bloodshed and the outbreak of street fighting. Frederick William later reneged on his promises and reimposed an autocratic regime. From that time onwards, many Berliners and other Germans came to see the Stadtschloss as a symbol of oppression and "Prussian militarism".

Later history

In 1871, King William I was elevated to the status of Emperor (Kaiser) of a united Germany, and the Stadtschloss became the symbolic centre of the German Empire. The Empire was, however, at least in theory a constitutional state, and from 1894 the new Reichstag building, the seat of the German parliament, came to rival and overshadow the Stadtschloss as the centre of power. In conjunction with Germany’s defeat in World War I, William II was forced to abdicate both as German Emperor and as King of Prussia. In November 1918, the Spartacist leader, Karl Liebknecht, declared the German Socialist Republic from a balcony of the Stadtschloss, ending more than 400 years of royal occupation of the building.

During the Weimar Republic, parts of the Stadtschloss were turned into a museum, while other parts continued to be used for receptions and other state functions. Under Adolf Hitler's National Socialist (Nazi) Party, which laid to rest monarchist hopes of a Hohenzollern restoration, the building was largely ignored. During World War II, the Stadtschloss was twice struck by Allied bombs: on 3 February and 24 February 1945. On the latter occasion, when the air defence and fire-fighting systems of Berlin had largely been destroyed, the building was struck by incendiaries, lost its roof and was largely burnt out.

The end of the war saw the Stadtschloss largely a burned out shell of its former glory, although the building had remained structurally sound and much of its interior decorations still preserved. It could have been restored, as many other bombed-out buildings in central Berlin later were. The old photographs of the building dated to 1945 clearly document this. But the area in which it was located was with the Soviet Union zone, which became the German Democratic Republic. The building was used for a Soviet war movie ("the Battle of Berlin") in which the Stadtschloss was used a backdrop, with the live artillery shells fired at it for the realistic cinematic impact. This brought down nearly a quarter of the western facade and set ablaze the entire area around the main dome. What was not burned and destroyed during the war, was now damaged and destroyed through this wanton act of vandalism against art. This was at a time when the Soviets were furiously reconstructing the Czarist Winter Palace in Saint Petersburg, nearly totally destroyed in the siege of Leningrad. The new Communist regime installed in East Berlin by the Soviet Union, declared the Stadtschloss as a symbol of Prussian militarism, although there seemed to be no plans to completely raze the building. Some parts of the building were in fact repaired and used from 1945 to 1950 as an exhibition space. Between September and December 1950, as a political act by the Communist party boss, Walter Ulbricht, to promote himself as a loyal cadre, the building was dynamited and the rubble of the demolished building quickly carried off to the city suburbs for disposal, where they survive today as a query for marbles and architectural elements of the old Stadtschloss. Of the entire extensive building, only the balcony from which Liebknecht had declared the German Socialist Republic was preserved, and later removed the Council of State Staatsratsgebäude building where it formed the main entrance. The empty space was then used as a parade ground.

In 1964, the GDR built a new Staatsrat or State Parliament building on part of the site, incorporating Liebknecht’s balcony in its facade. From 1973 to 1976, during the reign of Erich Honecker, a large modernist building was built, the Palast der Republik (Palace of the Republic), which occupied most of the site of the former Stadtschloss. Shortly before German reunification in October 1990, the Palast der Republik was found to be contaminated with asbestos and was closed to the public. After reunification, the Berlin city government ordered the removal of the asbestos, a process which was completed by 2003. In November 2003, the German federal government decided to demolish the building and leave the area as parkland pending a decision as to its ultimate future. Demolition started in February 2006 and was completed in 2008.

Plans for reconstruction

After reunification, not many Germans advocated the reconstruction of the Stadtschloss. Some supported a complete rebuilding, while others suggested that the exterior façades be rebuilt, with a modern interior behind them. Lobby groups such as the Society for the Berliner Schloss (Gesellschaft Berliner Schloss) and the Promotional Association for the Berliner Schloss (Förderverein Berliner Schloss) were formed, and in 2001 these came together as the Stadtschloss Berlin Initiative. These groups prepared detailed plans for rebuilding the Stadtschloss and for its use after reconstruction. They argued that the rebuilding of the Stadtschloss would restore the unity and integrity of the historical centre of Berlin, which includes the Berliner Dom, the Lustgarten and the museums of Museum Island.

There were also many Germans who opposed this proposal: some advocated the retention of the Palast der Republik on the grounds that it was itself of historical significance, while others argued that the area should become a public park. Opponents of the project argued that a new building would be a pastiche of former architectural styles, would be an unwelcome symbol of Germany’s imperial past, and would be unacceptably expensive for no definite economic benefit. This despite the fact that the building served as a museum after 1918 and until its deliberate destruction in 1950 by the order of Walter Ulbricht as a purely political gesture. They also argued that it would be impossible to reconstruct accurately the interior of the building, since neither detailed plans nor the necessary craft skills are available. This objection was groundless in face of the fact that Stadtschloss was a building with one of the best photographic documentation of its interior when it was converted to a museum following 1918, as well as the survival of nearly all detailed plans for it interior and exterior construction and decoration. In fact compared to the Czarist Russia's Winter Palace in Saint Petersburg that was nearly totally destroyed in the course of the World War II, and was later reconstructed largely through guesswork by the Soviet authorities, the Stadtschloss was rather reasonably well preserved by the end of the war. In view of the opposition, most importantly the psychological and political objections, but also the high cost, successive German governments declined to commit themselves to the project. By 2002 and 2003 cross-party resolutions of the Bundestag reached a compromise to support at least a partial rebuilding of the Stadtschloss, but no definite decision was made. In 2007, the Bundestag (German parliament) made a definitive decision about the reconstruction. According to this compromise, three façades of the palace will be rebuilt, but the interior will be a postmodern structure to serve as a cultural-political forum. Work on the 'Humboldtforum', as the new palace will be called, has been delayed until at least 2014 due to German government budget cuts. Meanwhile, off-site stonemasonry has already commenced. Even after accepting that the external reconstruction of all but the eastern facade is to follow the historic original as closely as possible, it is still uncertain how the large amount of masonry can be provided with the limited available funds. There seems to be a strong traditional opposition to casting the figures, although this would allow many of the often elderly sponsors to experience the palace while still alive. The traditional German way of "archaelogical reconstruction" by local stonemasons seems impossible both regarding costs and time. A proposal has been made of contracting this work to the effectively mechanized stone carving enterprises in Xiamen, China.