Where you only find a giant construction site at the moment, president Joachim Gauk laid the foundation stone on 12 June 2013 for the new “Berliner Schloss-Humboldtforum” (=Berlin Palace). In this article, we are looking into the complex and controversial past and future of the Berlin Palace.
The origins of Berlin Palace
The Berlin Palace was built in 1442 on the Spree Island in former Cölln (todays district Berlin-Mitte) by order of Brandenburg’s margraves and electors. The construction of the Palace was not supported by the citizens of Berlin and Cölln because they had to give away some of their land. Nevertheless, the construction process was further enforced by government. Over the years, the Palace was expanded and in 1702, it became the imperial residence of Prussia/ Germany. During the Second World War, the Palace became a point of attack for bombings and in May 1944, the great gallery was destroyed. In February 1945, the whole building was afire for four days and the facade was under fire.
The first Demolition of the Palace
Along with the separation of Germany and Berlin in East-and West-Berlin, Friedrich Ebert became mayor of East Berlin. He was against the reconstruction of the Berlin Palace and already closed it in 1948 due to deterioration. Two years later, the 500 years old palace was demolished by order of the SED, because the party perceived a reconstruction as financially unfeasible and they wanted a building structure that truly reflects the political system at that time. Due to that, the SED built the “Marx-Engels-Platz” and the Palace of the Republic from 1947 to 1976. This palace became the “house of the people” and hosted many political and cultural events of the GDR. The building was also called “Erichs Lampenladen” (= Erich’s lamp shop) because of the many lamps hanging from the foyers ceiling. In 1990, the building’s fabric finally became its undoing: employees of the Palace complained about the enormous health risks of asbestos contamination inside the building. The Palace was closed.
The criticized Reconstruction of the Palace
In the early 90s, some people already thought about the reconstruction of the original Berlin Palace and even put up a Palace simulation at the facade of the building. This project was initiated by the salesman Wilhelm von Boddien who also founded the “Assosiation Berliner Schloss e.V.”. However, many Berliners were against the reconstruction of the original Berlin Palace because the project would cost approximately 500.000€ which could not be solely financed by donations. As Berlin is not exactly a rich city, many people are afraid that the city is going to ask other counties for financial support and thus will get into even more dept.
A lot of citizens criticize the costly new building and fear that the Palace will become a construction disaster just like the Berlin Brandenburg Airport. Furthermore, many Berliners were against the demolition of the Palace of the Republic as this building itself can be seen as a historic memorial of the GDR. The demolition of the building was perceived by many critics as an “act of revenge” for the destruction of the Berlin Palace in 1950.
Despite the public denial of the project, the former Palace of the Republic was torn down in 2008 and an architectural competition was advertised for the new building of the Berlin Palace.
The Construction Site as a Landmark
Since the laying of the foundation stone on 13th June 2013, a new Berlin City Palace is being built at the past location of the Palace. The most important facades and building pieces of the former Palace were used and rebuilt. In 2019, the new Humboldt-Forum will open up and add to the Museum Island regarding its design and content. The Museum Island is meant to become a complete “Spreeathen” acting as a counterbalance of the modern districts. In the forum, a non-European- and science museum will develop as well as a collection of non-European literature.
No matter if you are in favor of or against the reconstruction of the Berlin Palace: it is definitely being built and Berlin is dealing with that in a creative way by marketing the construction site. For instance, if you want to experience what’s happening there live, you can have a look at the live webcam of the Association Berliner Schloss e.V. If you want more info about the palaces construction, you can visit the turquoise “Humboldt-box” at the Schlossplatz: a temporary info center and exhibition ground informing guests about the topic Humboldtforum. On several days in summer 2013, visitors could go on the construction site and look at the building process themselves.
So, next time you visit the Museum Island, you should definitely see the huge construction site of the new Berlin Palace yourself. By S-train you reach Alexanderplatz within 10 minutes and from there, it’s only a short walk to Museum Island.
is Berliner by choice and a passionate backpacker himself. As a receptionist he knows the real hostel life; as a blogger he's been writing for Industriepalast Hostel's Berlin blog since 2014.