“In search of identity.
Debate about the Stadtschloss in Berlin”
Postwar Architecture in Germany and Italy
prof. Sonja Hildebrand
ass. Matteo Trentini
Index of context:
1. In search of identity
2. Stadtschloss as it used to be.
3. Destruction of old Stadschloss.
4. Future of the site
5. Berlinese architecture
6. Unwanted guest.
7. Bright future?
8. New identity?
“Berlin is a city that never is, but is always in the process of becoming
?(Immerfort zu werden und niemals zu sein – Karl Scheffer, 1910)”
1. In search of identity
How to write about Berlin, a city of so many contrasts and contradictions that sometimes brings to a conclusion that it is not a unique and plain city, rather a mass of bigger and smaller pieces that all together create the (in)famous capital of Germany. Such image is a result of the political changes that occured Germany throughout its lifetime.
Europe in XX century has undergone many political changes. Germany and especially Berlin has witnessed all of it on it’s “skin”. It was a lab rat of the last century, where different ideologies could prosper and be applied in practice. The consequence of such treatment of the capital of Germany is that nowadays it has a huge identity crisis. 28 years has passed since the unification of East and West.
Berlin is in need of new identity as the capital of unified Germany in order to „counterbalance to the city’s politically charged recent history as the capital of Nazi Germany and former East Berlin as the capital of the German Democratic Republic”1. The geopolitical situation of Berlin was unique: on one side the capitalistic west on the other communist east. Consequences of this position are still visible in the XXI century. Even for a non sensible tourist and visitor, the city still shows the traces of this geopolitcal situation of past cenutry of Berlin. The most obvious and visbile one is represented by the architecture.
Division of the past is also reflected in the present. Debate about the identity of the city and the way it should be rebuilt, divides the society and the governent in two parts. The best example of this situation is the ongoing project of historical reconstruction of the Stadschloss. Located in one of the most prestigous plots in Berlin – Spreinsel,it is the most representative and the very centre of Berlin (if it really has such a centre).
The dispute started in 2002 was at its peak in year 2006, when the governement decided to demolish the existing socialist Palace of the Republic. Many architects and habitants opposed to demolition of the building, while the other part was strongly determined with the reconstruction of the historical residence of the Prussian kings and by doing so restoring the image of Berlin.
2. Stadschloss as it used to be.
The earliest documents that mention the existance of Berlin, under the name of Cölln, date back to the first half of the XIII century. The growth of the importance of the towns led into construction of the fortress in the XV century under the Prince Frederick II. Due to strategic position of the cities it was expanding fast and so did grew the ambitions of its rulers. In the XVI century under the elector Joachim II the old fortress was almost completly destroyed in order to create new renaissance palace designed by the court architects Caspar Theiss and Kunz Buntschuh. His successors were adapting the palace according to their needs and desires until the elector Friedrich III came into power.
Year 1701 was definately the turning point in the history of twin cities of Berlin and Cölln. In that year two towns merged together and created the capital of the Kingdom of Prussia. This resulted in the need of new royal character and identity of the city and its palace. This task has been assigned to the architect Andreas Schlüter who was already a recognized sculptor. The palace except of its residential and institutional character was to become a symbol of the new Kingdom. Wolf J. Siedler described the importance of this monument – ” The Schloss wasn’t located in Berlin (…) Berlin was the Schloss”2.
The architect inspired by the Italian palaces has trasformed and enlarged the old renaissance building into “most splendid residence in all of Germany”3. New palace was to show the power and greatness of the new Kingdom of Prussia. But not only the palace has been changed in Berlin. In order to create new image and therefore new identity the old and clumsy city had to be transformed as well. New baroque cities were founded, and the number of habitants between “1680 and 1784 grew 15 times – from 9.800 into 145.000”. To the ordinary buildings, no matter if old or new, baroque facades were “glued”. This way Berlin could be finally become a royal city.
Unfortunately Schlüters career didn’t last long. He has been replaced by a Swedish architect Johann Eosander von Göthe after the tower designed by his predecessor collapsed. New palace architect doubled the size of the building. In the following years many architects have been working on enlargement and renovation of the palace, however the changes made by Schlüter (especially the baroque facades) were the most influential and the one that created the most recognizable image of the building.4
3. Destruction of old Stadschloss.
II World War brought destruction to the city. 1,5 milion of habitants became homeless.5 Berlin was divided into 2 zones of West and East accordingly to the occupation zones. Each government started the reconstruction of the city with demolishments. Most of the building assosiated with the past nazi regime has been destroyed. and so did other monuments of Berlin. On the 7th of September First Secretary of the Socialist Unity Party – Walter Ulbricht has ordered demolition of the Stadtschloss. Despite the fact that the residence was in good shape, even after heavy bombing and fires, the building had to disappear, not only as a building but more as a symbol of german nazionalism and its former Prussian power.
4. Future of the site
After demolition of the Hohenzollern’s residency, Spreeinsel received a huge void. It remaind so for 23 years until 1973, when the GDR governent decided to build there the seat of their parliament. Decision of situaiting such a significant public building was clear. Former heart of Berlin with one of the most important cultural objects in the city, was definately the right location for communists to show their superiority over the Western world.
The architect behind the construcion was Heinz Graffunder in colaboration with other architects from the Bauakademie. The idea of the building was to create a new political and cultural centre of East Berlin. The marble pavements, the 3 story atrio that led into a multifunctional hall, that could hold up to 4500 people when needed. If the seats werent needed they could disapear thanks to the machinical ramps, and the hall gained completly new character. Program and functionality of the “House of the People” was impressive. 2 enormous auditoriums, restaurants, bars, theather, art galleries a discotheque – it was truly the heart of the East Berlin.
5. Berlinese architecture
After the fall of the wall Berlin was finally unified. 28 years of division changed people, governments and the city. The two became once again – one – the capital of the reunified Germany. Many contradictions, differences and fragments became again the base for the discussion about the identity of the city. What is the image of Berlin? What should be the right way to restore/create the “new” Berlin
“In the 90 the debate about architecture of Berlin a will of normalization of German history. Berlin has to transform itself in a normal european city, Germany in a normal country, whose wretched history could be collectivly canceled from the city and the society with the conclusion of the post-war period.”6.For Philipp Oswalt such decision leads nowhere. He claims that such forthwith decisions lead into willful and casual consequences that create the new willful and casual identity of the city ( the best example that confirms the statement of the architect could be Potsdamer Platz).
Oswalt evokes words of the director of the senate for the public works Hans Stimamann, who’s vision of new berlinese architecute is “disciplined, Prussian, of discreet colors, made of stone, based on straight lines rather than on curves”7. Idea of the architect and urban planner is to create a homogenous image of Berlin. Repetition of the same square blocks, covered by different facades – strange repetition of history? However unimaginative and uncreative it seems that becomes the new identity of Berlin.
6. Unwanted guest.
But image isn’t created only with residential, commercial etc. architecture. There is also need of iconic architecture with which, the society can identify, as a symbol of their ancestors legacy. Spreeinsel was obviously such a symbolic and spiritual place, except of one problem – Palace of the Republic.
Socialist monument stood still on one of the most important plots in centre of Berlin. If anybody dreamed of new berlinese identity, the palace had to disapear. After 14 years of vigorouse existance the building was officialy closed due to asbestos contamination. To solve the problem of the palace and decide upon the future of this iconic area of Berlin “Spreeinsel Urban Design Competition” was launched at the end of year 1993.
“From the 1,105 entries submitted, 52 were selected for the second phase.”8
Jury decided that the best concept was made by architect Bernd Niebuhr. “His concept is strongly orientated on the historical city plan and envisages a new building on the site of the Stadtschloss in the form of a closed structure based on the historical palace cubatur”9. The design was never realised, except one of the key part of the proposal of the berlinese architect – demolition of the communist palace.
Final decision about the futue of the palace was made in 2006 ( 3 years after removing dangerous asbestos from the site) and it met with huge criticism. Habitants and architects, questioned the choice of the government. For them it wasn’t just about looking at the building through idological incentives. In itself the palace was a good multiuse structure, that offered a lot of different possibilites. The opponents didn’t agree on demolition as an example for the future. It was a manifesto of a “revolt against historical censorship”.10
The manifesto was supported by the figure of Oswalt who claimed that -“The demolition of the Place of the Republic is a symbolic killing of the representation of the communist regime of former East Germany (…) It’s an expression of a desire by today’s political elite to redesign Germany’s past, by skipping the histoy of the 20th century and starting again in the 19th century (…) But it is a mistake beacuse Berlin has been shaped by the 20th century, by both the positive and negative aspects of history.”11
Also Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas, who is considered one of the most influential architects and intelectuals nowadays, agreed with his german colleague. In the interview from 2006 for Spiegel, he was asked about his opinion on the demolition of the palce, in which he stated that “tearing down the palace is a crime, simply because it was a special, recognizable artifacy of a past political system”12. In his opinion whether the building was ugly, or was a creation of communist propaganda still should be preserved, because of its historical importance.
7. Bright future?
Voices of the opponents didn’t influecne the government. On 2th of December 2008 the last parts of the palace were demolished. New competition was launched in the same year. 30 international architecture offices (out of 85 entries) were invited for the second stage of competition, that was eventually won by the Italian architect Francesco Stella. 15 years after the first competition, 13 times less entries were submited. This fact could be an outcome of different reasons. Very rigorous competition brief, that obliged the architects, to occupy the whole site of the old Stadtschloss and to apply a “baroque facade”, was without denial the biggest challange and limitation.
“Art and Culture Centre -Humblodt-Forum” construction started on the 21 June 2012. 29 000 sq m of multiuse space and 3 courtyards used as public squares will become a “place of meeting with the cultures of the world”. The exterior is to be rebuild according to the original plans Schulter design (except the facade facing Alexanderplatz due to insufficent documentation), meanwhile the interior will receive a completly new and modern character in order to host better the new program.
The forum with a price tag for over 600.000.000 euro “will restore the familiar picture of Berlin, complete its historic centre and heal the previously wounded cityscape. Its reconstruction is making Berlin once more the much-loved ‘Athens on the Spree’. In this way a counterpoint is being created to the mass-produced modern areas of the city’s centre. As a result, Berlin is now again becoming an exciting city in architectural terms as well. If it doesn’t want to become boring, modernity has to face up to the city’s history, allow itself to be judged against historic architecture and compete with it. The way Berlin Palace is utilised will be pioneering, redefining in its task the centre of the city.”13
8. New identity?
The choices, that were taken after the unification of Berlin, lead to creation of new European Berlin, but isn’t this a missed opportunity? The city’s most recent past was unique in the world. Oswald Mathias Ungers was one of the architects who, already in year 1960 saw the separation of the city as a challange and possibility. He saw Berlin as “a unique situation of a city which is totally cut off and completly artificial, therefore presenting a new condition, so I’ll turn it into laboratory”14. His vision of Berlin was very interesting. He studied the city in terms of “presence of historical particles, but also the presence of the contemporary, with a very utopian, futuristic dimension”15.
His work wasn’t only involved in the division period. He took part in the competition (together with Stefan Vieths) from 1993, where they proposed, a very interesting and challenging project for the Schlossplatz. Their idea was to diminish its monumental and propagandistic character but simply adding fragmentary structures in the square in front of it. “an attempt to complete the centre of Berlin through cautious additions, to add the fragmentary and contadictory exisiting structures in order to develop a superimposed, diversified urban fabric”16. By adding the buildings at the limits of the site, and cutting them in well studied points, the emptiness would become the footprint of the old palace togerther with its prestigous entrances.
Their project was unique in a sense of respect for the history of the site. It wasn’t either the denial of the Prussian kingdom neither denial of the most recent history. This way an image of Berlin as a city that “never is, but is always in the process of becoming” would be more apropiate nowadays.
It is interesting that throughout Germany there were a lot of buildings carrying cultural and historical luggage that may not be accepted by everybody. Some buildings get destroyed but some of them get another chance. Palace of the Republic provoked many emotions, but it was a part of Berlin’s most recent history, that should not be simply erased.
In city of Dresden, 200 km south of Berlin, a Kulturpalast has also been built during the communist regim. The building resembles the Palace of the Republic in Berlin. Biggest difference between the two is that one of them is now used as a philharmony and the other one doesn’t exist.
The question of the identity still remains in the debate about the city and not only. Present times are moving at astonishing speed. The problem of identity isn’t probably only the problem of Berlin. Cultures, more than ever, are mixing and interacting with each other. The will of “european Berlin” may soon remain an artefact of past.
The good fact is that Berlin didn’t forget about its inhabitants, even the one that oppose decisions of the government. People who feel nostalgic about the Palace of the Republic and want to bring back the memories can book a flight to Dubai, head straight to Burji Khalifa where the metal, that was once used as the structure of the GDR parliament, has been reused for the construction of the highest building in the world.17
“Berlin: The Symphony Continues: Orchestrating Architectural, Social and Artistic CHange in Germany’s New Capital” Carol Anne Costabile-Heming, Rachel J. Halverson, Kristie A. Foell, March 25, 2004
“Berlin Now: The Rise of the City and the Fall of the Wall” Peter Schneider
“Berlino- citta senza forma” Philipp Oswalt
“Wolrld cities: Berlin” Accademy Editions, 1995