A Resurrection in Berlin
Some years ago, we cited the resurrection of the Frauenkirche in Dresden as a restoration of architectural beauty which closely parallels this site's efforts to restore feminine beauty.
Magnificent as the reconstruction of Dresden's greatest spiritual edifice may have been, it pales in comparison to a similar enterprise that is currently under way in Berlin--an architectural endeavour that is justly deemed the most significant cultural project of the 21st century, not just in Europe, but in the entire world.
Imagine if you could travel back in time to before the last war, a time when Berlin, the capital of Prussia (and thus of all Germany) was the most beautiful city in the world. If you were to stand atop the Victory Column in the centre of Berlin's huge Tierpark, facing east, this is the sight that would present itself to your eyes--a view through the legendary Brandenbug Gate, looking down Under den Linden (the famous tree-lined main boulevard of Berlin), to a vista of two copper-clad domes crowning the cityscape: on the left, the Berliner Dom (the city's towering cathedral), and on the right, the mighty Königliche Schloß, or Stadtschloß, the royal palace of Berlin. (The German character "ß" denotes a double-S, thus "Schloß" and "Schloss" are equivalent.)
A contemporary Baedeker map shows this view from above: the Brandenburger Tor at the westmost point of the city centre, from which the wide Under den Linden avenue stretches east, then a slight northwards deflection in the orientation of the city streets at the point where the boulevard crosses the river Spree and contacts the Königliche Schloß (marked "SCHLOSS" on the map), with the Dom (cathedral) adjacent.
A streetside view of Under den Linden (with C.D. Rauch's famous equestrian monument of Frederick the Great in the bottom right) shows the eastern end of the grand boulevard, as it seems to flow directly into the angled north side of the Stadtschloß.
A late 19th-century photograph looking east across the river Spree shows the royal panorama at the heart of Berlin: the brand-new Dom to the left, the sandstrone of the cathedral still gleaming new and white, and the venerable royal palace to the right.
A view from above presents the enormous scale of the mighty Königliche Schloß, with the river Spree flowing south through the city toward the top of the photograph.
A glimpse directly at the west façade reveals the two vast inner courtyards hidden behind the exterior walls.
"Schloß und Dom" (Castle and Cathedral) reads the Gothic inscription of the following image from the southwest, indicating the timeless unity of church and state in the Old World.
To be sure, Berlin's magnificent Dom is a colossal structure in its own right, but the cathedral is dwarfed by the colossal scale of the Stadtschloß, in this look at the royal palace's south façade.
An even higher vista shows not only the "Dom und Schloß" (Cathedral and Castle), but also the vast panorama of Berlin stretching off into infinity. Note the wide, tree-lined Under den Linden boulevard flowing west toward the richly forested Tierpark, from where the view of the first image in this thread was taken.
A look at the palace's eastern wing shows how harmoniously the Königliche Schloß fit amid the city's venerable buildings, betokening the harmonious bond between the Hohenzollern kings and their Prussian subjects. Again, note the tree-lined splendour of Unter den Linden stretching off toward the west.
A higher view highlights the rich complexity of the eastern, riverfront face. Unlike the other three façades of the Stadtschloß, which were all constructed in a uniform Baroque style, this portion of the palace aggregated Gothic and Renaissance structures.
As is the case with many of Europe's most historic castles, the Königliche Schloß wasn't created in a single burst of building, but grew over the centuries, as successive kings and princes added to its greatness.
Sharp-eyed viewers will have noted the curious appendage extruding from the palace's northeast corner. Later known as the Schloß-Apotheke, this was, in fact, the oldest section of the Stadtschloß, dating to the 1400s.
Observe the charm of its northern bay window, the structure's architecture blending medieval and Renaissance touches.
Far from being a monolithic structure of state, the Königliche Schloß, its colossal dimensions notwithstanding, was a family dwelling, the actual home of the first family of Prussia, and images such as this, with that lovely tree, and the ivy growing on the walls, indicate the intimacy of the palace.
A look at the majestic northern façade of the Stadtschloß.
And back, once again, at the western face. That incredible structure facing the western portal is the National Monument to Kaiser Wilhelm I, Prussia's greatest king, who united the countless German-speaking principalities of central Europe into a single nation.
Perhaps the greatest tribute ever erected to a single ruler, the monument showed twin chariots of victory flanking the great emperor.
The human figures in the foreground indicate the massive scale of this sublime masterwork.
The positioning of the equestrian monument was truly inspired, as it showed the great Kaiser forever riding toward the main portal of the Hohenzollern palace.
Once through the western portal and inside the palace's western courtyard (observe the figure of Kaiser Wilhelm, atop his monument, visible through the main arch), the visitor would have been confronted by a stunning bronze sculpture that may be the most exciting statue ever created: St. George Slaying the Dragon, by August Kiss.
Those who have visited Germany will know that the dragon-slaying motif is central to the nation's consciousness, no doubt owing to the fact that the legend of the warrior Siegfried vanquishing the dragon is the founding myth of the Teutonic people. Dragon-slaying statues of every description fill the central squares of countless German cities, towns, and villages.
How fitting, though, that the nation's greatest dragon-slaying statue should have been erected in the courtyard of Germany's main royal palace, the very heart of the nation, as if emblematizing the Hohenzollern kings' own eternal struggle for the good of their people.
The larger, eastern courtyard of the Königliche Schloß was dominated by sculptures of a different sort: the noble classical figures which adorned the columns of one of the palace's inner portals.
Stepping in through that majestic doorway, the visitor would have been confronted by an internal archway no less grandiose. Observe the railings to the left and right.
What the visitor would have entered, in fact, was a legendary section of the palace known as the Großes Treppenhaus, or Great Staircase. On the right, one sees regular stairways and on the left, cobblestone rampways. No, this was not an early nod to accessibility--not for wheelchairs, at least. These ramps were provided so that the nobility could ride their horses into the palace, all the way up to the second floor.
A view from the other side shows the Piranesi-like complexity of this magnificent staircase.
The largest space in the interior of the palace was the celebrated Weißer Saal, or White Hall, perhaps the grandest ballroom ever built by man. Today, one goes to Europe to visit museums and peruse great works of art. In the world wonder that was Berlin's noble Stadtschloß, the entire building was an artwork--every column, every ceiling, every statue and painting.
Another view of the White Hall. Observe the stairway just visible behind the marble columns.
The following image shows that same chamber, one of the palace's many august staircases.
The most famous chamber in the Königliche Schloß was the legendary Rittersaal, or Knights' Hall, an inner space absolutely dripping with Baroque splendour.
Even the doorway to this hall was a masterwork, with its gleaming pillars and ornately sculpted balcony overhead. "What a pity," one surely thinks, looking at the intricacy of this creation, "that only black-and-white images remain as a record of such beauty."
But lo and behold: In the final years of the war, when they realized that the Allies were hellbent on reducing their entire nation to rubble through an evil terror-bombing campaign, the German government sent out art scholars to many of the nation's most historic sites, armed with early, experimental rolls of colour film, to preserve some trace of Germany's perishable art in living colour. Thus, by a miracle, a few colour photographs of the Stadtschloß interior survived, including this breathtaking glimpse (in authentic, original, 1943 colour, not colourized) of the Rittersaal balcony and ceiling.
As befits a palace of this inconceivable size, the Königliche Schloß had no less than three throne areas, the grandest of which graced the Knights' Hall. The German emperor and empress would sit beneath a banner of the Prussian eagle, under a canopy topped with a magnificent crown.
Luckily, another rare image in original colour exists, showing that very same crown, as well as the sumptuous ceiling soaring overhead, sculpted in a riot of Baroque splendour.
Perhaps our own favourite room in the Stadtschloß was the Bildergalerie, or Picture Gallery (197 feet in length), for the obvious reason that it held countless stunning, colossal paintings showing the most dramatic events from German history.
Tragically, many of the paintings in this hall no longer exist, such as the canvas on the right, showing Kaiser Wilhelm I (he of the equestrian monument seen earlier) being crowned German Emperor in Versailles.
A view from the opposite end of the Picture Gallery, looking back.
Observe the splendid bas-relief in the arch at the end of the Picture Gallery, with its sculptured figures veritably falling out of the composition and spilling down onto the gallery's upper frame.
The following image shows the Rote Drap d'Or Kammer, or the Chamber of the Cloth of Gold, with a stirring painting of a young Kaiser Wilhelm I on horseback leading his men into battle to protect the Fatherland.
The high, vaulted ceiling and massive yet intricate chandelier distinguish this vast hall in the Königliche Schloß, the immense scale of which can be perceived from the comparably diminutive size of the furniture.
Alas, only a tiny image, albeit in colour, exists to show the Kapitelsaal des Schwarzen Adlerordens, or the Chapter Room of the Order of the Black Eagle (the highest of all Prussian orders), which boasted the second of the palace's three throne areas.
A closer look, though in black and white, shows that this hall exhibited the most impressive of the thrones in the Stadtschloß. Observe that the throne stands alone, singular, not as a pair for king and queen. The Order of the Black Eagle being a masculine organization, only the kaiser himself, not his consort, would have attended the meetings.
Another of the castle's many legendary staircases, the sheer size of the Westflügel Treppenhaus, or West-Wing Stairway, is scarcely comprehensible, but for the three human figures in this photograph, which indicate is vast scale.
A view farther up the stairs, in darker lighting, highlights the over-life-size statues that welcomed visitors to the palace's second floor.
Stunning chandeliers and a frescoed ceiling distinguish this, the Marinesaal, or Marine Hall, of the Königliche Schloß.
What would a royal palace be without a grand dining room? The Speisezimmer of the Stadtschloß was like a set out of a Hollywood movie showing a stately royal dinner at an endlessly long table decked out in fine silverware. Observe the tall mirror in the background, reflecting the light of the chandelier.
Palace guests would also have enjoyed lighter fare in this, the Teesalon, or Tea Salon. Note that, in contrast to the Baroque architecture seen in earlier rooms, this more feminine chamber was finished in a Neoclassical style.
The third and final throne area of the Königliche Schloß was the Thronsaal, the actual Throne Hall. Notice, however, that it was less grandiose, more intimate, than the other throne venues of the royal palace.
Even the throne itself, as well as its canopy, was less ornate than the other, more public displays of the king's royal preeminence.
Yet another magnificent palace staircase was known as the Marmortreppe, or Marble Stairs, for the obvious reason that its towering columns were constructed of the finest marble.
Though Baroque was the dominant style of the palace's interiors, the Säulensaal, or Column Hall, presented a distinctively Neoclassical décor.
One of the aspects of the Stadtschloß that especially delighted onlookers was its Runde Ecke (or Round Corner) at the southeast, facing the river Spree, with Andreas Schlüter's famous equestrian monument of the Große Kurfürst, the Great Elector, at the bottom, forever watchful over the palace of his Hohenzollern descendants and the then-new Berlin Cathedral downriver.
The following photograph shows an actual Eckzimmer, one of the corner rooms that occupied the Runde Ecke highlighted above.
We move now toward the more private rooms of the royal family, which, the viewer will observe, exhibit a more intimate quality than the more cavernous public halls of the Königliche Schloß. This, for example, was the palace's Vortragszimmer, or Meeting Room, with a bust of Frederick the Great providing inspiration to his descendants from above the fireplace mantle.
The Sternensaal, or Star Hall, displayed impressive models of seagoing vessels, reminding visitors that building up a navy was one of Kaiser Wilhelm II's great ambitions.
Notice the royal eagles decorating the balusters of the canopied bed in this magnificent Schlafzimmer, one of the palace's most impressive bedchambers.
Departing from the Baroque style that distinguished the newer spaces of the Stadtschloß, the palace's older wings were appointed in a Gothic and Renaissance aesthetic. The castle's Erasmuskapelle, or Erasmus Chapel, was renowned for its fascinating vaulted ceiling.
Observe the masculine, Gothic furnishings that filled the Choir of the Erasmus Chapel, the darker lighting giving the vault a dramatic interplay of light and shadow.
The Transept of the Erasmus Chapel continued the unique ceiling design, an organic-looking form that seemed to anticipate the work of Gaudi.
To our eyes, the Gothic rooms--the oldest portions of the Königliche Schloß--were the most beautiful of all. The intricacy of detail in the woodwork of the palace's Gotisher Raum, the Gothic Room, was breathtaking.
Likewise, the medieval paintings complemented the stunningly carved furnishings in this, the Raum der Süddeutsches Gotik, the Room of South-German Gothic, to create a harmonious presentation of the world of the 1400s, the time when the oldest sections of the Schloß were created.
This meeting room in the palace's Heinrichsflur, with its vaulted ceiling, created a compelling impression of the nobler ages of the past, of knights preparing for battle.
The furnishings of the palace's Schloß Haldestein Zimmer were transferred directly from another medieval castle to the Stadtschloß. The heavy wooden ceiling is exactly the type that one finds in many Gothic and Neo-Gothic marvels, while the benches by the window remind one that, in the days before electric lighting, daylight was the most important method of illumination in a castle, and the day's activities would have often been spent sitting by an open window.
And finally, this image shows the soaring magnificence of the palace's Kapelle, or main chapel, which was located in the rotunda directly under the main dome of the Königliche Schloß, beneath its copper-covered cupola. As vast as the canopy of a great cathedral, the sheer scale of the interior staggers the imagination.
Even rarer than the colour photographs of the interior, the following may be the last image ever taken showing the Schloß before the wartime apocalypse. Massive yet beautiful, imposing yet opulent, it was the pride of the Prussian people and the German nation.
Although the monstrous Allied terror-bombing campaign reduced Berlin to cinders, leaving behind a wasteland of rubble that looked more akin to the surface of the moon than to a city, the mighty Stadtschloß, with its thick walls, emerged from the war damaged but structurally sound. It was eminently salvageable--more so than any other historic building in the Prussian capital--with but one significant cleft blown out of the north face.
This evocative image shows the dragon-slaying statue of the palace's west courtyard with that cleft in the background...
...as if betokening the survival of the Prussian warrior-spirit, unvanquished even in defeat, still wielding a noble sword on behalf of the German people.
It is an incontrovertible fact that Marxist-Communism (and the revolutionary Jacobinism that was its forbear) is the most murderous ideology in human history, responsible for more deaths than any other political philosophy or religious creed. However, its ruinous effect on world culture outweighs even its toll in human blood. No other belief is directly responsible for as much destruction of beauty as is the Marxist-Communist program--not just conceptually, in its explicit jihad against the very idea of Beauty itself, but tangibly, in its eradication of countless physical manifestations of beauty in art and architecture.
Remember the fascinating southeast corner of the palace, with its rounded corner, as shown in this image?
The following triptych shows, first, the condition of that corner at war's end (damaged, but relatively intact), second, a detonation of dynamite implanted by the Communist demolition crews, and finally, the gaping hole left behind when the dust cleared.
In the end, all that was left was rubble, to be cleared away by bulldozers.
And what did the Marxists erect in place of the annihilated Stadtschloß? In keeping with the fact that Communism is the ugliest ideology ever conceived by man, they put up what is largely regarded as the most hideous building ever constructed, a warehouse-like brutalist box of steel and concrete and rust-coloured glass called the Palast der Republik.
Oh, and that needle in the background with its Death Star sphere? They built that too--an appropriately totalitarian structure that watched over the movements of the German people like an Eye of Sauron, or like the spies of the notorious Communist secret police, the Stasi.
The interior was, of course, every bit as hideous as the external shell. In place of the Baroque and Renaissance and Gothic beauty of the Königliche Schloß, this symbol of inhuman, Marxist thinking was clamped together with steel girders and concrete walls. Whereas the royal palace enshrined man as godlike and noble, the communist edifice reduced him to a cog in a machine.
For decades, the people of eastern Germany were imprisoned within their Soviet-imposed Marxist police state. But then, at last, in 1989, the Berlin Wall fell. And just four years later, a group of visionaries raised a fabric display showing, on two-dimensional canvas, what a hole in the city's heart would be filled if the Stadtschloß were resurrected.
This artwork is largely credited with kindling in the German public the dream that the Königliche Schloß might actually someday be restored.
But Marxists are dangerous even in defeat. Predictably, they raised a hue and a cry, once they learned of the people's desire to have the royal palace rebuilt. They called for the preservation of the Palast der Republik, and voiced predictable opposition to the resurrection of the Stadtschloß. However, in this one instance, something of the old Prussian spirit found a resurgency, and in 2006, the hated building was finally torn down. Some say that this gesture represented the true and final fall of communism in Germany, a coda to the fall of the Berlin Wall itself. Observe the fresh blue sky in this image, as if nature herself were rejoicing at the liberation of the German people from this symbol of communist oppression.
For the time being, this leaves a vast, open area in the middle of Berlin. In this image, looking south, of the city's fabled Museuminsel, or Museum Island (the historic centre of the city, on which stand all of Germany's greatest museums), the former site of the royal palace is the green space just beyond the cathedral.
This computer pre-visualization shows the same view as it will appear when the Königliche Schloß is finally restored.
For now, an information booth known as the Humboldt Box has been erected as a temporary display area at the corner of the Schloßplatz. Travellers to Berlin are encouraged to visit it, as it shows extensive photographs, plans, and models of how the royal palace once appeared.
Here, in another CGI pre-visualization, one sees how the city expects the Stadtschloß to look when the restoration is complete.
And this image shows how it will appear looking east, from Unter den Linden.
The restoration is far from perfect, however. In fact, only three of the four façades of the royal palace will be restored. Below is the original appearance of the eastern face of the Königliche Schloß, the most beautiful and historic portion of the edifice, dating back to the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Orient your perspective via the distinctive rounded southeast corner.
And this, if you can believe it, is how the reconstructed eastern face will appear (again, orient by the rounded southeast corner): a flat block of concrete and glass.
It is barely an improvement over the brutalist eastern face of the communist Palast der Republik.
Here too is how the gorgeous eastern courtyard of the Stadtschloß once appeared.
And this is what the reconstruction will look like--a travesty of faceless, flat concrete and glass butting up against a gorgeous display of Baroque magnificence. Could there be any more telling indication of the barrenness and poverty of our democratic age, versus the beauty and wonder of the aristocratic past?
More tragic still, of the amazing interior, as seen above, nothing will be restored. Instead, the inner space will resemble a shopping mall or an airport lobby.
Still, the reconstruction is now well under way, and sculptors are busy fashioning the pieces that will be incorporated into the portions of the Schloß which will be faithfully restored.
A small piece of the rebuilt façade is already on public view at the corner of the Schloßplatz.
And at least a few of the original statues and other pieces of the demolished palace were preserved and survive.
Let us hope that the restorers of the Königliche Schloß will at least reconstruct the lofty perches on which they once stood...
...and gazed, godlike, at the visitors of this greatest of all royal palaces.
By dynamite and bulldozers, just as by propaganda and policing, the communists were determined to eradicate the very memory of Prussia itself from the human heart. But today, decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Marxist regime is no more, and Berlin's royal castle will rise once again--and with it, one hopes, the aristocratic spirit of Prussian greatness.
Re: A Resurrection in Berlin
Yesterday, June 12th, the cornerstone of the reconstruction of the Berliner Schloß was laid.
Two articles about the event:
The pertinent points:
Here's a picture of the actual cornerstone. The earlier date, 1443, was the year when the original palace was constructed.
And here's a video of the cornerstone-laying ceremony. It's in German, so it won't be comprehensible by most readers, but the various shots of the group eagerly announcing the project, with the mighty Berliner Dom, the Berlin Cathedral, looming over them to the west, are quite stirring.
The fact that the cornerstone was laid on June 12th is highly significant, as this is the 25th anniversary of Ronald Regan's famous "Tear down this wall!" speech before the Brandenburg Gate. After all, it was the Communists who destroyed the Königliche Schloß, so the fact that the reconstruction of the palace should commence on the silver anniversary of the day when the West called for an end to Marxist tyranny -- as embodied in the hated Berlin Wall -- is extremely appropriate.
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Also, for anyone who does speak German, the following video provides a room-by-room guide of the interior rooms of the historic palace, with a floorplan showing where each of the rooms was originally situated. It also offers exterior views of the palace from every angle, along with a history of the Schloß, and more. Furthermore, purchasing the video leads to a small automatic donation for the palace reconstruction.
Highly recommended. It's as close as anyone can get to stepping back in time and actually touring the Schloß. But it will break your heart to think that none of these gorgeous rooms and interior spaces are going to be rebuilt.
Trailer for the DVD:
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