Stadtschloss, Berlin

Stadtschloss, Berlin

The Stadtschloss ( _de. Berliner Stadtschloss, rendered in English as "Berlin City Palace"), was a royal palace in the centre of Berlin, capital of Germany. It was the principal residence of the Kings of Prussia from 1701 and of the German Emperors from 1871. Following the fall of the German monarchy in 1918 it became a museum. It was damaged by Allied bombing in World War II, the ruins were removed later by German Democratic Republic authorities. Following the reunification of Germany, it was proposed to rebuild the Stadtschloss.

History to 1871

The German word "Schloss" (literally "castle") is usually translated as "palace", and the Stadtschloss replaced an earlier fort or castle guarding the crossing of the River Spree at Cölln (a town later absorbed by neighbouring Berlin). The castle stood on Fisher’s Island, now known as Museum Island. In the 15th century this castle became the residence of the Margrave of Brandenburg, and in 1443 Frederick II "Irontooth" demolished the old castle and laid the foundations of a new palace. The main role of the castle and its garrison in this period was 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 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, the "Great Elector", embellished the palace further, employing the services of the leading architect Johann Nering. In 1699 Frederick I (who took the title King in Prussia in 1701) engaged the architect Andreas Schlüter, who planned to rebuild the palace in the Protestant baroque style. In 1706, he was replaced by Johann Friedrich Eosander von Göthe, who submitted plans for an even grander palace.

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 the National Socialist Party regime of Adolf Hitler, which disappointed 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 reduced to a blackened shell, although the building was structurally sound and with a huge cash influx could have been restored, as many other bombed-out buildings in central Berlin were after unification. But the area in which it was located was with the Soviet Union’s zone of occupation, and later in the German Democratic Republic. The new regime saw the Stadtschloss as a symbol of Prussian militarism, although some parts of the building were repaired and used from 1945 to 1950 as an exhibition space. Between September and December 1950, therefore, the building was demolished, with only the balcony from which Liebknecht had declared the German Socialist Republic being preserved. The empty space was used as a parade ground.

In 1964, the GDR built a new Council of State building on part of the site, incorporating Liebknecht’s balcony in its facade. From 1973 to 1976, the regime of Erich Honecker built a large modernist building, the Palast der Republik (Palace of the Republic), which occupied most of the site of the former Stadtschloss. Just prior to German reunification in October 1990, this building 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 is scheduled to be completed in mid 2008.

Plans for reconstruction

Since 1991, many Germans advocated the rebuilding of the Stadtschloss. Some supported a complete rebuilding, while others suggested that the exterior façades be rebuilt, with a modern building 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 precinct of central 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 is 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. 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. In view of these considerations, most importantly the likely immense cost, successive German governments declined to commit themselves to the project. By 2002 and 2003 cross-party resolutions of the Bundestag supported 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, three façades of the palace will be rebuilt, but the interior will be a modern one. Work on the Humboldtforum, as the new palace will be called, will begin in 2010. Off-site stonemasonry has already commenced.

External links

* [ The Berliner Stadtschloss website]
* [ Gallery showing the past, present and one proposal for the future of the Schlossplatz]
* [ Förderverein Berliner Schloss e.V.] (Association for the Promotion of the Berlin City Palace)
* [] , Berlinprojektor Videoanimation of City Palace Infobox

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