THE HISTORY OF THE HUMBOLDT FORUM IN THE BERLIN CITY PALACE – PART 2
Up until it suffered severe damage during the Second World War, was demolished by the powers that be in the GDR and experienced the division of Berlin over many years, the Berlin City Palace had established itself as the architectural centre of the present-day capital over a period of more than 500 years. As a location steeped in history, it witnessed and went on to symbolise a number of momentous events. The reconstruction of the palace as the Humboldt Forum aims to return it to its former glory as an open centre for social and cultural life that allows visitors to experience the dialectic between the future and the past up close, in person and more intensely than in any other historic location in the heart of Berlin. As part of its Sunday reading material, DER BERLINER MODE SALON is exploring the diverse and eventful history of the palace and providing an insight into its current transformation into the modern-day Humboldt Forum in a four-part article.
Part 2/4: Developments after the fall of the wall
In 1946 the architect Hans Scharoun, for example, exhibited the urban plans for the reconstruction of Berlin here. The first phase of the Berlin Palace’s history was brought to an end by the politically motivated destruction of the palace at the behest of Walter Ulbricht, General Secretary of the SED, on 7 September 1950.
The Palace of the Republic | Photo: Denis Apel, flyingpixel.de, Wikipedia
The Palace of the Republic
The cleared site was initially used as an open-air festival ground and parade ground for the mass rallies of the GDR. The numerous plans for reconstructing East Berlin as the GDR’s capital included plans for high-rise blocks in the style of Stalin’s showcase Warsaw and Moscow developments. These plans, however, were never implemented.
More than twenty years after the blowing up of the palace, construction work began on the Palace of the Republic, which was to be the seat of the GDR’s chamber of representatives as well as a concert hall and cultural institution. The concept was created by Heinz Graffunder, the chief architect and head of the planning collective. The Palace of the Republic was opened on 23 April 1976. This large building also had restaurants and bars, giving it the character of a venue for public recreation and ensuring that it was positively remembered by many GDR citizens. On 23 August 1990, the first freely elected chamber of people’s representatives ratified the treaty of unification between the German Democratic Republic and the Federal Republic of Germany.
The decision to close the Palace of the Republic was taken by the “people’s chamber of representatives” before the end of the GDR era, after the danger to health posed by the building’s asbestos contamination led to protests by concerned parties. Because the asbestos removal process required the building to be stripped down to the shell structure, the German Parliament ultimately decided to demolish it, and this work was concluded in 2008.
The compelling technical reasons for closing and demol- ishing the Palace of the Republic became intertwined with the palace debate at an early stage. Wilhelm von Boddien and York Stuhlemmer introduced this idea in an impressive manner in 1993/94 with a 1:1 simulation of the palace façades.
“Zweifel”, Palace of the Republic , 2005 | Photo: Jula2812
The gutted husk of the Palace of the Republic provided many artists and event managers with an interesting setting for various performances and conceptual events, ranging from the annual conference of a management consultancy society to an event that involved flooding the building and steering boats around the steel girders. Another spectacular art per- formance involved displaying the word ZWEIFEL (“doubt”) on the roof of the palace in large letters. All of this shows, once more, the significance of the site where the Berlin Palace— Humboldt Forum is to be built – something that inspires the creation of a fittingly exciting and stimulating programme, but also represents a challenge.
The construction site
From 2008 until the commencement of building work on the whole of the construction site in 2013, the area of the former “palace basin” – the remaining foundations of the Palace of the Republic – was a large meadow, laid out in a minimal pastoral style with wooden platforms. Before construction commenced, the Berlin Monument Authority (Landesdenkmalamt) had undertaken extensive archaeological excavations on the adjoining construction site to the west. Parts of the remains of the old palace discovered in the course of these excava- tions are to be incorporated into the museum dedicated to the history of the site. There is a plan to make the cellar spaces discovered in the former south-west corner of the Berlin Palace accessible to visitors as an “archaeological window”. The planned “window” would also allow visitors to see into a gothic architectural space – the remains of a Dominican monastery demolished in the eighteenth century – discovered during the excavations.