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Old 5th March 2013   #1
Join Date: July 2005
Posts: 1,784
Default A Resurrection in Berlin, Part II

As we noted in our recent post about Berlin's tragically destroyed Königliche Schloß, the reconstruction of this royal palace is set to take approximately six years, with a projected completion date of 2019.

However, pilgrims to the historic Prussian capital may be wondering if, in the meantime, any vestiges remain of the grand edifice, which they might be able to view.

Sadly, the communist East German government did away with almost every trace, not only of the royal palace itself, but also of the noble memorials in its vicinity. We noted above how the main entrance to the Stadtschloß, the west portal, fronted the Kaiser Wilhelm Nationaldenkmal, the National Monument to Prussia's greatest king, Kaiser Wilhelm I.

This rare pre-war colour image (original colour, not colourized) shows the great monument in its original hues.

(For future reference, please note the imposing lions guarding the base of the pedestal upon which the equestrian statue of Kaiser Wilhelm stood.)

The artist who created this noble memorial was Reinhold Begas (1831-1911), perhaps the greatest sculptor of the 19th century. Much of his finest work miraculously survived the war, but was obliterated after 1945 by Marxist ideologues. The following image shows his official sketch for the structure.

And here we see the official unveiling of the monument, with the Prussian nobility, including Kaiser Wilhelm II, in attendance. This image shows the towering scale of the equestrian centrepiece in a way that the wider photographs to not.

The monument was a masterpiece of harmony and proportion, created in the 19th-century Historicist style that constitutes the noblest artistic period of Western history.

The following image conveys how busy the site of the monument was during a typical afternoon.

This view from the Schloß itself gives an idea of the splendid architecture of the design.

A rare, early image shows the statue of the Kaiser himself, his horse led by a goddess, prior to its instillation atop the monument. The quality of Begas's work equalled that of the finest Classical masters.

The two chariots atop the wings of the monument were not identical. The south quadriga (which topped the left wing, when one faced the monument), with the goddess wearing a laurel crown, represented Victory . . .

. . . while the north quadriga (topping the right wing), with the helmeted rider, represented War.

Alas, although the monument survived 1939-45 with only minimal damage (indeed, in better condition even than the Stadtschloß itself), after the war, the communists, acting upon their beauty-hating ideological fanaticism, eradicated the structure, out of sheer political malice. This image shows the one of the monument's sliced-apart charioteers, a victim not of battle or bombs but of Marxist resentment. The sheer size of the sculpture testifies to the magnificent proportions of the work as a whole.

The following image from atop the battered Schloß captures the communist wrecking crews in action. Unable to create anything of beauty themselves, all they could ever do is destroy.

Today, only the pedestal remains as a record that this sublime structure ever existed. Its mosaic floor survived, but lies buried beneath a layer of asphalt.

The foundations of the pedestal still exhibit small ornamental traces, as if whispering of the beauty that one stood upon this site.

And what of Begas's own sculptures? Visitors to Berlin's famous Zoologischer Garten will find there the only two statues which survived the war: two of the mighty lions that once stood guard at the base of Kaiser Wilhelm's equestrian monument. No other sculptor in history has ever created lions with a comparably royal mien, so ferocious and noble, forever roaring in fury at the desecration of Prussia's national monument to its greatest king.

* * *

Just as the west portal of the Königliche Schloß fronted the Kaiser Wilhelm Nationaldenkmal, so was the southern face of the palace beautified with another masterpiece from Reinhold Begas: the Schloßbrunnen, or Palace Fountain. (Note the south wing of the Kaiser Wilhelm monument at the left of the image.)

The fountain presents a figure of Neptune, the classical god of the sea, surrounded by four goddesses representing the four great historic rivers of Germany: the Rhine, the Elbe, the Oder, and the Vistula.

Begas sculpted his especially imperial-looking Neptune to resemble Kaiser Friedrich Barbarossa, the most celebrated ruler of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation. He sits atop a mussel-shell throne held up by mighty Tritons.

No subject could be more appropriate as an emblem of monarchy in the aquatic setting of a fountain than Neptune, the king of the seas. The ordinary Prussian could easily recognize the symbolism in this masterwork: just as Neptune rules over the four river goddesses, so does the Kaiser watch over all of Germany, a land watered by these four great rivers.

Observe the sheer scale of the fountain, which dwarfs the people crowding round, and then behold the even more colossal scale of the Königliche Schloß rising behind it.

The following image shows a general view, looking east, of the Schloßplatz to the south of the royal palace (which looms at the left), with the Schloßbrunnen in the centre. The gorgeous building in lighter stone to the south (rising to the right) is the Neuer Marstall, the Prussian royal stables.

A view from on high, inside the palace, looking south, provides a fine impression of the architecture of Begas's magnificent fountain. "What a shame," one undoubtedly thinks, upon seeing these images, "that this wonderwork was lost."

But no! As fortune would have it, although the Schloßbrunnen was dismantled after the war and its marble basin destroyed, the sculptures were saved. Some years ago, the basin was recreated in red granite and the fountain reassembled east of its former location, in front of Berlin's city hall.

Yes, like a remnant of bygone Numenorian greatness in the Third Age of The Lord of the Rings, this structure still exists, giving pilgrims to Berlin the opportunity to gaze upon some of the beauty that the city once held in such abundance. Note the cupola of the Berliner Dom, the Berlin Cathedral, in the background.

Here he is himself--mighty King Neptune, his august glance and regal bearing testifying to the powerful ideals of a nobler, more aristocratic age than our own.

And here are his four daughters. First, the Rhine goddess (Lorelei herself, perhaps), languishing sensually, draped with fishnet and grapes, which betoken the bounty of the vineyards that cover the slopes of the Rhine valley, yielding the world's finest wine.

Next, the Elbe, with sheaves of wheat testifying to the agricultural harvest yielded by the German heartland.

The goddess of the river Oder follows, the goat betokening Germany's pastoral traditions.

And finally, the Weichsel, known in English as the Vistula, resting on timbers, recalling the forestry industry that was central to the Prussian economy. Its inclusion here is a stark reminder of how much German soil has been stolen from the Fatherland, for although Vistula is historically the main river of Prussia (emptying into the Baltic via the great port city of Danzig), all of the land watered by the Vistula is now under foreign control.

The current placement of the fountain is quite attractive, with this image from the reverse view showing the goddess of the Vistula and Neptune himself gazing upon the workings of Berlin's famous Red City Hall, the Rotes Rathaus, a magnificent Neo-Renaissance, Historicist structure in its own right.

Though this fountain was not destroyed after the war, the communists couldn't abstain from ideological meddling, changing its name from Schloßbrunnen (Palace Fountain) to Neptunbrunnen (Neptune Fountain), as if attempting to erase from the people's minds the memory that there had ever been such a thing as a royal palace inhabited by kings and queens, even though it was precisely because of the monarchy that such beauty existed in the first place.

* * *

Just as the southern façade of the Königliche Schloß faced a masterpiece in the form of the Schloßbrunnen, so was the northern portal graced with glorious works of sculptural art: a pair of statues known as the Rossebändiger, or Horse Tamers.

Sculpted by Peter Clodt von Jürgensburg, they show riders mastering two spirited stallions, atop noble classical pedestals. Again, the monarchial symbolism is inescapable: as the horse-tamers rein in their stallions, so would the Prussian king master the energy of his people, and lead them with the firm yet benevolent control of a seasoned rider.

The towering façade of the Schloß dwarfed the sculptures, but the following image, showing two passersby at the foot of the Rossebändiger, gazing up at the palace walls, gives a sense of the enormous scale of these masterworks.

In the following atmospheric image, taken during wintertime, the Rossebändiger seem almost ethereal in the evening light, topped as they are by winter snow. The Schloß-Apotheke wing of the palace in the background looks cozy and warm amid the bitter chill.

A visitor on the northern terrace of the Königliche Schloß would have seen the Rossebändiger framing his view of the mighty Berliner Dom, looking north . . .

. . . while looking west, he would have had a clear view down Under den Linden, Berlin's glorious main boulevard.

Fortunately, von Jürgensburg's sculptures escaped the fate that befell so many masterpieces of German sculptural art at the hands of the Marxists. As the Königliche Schloß was being destroyed, the Rossebändiger were spirited away to the West, for safekeeping . . .

. . . and found themselves hidden in Heinrich-von-Kleist-Park, a lovely green area, where they remain to this day.

The pedestals, alas, appear to have been destroyed, and were replaced by bare blocks of stone, but at least the statues themselves remain intact.

Observe the different characters of the two horse-tamers, one pulling back on his mount with masterful force, facing in the same direction as the steed, the other more gently coaxing his stallion, facing in the opposite direction as the horse.

* * *

By far the most significant surviving component of the historic centre of the Prussian capital is the Berliner Dom, the grand Berlin Cathedral, which features in numerous images seen above. A Neo-Baroque, Historicist masterpiece built to be for the Protestant church what St. Peter's Basilica is to the Catholic faith, it was, in many ways, even more beautiful than the Baroque basilica in Rome to which it was meant as an answer.

However, though this sublime structure survived the war, it has been severely compromised by the unhinged ideological tampering of the former East German communist regime, as we will soon exhibit. First, observe, in this aerial shot of the Berliner Dom, with the colossal Stadtschloß off to the south (left), how the cathedral features a gorgeous rounded chapel extruding from its northern face (right). That section was known as the Denkmalkirche, or Memorial Church: a special mausoleum that was constructed to house the sarcophagi of the Hohenzollerns--the kings of Prussia and emperors of Germany.

This aerial view, looking south, shows the Berliner Dom in the foreground, the Denkmalkirche wing prominently at the fore, and the Königliche Schloß just behind, to the south. Intriguingly, the cathedral reversed its light-dark polarity over time. In later years, as is still the case today, it featured age-darkened sandstone topped by a lighter-coloured cupola of green-patina copper . . .

. . . but in its early years, its sandstone gleamed in an off-white hue, while the fresh reddish-brown copper of the cupola appeared darker, like a brand-new penny. The Denkmalkirche is in the foreground in this image, with the Königliche Schloß directly behind the cathedral.

This floorplan of the Berliner Dom shows how the Denkmalkirche, to the left (here labelled the "Gruft-Kirche"), occupied a space nearly as vast as that of the main hall of the church.

Alas, we have not yet managed to locate any high-resolution general views of the entire Denkmalkirche interior, but this tiny photograph offers a hint of its appearance.

In the film The Return of the King, the great mausoleum of Minas Tirith, known as the Tomb of the Stewards, was patterned after the Denkmalkirche.

The following image, the best extant photograph of one of the grand niches in the Denkmalkirche, shows the sarcophagus of Friedrich I, the first King of Prussia.

Perhaps the most famous sarcophagus in the Denkmalkirche was that of his wife, Queen Sophie Charlotte of Prussia. The Baroque casket was renowned for its sculpted figure of Death at the foot of the tomb.

The next photograph shows the sarcophagus of the Große Kurfürst, or Great Elector, one of Prussia's finest rulers, whose equestrian monument once stood at the southeast corner of the Stadtschloß, looking over the palace's distinctive Runde Ecke, or round corner.

The grave of another Elector of Brandenburg, Johann II, was marked by this fascinating memorial, in an image which offers further hints of the grandeur of the Denkmalkirche interior.

But perhaps the most illustrious resident of the Denkmalkirche was the lone individual there buried who was not of royal birth--though he was, of course, a Prussian aristocrat. For uniting Germany as one nation under Prussian rule, the Hohenzollerns paid Chancellor Otto von Bismarck the highest of honours and had his remains interred among the members of their household, much in the manner than the Norse gods would take the greatest of mortal warriors and allow them to enter Valhalla. This exquisite sarcophagus was sculpted by Reinhold Begas--yes, the same master who created the Kaiser Wilhelm Nationaldenkmal and the Schloßbrunnen, seen above.

During the war, the Berliner Dom took a number of direct hits from Allied bombs, including one from an incendiary device which blew out its main cupola.

However, as this rare colour photograph from 1945 shows, it emerged from the war relatively structurally sound.

Although the communist government did not tear down this edifice, their reconstruction was a shoddy affair. They topped the cupola with an incongruously modern cross instead of its historic spire, and gave the front towers weirdly Russian-looking spherical tips.

Observe how much nobler the original cathedral appeared, with its far more decorative cupola, and its spires reaching heavenward, giving the building a more majestic vertical thrust.

But a far worse indignity befell the Berliner Dom, perhaps the finest church in all of Protestantism, at the hands of the communists. The following image shows, once again, the cathedral prior to the war, with the noble Denkmalkirche extruding north, at the left side of the building.

The next photograph, from Life magazine, shows the cathedral at the war's end, its cupola blasted out, but with the Denkmalkirche wholly undamaged. It survived the war unscathed, as if the gods themselves protected the sarcophagi of Prussia's greatest rulers from harm. In 1945, it may have been the most intact structure in all of Berlin.

And yet, as if Germany had not suffered enough ruin at the hands of the Allies and their terror-bombing campaign, the Marxists decided that no, they could not permit even this one, solemn memorial to the great kings of old to exist. They tore down the intact Denkmalkirche in 1975, 30 years after the war, leaving the cathedral in the condition of an amputated fragment, like a torso with a severed limb. Even Begas's stunning Bismarck sarcophagus was obliterated.

It was as if, even three decades after the Soviets installed them in power, the communists were still so aware of the illegitimacy of their dictatorial rule, and so resentful of the natural right to rulership possessed by the Hohenzollerns, and so afraid of the people's memory of all of the good that the Prussian kings had given them, that they had to demolish even this last trace of their existence--as if, by destroying the physical structure, they could erase the people's love of beauty and aristocracy from their minds. The demolition has left behind a terrible, open wound in the side of the Berliner Dom, bricked over with sandstone, looking incomplete and unfinished.

At any rate, here, once again, is how the current cupola of the Berliner Dom appears--attractive, but for its glaringly out-of-place modern cross.

And here, in this rare colour photograph of the cathedral prior to its destruction in WWII, is how the cupola was meant to look, in all of its Historicist intricacy and Neo-Baroque splendour.

Is there any hope for its restoration? Perhaps. The following CGI pre-visualization of the reconstruction of the Königliche Schloß shows the royal palace at the right and the Berliner Dom at the left. But observe its cupola. Yes, this artist has added to it some of its historic ornamentation, and restored the spires atop the two front towers.

Let us hope that, once the Berliner Schloß is rebuilt, the cathedral might recover more of its historic appearance--and in particular, that the Denkmalkirche might be rebuilt, as a worthy tribute to the Hohenzollern dynasty which created the German nation itself.

* * *

And finally, what of the great dragon-slaying statue that once graced the west courtyard of the royal palace? A gift directly to the German emperor from its creator, August Kiss, this is surely the most thrilling work of sculpted art ever wrought by the hand of man.

Observe how, colossus though it is, it was still dwarfed by the epic size of the Königliche Schloß itself, its walls veritable cliffs of stone, as if the knight were fighting the dragon in the midst of a vast mountain chasm.

Take heart, travellers to Berlin--this sculpture still exists. Still exists, just waiting for the present-day pilgrim to experience it. Here it is covered by a light dusting of snow in the wintertime . . .

. . . and here it is in summer, the knight like a warrior of heaven, raising his sword to smite the terrible, clawed dragon, as if their battle were taking place in the sky itself.

Fortuitously, after the demolition of the Königliche Schloß, the statue was merely taken across the river Spree and installed on the opposite bank, across from the Neuer Marstall, which appeared earlier in this thread. Thus, even today, if one faces the statue from the front, looking east, the sculpture benefits from a backdrop of a royal Prussian building.

In the following image, an epic sky accentuates the high Romantic drama of this masterwork, with the dragon assaulted not only by the warrior's sword but also by a celestial cyclone of light, like the demon Chernybog cowering before the divine radiance of heaven in Fantasia.

A different exposure captures the light striking the statue and illuminating its copper coating, so appropriately endowing the dragon with a scaly green hue.

Note how the dragon's talons dig into the earth.

It raises a terrible claw to swipe at the knight and his steed, whose mane flies in the wind.

Observe the horse's fear as the dragon opens its terrible maw, as if to devour.

That maw bristles with teeth as dangerous as those of a Tyrannosaurus Rex, its forked tongue darting out like that of a demon.

Undaunted, the Teutonic visage of the knight exhibits the true Prussian warrior spirit, genuinely heroic, defiant of even the most formidable dangers, intent and indomitable, blazing with steely resolve, the lone fighting-man capable of slaying this most fearsome of adversaries.

Alas, the neighbourhood in which the statue now stands was completely obliterated by the criminal Allied bombing campaign, and the communists rebuilt it in a semi-modern style, with but scant historic touches. Thus, the area is best seen at night, as in the following photo. Only the reconstructed twin spires of the St.-Nikolai-Kirche (Church of St. Nicholas), Berlin's oldest parish, rising in the distance, give the sculpture an appropriate backdrop. The dragonslayer is positioned as if perpetually trampling the dragon en route to the medieval church.

In the evening, the statue is illuminated in an evocative light, which highlights the green skin of the dragon, and brings out wonderful details in the sculpture via an interplay of light and shadow.

Most dramatic of all, the spotlight throws the shadow of the dragonslayer onto the riverfront face of the Neuer Marstall. The warrior's raised sword becomes an eternal gesture of defiance against the tyranny of the modern world, fittingly cast against a royal Prussian building that was built as an adjunct to the mighty Königliche Schloß. As a wartime banner once read, "Our walls may break, but our hearts will not."

And finally, because Berlin's great dragon-slaying statue can only be properly appreciated when viewed from every angle, we share this amateur video, which presents the sculpture from a 360-degree perspective. Less felicitously, it also reveals its prosaic current surroundings.

Let us hope that when the Königliche Schloß is rebuilt, these symbols of Prussian greatness will be restored to their rightful places alongside the palace, and that the Kaiser Wilhelm Nationaldenkmal and the cathedral's Denkmalkirche will be rebuilt.

In the meantime, travellers to Berlin do have at least a few traces of the great palace that they can visit, to remind them of the beauty that once existed in this historic city.

- The Association of the Berliner Schloß

Last edited by HSG : 5th March 2013 at 16:07.
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