Berlin: A Visual and Historical Document from 1925 to the Present


When it opened in 1875, the Kaiserhof hotel was the epitome of modernity. The opulent hotel was one of Berlin's most fashionable resorts, the haunt of aristocrats and rich holidaymakers. In 1930, Adolf Hitler and Joseph Goebbels used the Kaiserhof as the Nazi Party headquarters. In 1946, the hotel, like much of bombed-out Berlin, was a hollow ruin. In 1975, on the spot where the grand hotel once stood, the North Korean embassy was erected, an architectural eyesore of appalling vulgarity. Berlin charts ...

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When it opened in 1875, the Kaiserhof hotel was the epitome of modernity. The opulent hotel was one of Berlin's most fashionable resorts, the haunt of aristocrats and rich holidaymakers. In 1930, Adolf Hitler and Joseph Goebbels used the Kaiserhof as the Nazi Party headquarters. In 1946, the hotel, like much of bombed-out Berlin, was a hollow ruin. In 1975, on the spot where the grand hotel once stood, the North Korean embassy was erected, an architectural eyesore of appalling vulgarity. Berlin charts dramatically the changing face of one of the twentieth century's most fascinating cities at three crucial periods of its history.

Berlin presents the buildings and structures of historical and architectural interest which have been affected by events of the twentieth century: government buildings and grand hotels, cafes and department stores, theaters and railway stations can be seen from the same angle at three different points in time. Some of the structures have vanished completely; some were restored after the allied bombing of the city during the Second World War; others, such as the Imperial Palace and Hitler's Reich Chancellery, were blown up on ideological grounds; still others today serve a purpose different from their original one: the Nazi Reichsbank is now the home of the Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs, while the building which once housed the Reich Air Ministry is now the home of the Federal Ministry of Finances. The photographs assembled here are at once spectacular and full of human life, and the city they record over the course of almost one hundred years is a unique document for the student of history and architecture alike. Above all, Berlin is cultural and contemporary history in one-a splendid, informative, and enigmatic book about one the great cities of our time.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781585672134
  • Publisher: Overlook
  • Publication date: 1/10/2002
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 9.02 (w) x 11.24 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Mark R. McGee is a journalist and freelance writer. Berlin: 1925, 1946, 2000 is the result of over ten years of research on the history and architecture of Berlin.
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Read an Excerpt




Copyright © 2000 Nicolaische Verlagsbuchhandlung GmbH, Berlin
All right reserved.

ISBN: 1585672130

Chapter One


In the years leading up to the 15th century, Berlin was a lawless outpost at the edge of the Holy Roman Empire, mired in an endless cycle of plague, fire and theft. In 1411, Emperor Sigismund gave Frederick of the house of Hohenzollern title to the mark of Brandenburg and asked him to put an end to this ruinous state of affairs. After a series of spectacular battles with the Quitzow family of robber barons, Frederick quickly restored law and order to the unruly province. His successor Frederick II, also known as "Irontooth", extended Hohenzollern control by seizing private property, disbanding the courts and introducing his own tightly-controlled administration. To consolidate his authority in Berlin, he had a palace built on the west bank of the Spree in 1443, on the foundations of a crumbling city wall already over 200 years old.

Over the next four centuries, the descendants of Frederick II would add a jumble of annexes and additions to this medieval palace, with Emperor William II's picture gallery forming the final addition in 1904.

As palaces go, the original was not very impressive. Apart from the distinctive "pepper pot" towers that managed to surviveinto the 20th century, the rest was a forbidding, but unremarkable pile of Brandenburg brick. All this changed, however, with the ascension of Joachim II as Elector in 1535. Within five years, the ambitious ruler had transformed his residence into a richly decorated Renaissance palace, complete with a large central courtyard and Gothic chapel, He rejected traditional building materials in favour of imported sandstone and had master builder Konrad Krebs and Saxon architect Caspar Theyss oversee its construction. The Elector's pet project nearly emptied the family treasury.

A few more outbuildings were tacked on to the palace late in the 16th century, including the Apothecary's wing (1580-1595) and the Duchess House (1590), but, after these, no further improvements would take place for the next 100 years. A devastating fire in 1620, followed by repeated military invasions marked the beginning of a period of devastation unequalled in Berlin's short history. For three long decades, the mark of Brandenburg was plunged into a horrific abyss, as Austrian and Swedish armies took turns laying waste to the land. By the time Frederick William, the Great Elector, had at last brokered a peace with his enemies in 1644, the palace was an uninhabitable mess. Wooden planks had to be placed over parts of its walls to prevent its masonry from crumbling into the street. The rest of the half-deserted town was in no better shape.

The remarkable energy and talent the Great Elector was to lavish upon Berlin assured its recovery. He encouraged the immigration of skilled labourers from across Europe to help rebuild the town's shattered infrastructure and repopulate its surrounding farmland. Above all, he raised Berlin's profile as a trading centre by improving docking facilities on the River Spree and digging a canal that, via the city's waterways, would link the River Oder and River Elbe. The palace's grand Alabaster Salon, where the dancer Barberina would in later years dazzle Frederick the Great's court, was built at this time.

The Great Elector's legacy gave his son, Frederick III, the freedom to make several gigantic, Baroque additions to the family palace. Tired of his father's unrelenting austerity, the young prince was determined to live a life of luxury, surrounded with objects of beauty and culture. He put some of the century's best architects to work, hiring Jean de Bodt, Andreas Schlüter and Eosander von Göthe to design vast new wings that would extend the palace westwards, towards the opposite bank of the Spree Island. By the time von Göthe's triumphal western portal was completed in 1713, the castle had almost doubled its floorspace, surpassing even the Bourbon palace in Versailles in size. No Hohenzollern who ruled thereafter would match the extravagance of Frederick III.

Indeed, most of his heirs refused to remain within the palace's walls for any length of time. Frederick William I, who ruled between 1713 and 1740, preferred to stay in his rustic lodge in Königs Wusterhausen while his son, Frederick the Great, was far happier in his palace in Potsdam. As such, subsequent improvements to the palace were on-going, but relatively small in scale.

Karl Friedrich Schinkel had a hand in the redesign of a few interior salons in the 1820s, but the last, most impressive addition to the palace was Friedrich August Stüler's octagonal cupola, built in 1845, which rose 70 metres above the royal chapel at the western gate.

Shortly after William II ascended the throne in 1888, he decided to occupy the palace, which had lain vacant for years. While many of its cold, draughty rooms were refurbished to suit the young emperor's modern tastes, there was no room left for any more grandiose additions to the palace itself. Germany's last monarch had to satisfy his urge to build with the construction of a gaudy monument to his grandfather in front of von Göthe's western gate.

The National Monument was dedicated on March 22nd, 1897, and depicted Emperor William I on horseback in his general's uniform during the Franco-Prussian war. Scattered around his feet was a collection of lions, field weapons, banners and winged Victories. A massive stone colonnade supporting yet more groups of bronzed figures in heroic poses surrounded the king on three sides. The cost of this sizeable work by Reinhold Begas was four million gold marks, a figure that provoked widespread grumblings of discontent among the emperor's subjects at the time. It would eventually take the East German government one full year to dismantle the site.

Eight years after the emperor's abdication in 1918, the palace became the property of the Prussian state. Parts of the palace served at various times as a science institute, museum, and soup kitchen, but much of the palace's 1,500 rooms remained vacant. Poorly maintained and largely ignored by the Nazi regime, the structure had by the 1930s deteriorated to the point where passers-by had to occasionally dodge crumbling bits of Baroque masonry that fell from its upper floors.

Apart from the odd stray bomb, the Imperial Palace remained relatively untouched throughout most of the war. But on the 3rd of February, 1945, a high-explosive shell landed on the north side of the building and detonated with disastrous effect. A fire quickly erupted, spreading throughout the entire first floor of the complex. Despite the intense heat of the flames, most of the Palace's metre-thick walls and much of Schlüter's magnificent sandstone façades remained structurally intact.

In October of 1949, the newly-created East German government permitted a Soviet film crew to shoot the epic "The End of Berlin" in and around the palace ruins. To add realism to their battle scenes, the filmmakers brought several functioning artillery pieces with them and began firing live shells at the palace walls. They destroyed the stone cherubs that guarded the western gate and shattered over 200 window panes.

This cinematic act of vandalism was quickly followed by sinister rumours about the fate of the palace. Preservationists, knowing that the East German leadership wanted to be rid of the ruin, searched in vain for a letter Lenin was supposed to have written praising the palace's architectural merits. Meanwhile, the government pointed to the 50 million mark estimate for the reconstruction effort and said the money could be better spent elsewhere. For months, conflicting statements emerged from the State Planning Commission over the fate of the palace.

Finally on July 2nd, 1950, deputy prime minister Walter Ulbricht put an end to the speculation. He, who had lost several brothers in the Great War, felt little nostalgia for the emperor's last home. "The area around the ruins of the palace", he proclaimed, "will be made into a parade ground where the will of the people for struggle and reconstruction can manifest itself." His preference was to erect a massive Stalinist tower like the ones he had seen in Moscow during his years of exile, but at the time his government lacked the financial means to embark on such an undertaking.

Because Ulbricht's decision to eradicate the palace was proving to be so controversial, the East German government wanted the demolition to be carried out as quickly as possible. Construction elsewhere in the eastern sector of Berlin was temporarily brought to a standstill as men and resources were diverted to the work of removing the shell-riddled palace. Demolition began in September 1950 with crews working in three shifts. The 365-year old Apothecary's Wing was the first to go up in smoke on September 6th. Next in line were Böhme's 17th century galleries at the south-west corner. Finally, at 3 p.m. on December 30th, the palace received its coup de grâce when 10,000 kilos of dynamite was detonated under Eosander von Göthe's 18th century arch.

The windswept site of the palace would remain empty for an entire generation. The National Reconstruction Plan that was launched in 1951 was chiefly concerned with rectifying the acute housing shortages brought about by the war and rebuilding what little industrial capacity that remained within the GDR's borders. Any plans to replace the palace with a more politically correct structure would have to wait until the communist state was more firmly established. Plans were put on hold once again in the early 1960s until the Berlin Wall and other projects of mass containment could be completed.

Only in 1973 was the time right for an ambitious construction project that would boost the public's ever-fading enthusiasm for the communist regime. SED party chairman Erich Honecker declared that a Volkskammer, or "people's parliament", would rise from the foundations of the palace. He decreed the construction of the parliamentary building, henceforth known as the "Palast der Republik" (Palace of the Republic).

From the outset, this new building was intended to be accessible to every citizen of the GDR. The architectural collective, under the leadership of Heinz Graffunder, sought to give the building a "bright, festive elegance" that would invite the common man inside.

In addition to its assembly chambers, the Palace of the Republic also included numerous restaurants, bars and cafés that offered inexpensive food not always available elsewhere in this shortage-plagued city. Its reception areas became a popular spot for East Germans who wished to celebrate graduations, marriages, retirements and other important dates. There was even an alley in the basement for bowling enthusiasts. Thus, for the next fourteen years East Berliners drank and bowled at the Palace of the Republic while their parliamentarians acted out the pretence of democratic socialism elsewhere in the building.

The winds of history swept across the site of the emperor's last home once again in 1990 when the East German state imploded. At first, the fate of the Palace of the Republic seemed destined to follow that of the state it once served. In September of 1990, the building was sealed off when health officials discovered it was filled with cancer-causing asbestos. Further inspections prompted city officials to declare the palace beyond salvation and decided it must go, even though other buildings in West Berlin, such as the International Congress Centre, had similar asbestos problems and were still in use.

Official plans to demolish the palace unleashed a wave of protest among former East Bediners, many of whom had fond memories of the place. They saw the decision as just one more attempt by the West Germans, "Wessis", to erase all evidence of the GDR's positive achievements.

But what would replace Honecker's Palace of the Republic? The Society to Promote the Imperial Palace, led by Hamburg businessman Wilhelm von Boddien, quickly raised several million dollars and pressed for the reconstruction of the Imperial Palace. It used some of that money in 1993 to erect a four-storey canvas replica of the palace to stimulate public awareness of its cause.

In the face of all this controversy, the Palace of the Republic was given a sudden reprieve, in 1995, orders for the destruction of the building were rescinded, at least temporarily, until the asbestos could be removed and a more permanent development plan for the square could be agreed upon.

Excerpted from BERLIN by MARK R. McGEE Copyright © 2000 by Nicolaische Verlagsbuchhandlung GmbH, Berlin
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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Table of Contents

Foreword 9
Imperial and royal palaces
City Castle 12
Foreign Office 24
United States Embassy 28
Ordens Palace 32
Churches, squares and public buildings
Reichstag 36
Ernst Reuter Platz 42
Brandenburg Gate 46
New Guardhouse 52
Kemperplatz 58
Gendarmenmarkt 62
Tiergarten 68
St Hedwig's Cathedral 72
Berlin Cathedral 76
Buildings of the Third Reich
Reichsbank 82
New Reich Chancellery 86
Air Ministry 94
Tempelhof Airport 102
House of Tourism 108
Zoo Flak Tower 112
Cafes and bars
Wirtshaus Alt Berlin 116
Cafe Kranzler 120
Pschorr Haus 126
Romanisches Cafe 132
Haus Vaterland 136
Lutter & Wegner 142
Grand hotels
Kaiserhof 148
Adlon Hotel 154
The Excelsior 160
The Esplanade 164
Department stores and office buildings
Kaufhaus des Westens 170
Tietz 176
Karstadt 182
Berolina Haus and Alexander Haus 188
Shell Haus 192
Columbus Haus 198
Cinemas, theatres and variety theatres
Wintergarten 206
Nollendorfplatz Theatre 212
Volksbuhne 216
Admiralspalast 220
Kroll Opera House 226
Railway stations and bridges
Rathaus Bridge 230
Oberbaum Bridge 234
Anhalt Station 238
Potsdam Station 242
Lehrte Station 248
Index and further reading 254
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