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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 3/4: The Reconstruction of Berlin’s Palace as Humboldt Forum


The Humboldt Forum in Berlin’s Palace will make this historic locality in the centre of the German capital a free centre of social and cultural life, open to all, in a democratic spirit. Here, with the rebuilding of the Berlin Palace, visitors can experience German history in all its event-filled variety. The Humboldt Forum makes the Palace part of a new ensemble looking to the future.


The building was commissioned and is owned by the Berlin Palace—Humboldt Forum Foundation, founded in November 2009 by the German government. A legally responsible foundation in civil law, it is devoted directly and exclu- sively to public interests in promoting art and culture, education, international orientation, tolerance in all fields of culture and understanding between nations, and to the preservation and curating of historic monuments. The Foundation comes under the auspices of the German president.


Now, with the Humboldt Forum, the centre of Berlin’s inner city will be redesigned and given a new architectural framework. This is not merely a makeshift solution – it is a particularly ambitious challenge to create this new cultural focus in the skin of an old building. There are many lasting and valid justifications for this approach, and the matter has been discussed for almost twenty years. Not only will the project restore the reference point, both proportion- ally and in terms of content, for all the surrounding historic buildings – the Protestant state church with the cathedral (Berliner Dom), and Prussian civic culture with the Museum Island (Museumsinsel) – but, more importantly, the historic centre of Berlin will be recognised as such and taken more seriously, after its almost complete destruction as a consequence of war and of the rampant demolition in post-war Germany, alongside Berlin’s decades of division as a split city.



New and old historical architecture as symbiosis of the “Schlüterhof”


With its clearly defined opposites of historic architecture and a forward-looking agenda, this “new historical building” reflects the dialectic of future and past and the necessarily unending German preoccupation with national history and with Germany’s future role. This method of reappropriating a not uncontroversial piece of our cultural heritage is a highly specific approach to the problem. An entirely new building would be devoid of history and would therefore be inappropriate for this site in the centre of the capital, with all its features of historical significance. In a cultural construction project such as this, embracing themes of globalisation
and dialogue of world cultures with an ongoing relevance,
it is particularly incumbent on us as Germans always to
bear in mind the narrative of the past.


Berlin and the Humboldt Forum – that fits together. This is not only because the Humboldt brothers had been teaching their students to be curious about the world already in the 19th century, just a few meters away from today’s construction site, in what is known as the Humboldt-Universität today. It is also because since long, Berlin has been making a reality of what the Humboldt Forum is intended to be: People from all over the world live in the city, take part in its urban life, contributing to it and making it more diverse by their di erent cultures, ways of life, and research. Long ago, Berlin became the international metropolis that translates the Humboldtian spirit into the modern world.


11 JUN 2016, BERLIN/GERMANY: Tag der offenen Baustelle, Stiftung Humbold Forum im Berliner Schloss, Baustelle Berliner Schloss IMAGE: 20160611-01

Detail of the new facade | Photo: SHF, Marco Urban 


The Stiftung Humboldt Forum


The Stiftung Humboldt Forum in Berlin’s Palace is both owner and construction client of the Humboldt Forum in the Berlin Palace. It coordinates the interests of the actors involved in the Humboldt Forum, the Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz, the state of Berlin and the Humboldt­Universität zu Berlin. In cooperation with the Federal O ce for Building and Regional Planning, the foundation oversees all architectural and engineering planning as well as the construction process itself. The three­headed Ex­ ecutive Board consists of Johannes Wien (Executive Board Spokesman), Lavinia Frey (Chief Culture Officer) and Hans­Dieter Hegner (Chief Technology Officer).

The foundation has set up a subsidiary company, Humboldt Forum Kultur GmbH, to act on its behalf in developing cultural programming and activities. Its founding directors, Neil MacGregor, Hermann Parzinger and Horst Bredekamp, are responsible for all aspects of the curatorial agenda of the Humboldt Forum in the Berlin Palace.


Die Gründungsintendanten des Humboldt Forums Horst Bredekamp, Herrmann Parzinger und Neil MacGregor zusammen mit Kulturstaatsministerin Monika Grütters. © Foto: David von Becker

Federal commissioner Monika Grütters with the founding directors of the Humboldt Forum (from left to right) Horst Bredekamp, Neil MacGregor and Hermann Parzinger | Photo: David von Becker, Stiftung Humboldt Forum im Berliner Schloss


Neil MacGregor studied philosophy, law, and art history in Paris, Edinburgh, London, and Oxford. He taught art history and architecture at the University of Reading and was the publisher of the Burlington Magazine in London until 1987. Subsequently, he served as director of the National Gallery in London. In 2002, he presided over the British Museum in London in the role of director. In 2014, he curated the exhibition, “Germany – Memories of a Nation,” which was also on view in the Martin-Gropius- Bau under the title “The British View: Germany – Memories of a Nation.” In 2015, he was appointed head of the management committee of the Humboldt Forum. He has received numerous awards as an art historian. Most recently, he was awarded the Friedrich Gundolf Prize, the German National Prize, and the Goethe Medal in 2015.



Also read:

Part 1/4: The Palace during the Time of the Electors of Brandenburg, Prussian Kings and German Emperors 

Part 2/4: Developments after the fall of the wall