THE HISTORY OF THE HUMBOLDT FORUM IN THE BERLIN CITY PALACE – PART 1
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 1/4: The Palace in the Period of Electors, Kings and Emperors
The construction of the Berlin City Palace was a continuous process of extensions, alterations and additions at the hands of the Brandenburg electors, Prussian kings and German emperors. Its most important transformation in terms of art history was designed by the architect and sculptor Andreas Schlüter, who initiated the baroque-style conversion of the palace at the start of the 18th century.
The period of electors
On 31st July 1443, Elector Frederick II, also known as “Irontooth”, laid the foundation for the construction of a new palace, the shell of which was completed in 1448. He moved into the finished palace building less than three years later.
The extensions constructed by Elector Joachim II, the alterations made by Elector Johann George and the additions introduced by Elector Joachim Frederick defined the appearance of the palace right up until it was converted by Schlüter. They already included the outer palace courtyard, which was later used in its entirety for the expansion of the palace by Johann Friedrich von Eosander from 1707 onwards. Before this could happen, however, the Thirty Years’ War brought the construction work to a halt. After the war, the architects Johann Gregor Memhardt and Johann Arnold Nering began work on the palace’s baroque alterations during the reign of the “Great Elector” Frederick William. The Elector’s main priority, however, was the palace’s brand-new pleasure garden, which was modelled on similar landscapes in the Netherlands.
The royal palace
When he ascended to the throne, Elector Frederick III needed to underline his new royal status as Frederick I, King “in” Prussia, and by doing so, raise awareness of the political importance and improve the reputation of his fragmented state in feudalistic Europe. He decided to make his mark by commissioning the conversion of the electoral residence into a baroque royal palace based on plans conceived by Andreas Schlüter. Before working on the palace, Schlüter had already managed the construction of the Zeughaus building in Berlin and created the equestrian statue of the Great Elector on the Lange Brücke bridge overlooking the palace as his Court Sculptor.
Schlüter transformed the renaissance palace by giving it a new baroque façade inspired by the Italian architecture of the period. Before his conversion plans could be completed, however, this achievement was marred by the disaster of the Münzturm tower. Shortly after its completion, the impressive tower designed by Schlüter, which stretched to a height of over 100m, leaned to the side to such a dangerous extent that it eventually had to be taken down. This problem cost Schlüter his job as the palace’s Construction Director and he was soon replaced by Johann Friedrich Eosander von Göthe.
When he took over from his father, the “Soldier King” Frederick William I made some huge cuts to his predecessor’s royal household. He introduced cost-cutting measures that left the majority of architects and artists with no choice but to leave Berlin. Although the construction of the palace was completed in accordance with the existing plans under the management of Martin Heinrich Böhme by 1716, plans to give the palace a domed roof were initially abandoned.
The subsequent kings of Prussia instead focused their attention on the construction of new enfilades in their palace. Frederick II, better known as “Frederick the Great”, Frederick William II and Frederick William III used these enfilades as their own suites of rooms, despite the fact that they actually preferred to live in other palaces. The master builders involved in this new construction work included Carl von Gontard, Carl Gotthard Langhans, Friedrich Wilhelm von Erdmannsdorff and Karl Friedrich Schinkel. The stunning interiors that they designed in the palace are considered to be some of the most successful creations of the neoclassical period.
The first significant change made to the palace exterior after it was extended by Johann Friedrich von Eosander was the construction of the palace’s domed roof, which was carried out between 1845 and 1853 during the reign of Frederick William IV.
The empire and the period that followed
When he came into power, Emperor William I ordered that the façades of the palace’s inner rear wing be redesigned in Neo-Renaissance style. His grandson, Emperor William II, also planned a number of new changes and extensions to the palace, the most significant of which were the construction of the prince’s suites and the expansion of the White Hall. Other changes included the installation of bathrooms and a modern heating system.
The First World War and the German Revolution brought the construction work to a premature end and as a result, a wall protruded out into the Eosanderhof courtyard as evidence of the interrupted expansion of the White Hall right up until the palace was later destroyed. The other courtyard façades remained untouched.
In the Weimar Republic, the palace building was used to house the Palace Museum and its arts and crafts exhibits together with a number of different institutions. The palace established itself as a site of art and culture and remained this way until it was severely damaged by an air raid in the spring of 1945.