The Berlin Cathedral

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Its palatial dome towers over the city centre, making it one of the most iconic buildings in the German capital: Berlin Cathedral. While people were skeptical about the pompous Hohenzollern court chapel at first, two world wars and a transboundary reconstruction effort later, this Lutheran church is now considered a beloved symbol among Berliners. When visiting Berlin, this is one of the places you should certainly not miss. Here’s all you need to know about the magnificent building:

A new cathedral for every era

The cathedral you can see today may only be about a century old, but throughout history, this location on the Spree river island has been reserved for churches. Back in the 13th century, a Dominican monastery with a triple-naved hall church was built here as part of medieval town Cölln. The Berlin City Palace next door was seat of the Hohenzollern dynasty, at the time electors of Prussia (the palace was destroyed in world war 2 and temporarily replaced with modernist Palace of the Republic, currently it is being reconstructed for millions of Euro though). In 1535 they made the decision to close the monastery and convert the church into a chapel royal.

200 years later, the late-gothic brick building had fallen into a state of disrepair. Thus Frederick II (nicknamed “the Great”), king of Prussia, gave order to erect a comparably modest baroque new build. In the early 1800s, style-defining architect Friedrich Schinkel attended to this “second cathedral”. Among other projects, he was the mastermind behind Museum Island, and he remodeled the baroque church in the classicist style of his time.

By the emperor for the emperor

Following the foundation of the German Reich, the Prussian kings had become Emperors of Germany. When Wilhelm II took the throne, he found the Schinkel cathedral to be too modest and not pompous enough. So in 1894 her ordered the demolition of the old, and construction of yet another, bigger and more prestigious cathedral. The Berliners of the Gründerzeit period were not exactly happy with this development – the graceful classicistic church was rather popular among the locals. The new cathedral was to be built in ostentatious neo-baroque style, full of decorations and bling. For inspiration, architects Julius and Otto Raschdorff looked to St. Peter’s in Rome and St Paul’s in London in order to create the emperor’s “cathedral for the Lutherans of the world”. The progressive people of Berlin, by then an urban centre of millions, found this to be a very backwards understanding of art and saw it as a vanity project by a monarchy craving for validation. Nonetheless the emperor had his way and in 1905 the cathedral as we know it today was opened.

An effort bridging borders

When bombs hailed down on Berlin in 1944, the cathedral was heavily damaged. Other than neighboring City Palace, the GDR government decided against demolition. The ruins of the church were then only marginally used; it took until 1975 before a special program for reconstruction was adopted. Important support came from “abroad”: Parishes in West Germany collected donations for the reconstruction of the cathedral in East Berlin and managed to send some 20 million Deutschmark. Directly after the fall of the wall, even more funds were mobilized and in 1993 the renovation works on the building were finished. Since then, the art treasures on the inside have been restored.

What’s there to see?

Even though the Berlin Cathedral isn’t half as historic as many a visitor is led to believe (by the time it was built, Chicago and New York were already dotted with skyscrapers), it is still one of the most iconic sights of the capital. Thousands of visitors marvel at its architecture and splendour every day. The outside is magnificent, with a monumental dome and four not-so-little towers. Upon entering the building, visitors are greeted with golden ornaments and mosaics, sculptures  and shiny decorations. The marble altar by Friedrich August Stüler and the baptism font by Christian Daniel Rauch are famous. There’s a smaller baptistry serving as room for prayer and wedding ceremonies. Underground Hohenzollern Crypt is considered to be Germany’s most significant dynastic tomb – no less than 94 members of the aristocratic family were laid to rest here since the 16th century. If you want to learn more about the history and architecture, the little Cathedral Museum is worth a visit. But the highlight – in the truest sense of the word – is obviously the ascent up to the dome, which offers a stunning 360° panorama of Berlin.

Berlin Cathedral is open daily from 9 am through 8 pm (in winter only through 7 pm), unless there are prayers or events. Admission fee is 7 € (reduced: 5€), which goes directly into maintaining the church and its architecture. Children under the age of 18 are free when accompanied by their parents. Three times an hour there is a guided tour which is included in the ticket price. Barrier-free access can be found to the left of the portal.

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