Reich Chancellery

The Reich Chancellery (German: Reichskanzlei) was the traditional name of the office of the Chancellor of Germany (then called Reichskanzler) in the period of the German Reich from 1871 to 1945. Today the office is usually called Kanzleramt (Chancellor's Office), or more formally Bundeskanzleramt (Federal Chancellor's Office).


Old Reich Chancellery

When the military alliance of the North German Confederation was reorganised as a federal state with effect from July 1, 1867, the office of a Federal Chancellor (Bundeskanzler) was implemented at Berlin and staffed with the Prussian Prime Minister Otto von Bismarck. After the unification of Germany on January 18, 1871 by accession of the South German states, Bismarck became Reich Chancellor of the new German Empire.


In 1869 the Prussian state government had acquired the Rococo city palace of late Prince Antoni Radziwiłł on Wilhelmstraße No. 77 (former "Palais Schulenburg"), which from 1875 was refurbished as the official building of the Chancellery. It was inaugurated with the meetings of the Berlin Congress in July 1878, followed by the Congo Conference in 1884.


In the days of the Weimar Republic the Chancellery was significantly enlarged by the construction of a Modern annex finished in 1930. In 1932/33, while his office on Wilhelmstraße No. 73 was renovated, the building also served as the residence of President Paul von Hindenburg, where he appointed Adolf Hitler as Chancellor on 30 January 1933. The Cabinet Hitler held few meetings here. In 1935 the architects Paul Troost and Leonhard Gall redesigned the interior as Hitler's domicile. They also added a large reception hall/ballroom and conservatory, officially known as the Festsaal mit Wintergarten in the garden area. The latter addition was unique because of the large cellar that led a further one-and-a-half meters down to an air-raid shelter known as the Vorbunker. Once completed in 1936, it was officially called the "Reich Chancellery Air-Raid Shelter" until 1943, with the construction to expand the bunker complex with the addition of the Führerbunker, located one level below. The two bunkers were connected by a stairway set at right angles that could be closed off from each other.


Devastated by air raids and the Battle of Berlin, the ruins of the Old Reich Chancellery were not cleared until 1950.


New Reich Chancellery

In late January 1938, Adolf Hitler officially assigned his favourite architect Albert Speer to build the New Reich Chancellery around the corner on Voßstraße, a branch-off of Wilhelmstraße, requesting that the building be completed within a year. Hitler commented that Bismarck's Old Chancellery was "fit for a soap company" but not suitable as headquarters of a Greater German Reich. It nevertheless remained his official residence with its recently refurbished representation rooms on the groundfloor and private rooms on the upper floor where Hitler lived in the so called Führerwohnung ("Führer apartment"). Old and New Chancellery shared the large gardens with the underground Führerbunker, where Hitler committed suicide at the end of World War II in 1945.


Speer claimed in his autobiography that he completed the task of clearing the site, designing, constructing, and furnishing the building in less than a year. In fact, preliminary planning and versions of the designs were already being worked on as early as 1935. To clear the space for the New Reich Chancellery, the buildings on the northern side of Voßstraße No. 2 - 10 had already been demolished in 1937.


Hitler placed the entire northern side of the Voßstraße at Speer's disposal assigning him the work of creating grand halls and salons which "will make an impression on people". Speer was given a blank cheque — Hitler stated that the cost of the project was immaterial — and was instructed that the building be of solid construction and that it be finished by the following January in time for the next New Year diplomatic reception to be held in the new building.


Over 4,000 workers toiled in shifts, so the work could be accomplished round-the-clock. The immense construction was finished 48 hours ahead of schedule, and the project earned Speer a reputation as a good organiser, which, combined with Hitler's fondness for Speer played a part in the architect becoming Armaments Minister and a director of forced labour during the war. Speer recalls that the whole work force — masons, carpenters, plumbers, etc. were invited to inspect the finished building. Hitler then addressed the workers in the Sportpalast. However, interior fittings dragged on well into the early 1940s.


In the end it cost over 90 Million Reichsmark, well over one billion dollars today, and hosted the ministries of the Reich.


In his memoirs, Speer described the impression of the Reichskanzlei on a visitor:


The series of rooms comprising the approach to Hitler's reception gallery were decorated with a rich variety of materials and colours and totalled 220 m (725 ft) in length. The gallery itself was 145 m (480 ft) long. Hitler's own office was 400 square meters in size. From the exterior, the chancellery had a stern, authoritarian appearance. From the Wilhelmplatz, visitors would enter the Chancellery through the Court of Honour (Ehrenhof). The building's main entrance was flanked by two bronze statues by sculptor Arno Breker: "Wehrmacht" and "Partei" ("Armed Forces" and "Party"). Hitler is said to have been greatly impressed by the building and was uncharacteristically effusive with his praise for Speer, lauding the architect as a "genius". The chancellor's immense study was a particular favourite of the dictator. The large marble-topped table served as an important part of the Nazi leader's military headquarters, the study being used for military conferences from 1944 on. On the other hand, the Cabinet room was never used for its intended purpose.


The New Reich Chancellery was badly damaged during the Battle of Berlin in April 1945. After the war, the remains in what was now East Berlin were demolished by orders of the Soviet occupation forces. Parts of the building's marble walls were said to be used to build the Soviet war memorial in Treptower Park or to renovate the nearby war-damaged Mohrenstraße U-Bahn station which is an early version of an urban legend. Some of the red marble was used in the palatial Underground stations in Moscow. Also a heater from Hitler's rooms was replaced in a Protestant hospital.


While the western half of the premises were seized for the "death strip" of the Berlin Wall in 1961, a Plattenbau apartment block and a kindergarten were erected on the eastern corner with Wilhelmstraße in the 1980s.


Social legacy

The Old and New Reich Chancellery served as a gathering place for militarists, scientists, artists, industrialists, economists, nobility, socialites, athletes, and politicos from throughout world during the 1930s and 40s, and hosted elaborate parties. Guests included Erna Sack,Galeazzo Ciano,Lord Londonderry,Herbert Hoover,Yosuke Matsuoka, Philipp of Hesse, the La Scala Ballet,Nevile Henderson,Haj Amin Husseini,Unity Mitford,Vyacheslav Molotov, Thomas Beecham, Emil Hácha,Thomas J. Watson,Arthur Balfour,F.H. Fentener,Leni Riefenstahl, Sven Hedin,Franz Josef II of Liechtenstein,Max Schmeling, John Simon, Maksim Purkayev,Pál Teleki, Vladimir Dekanozov,Gonzalo Queipo de Llano,Sumner Welles,Károly Csáky,Paul of Yugoslavia,Olga of Greece and Denmark, and Anthony Eden.


The Duke and Duchess of Windsor were hosted at the Hotel Kaiserhof overlooking the Chancellery in 1937.


References & Citations

  • Kellerhoff, Sven Felix (2006). Berlin unterm Hakenkreuz (Berlin under the Swastika). Berlin: Berlin Edition be.bra Verlag GmbH. ISBN 978-3-8148-0147-6. 

  • Allied Intelligence Map of Key Buildings in Berlin (Third Edition, 1945)

Documentary

  • Ruins of the Reich DVD R.J. Adams (Third Reich architecture ruins)
  • Hitlers Berlin 3D - Die Reichskanzlei Interaktiv DVD. Flashback Medien UG, 978-3-9813977-4-1 (Computer Animation of the Reich Chancellery).
  • "Albert Speer's New Reich Chancellery" DVD

25fps-filmproduction GmbH & Co. KG (3D Computer Animation "Construction History and Street Facades" and "Garden Facades and Court of Honor")

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