Posts Tagged ‘Great Hall’

Schwerbelastungskoerper for Germania

Monday, June 12th, 2017


The Schwerbelastungskoerper in Berlin (heavy load-bearing body) is a colossal concrete cylinder from the Nazi era. It is the only remaining tangible relic of Adolf Hitler’s vision of transforming Berlin into Germania, the capital of the world. Since 2002, Berlin’s borough of Tempelhof owns this one-of-a-kind concrete tube. Open to the public, the Schwerbelastungskoerper is located on General-Pape-Strasse, not far from Tempelhof airport.

Two enormous structures to anchor Hitler’s Germania

In the summer of 1936, Adolf Hitler, Chancellor of Germany from 1933 to 1945, handed Albert Speer, his chief architect, two postcard-sized sketches that were about 10 years old. The rough drafts outlined two monumental buildings that were to define Germania: the Great Arch and the Great Hall. The triumphal Great Arch was to honor the soldiers killed in World War I and to be three times as large as the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. The Great Hall, a gigantic domed assembly hall, was to be Berlin’s most impressive building. It was to be so large that it would eclipse every structure in Berlin.

Why the Schwerbelastungskoeper was built

In March 1928, Albert Speer created Project no. 15: Soils tests to determine whether Berlin’s sandy and swampy soil could support such large monuments. A test cube with 33-foot sides was to be constructed. In the end, it turned out to be a cylinder, close to 100 feet high with a 33-foot diameter underground and a 69-foot diameter above the surface. Between April and November 1941, almost 14,000 U.S. tons of concrete were poured at a cost of 400,000 Reichsmark.


Schwerbelastungskoerper in Berlin-Tempelhof, relic of the Nazi era. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017.

Schwerbelastungskoerper in Berlin-Tempelhof, relic of the Nazi era. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017.

But because of the start of World War II, the Schwerbelastungskoerper remained unfinished. When the heavy load bearing capacity of the soil underneath was finally measured in 1948, the colossus had sunk 19.4 cm (7 inches) in a period of two and a half years. The maximum acceptable settling without additional stabilization of the ground prior to construction was 2 cm. In other words, without additional work, the Great Arch and the Great Hall could not have been built.

The Schwerbelastungskoerper below ground. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017.

The Schwerbelastungskoerper below ground. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017.

Fate of the Schwerbelastungskoerper

After the Second World War, plans to blow up the Schwerbelastungskoerper were discarded because of the dangers explosives might have presented to nearby train tracks and apartment buildings. For a while, the German Society for Soil Mechanics used the cylinder to perform various tests on site. But after 1983 the structure was no longer needed and the Schwerbelastungskoerper was abandoned. For a number of years, the cylinder was neglected, and the area around it became overgrown. Now it is open to visitors. From an adjacent observation platform, the visitor can even overlook the area that Hitler once envisioned as the heart of Germania.


For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, “Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom,” click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of

Gewandhaus – Garment Hall to Concert Hall

Monday, July 6th, 2015

The renowned Gewandhaus Orchestra performs in a grand structure overlooking the Augustusplatz in Leipzig, Germany. Its name translates into “garment hall” because the city’s first concert hall was located in a textile-trading house. Completed in 1981, today’s hall can accommodate close to 2000 visitors and is known for its excellent acoustics. I had the good fortune of attending a recent concert at the Gewandhaus. It was directed by guest conductor Omer Meir Wellber. The performance of musicians and conductor was truly beyond words. What a treat for ears and eyes!

The current Gewandhaus was an East German cultural project. It is built in the style of an amphitheater. Its organ is the biggest musical instrument ever built in East Germany. The Gewandhaus Orchestra performs in the Gewandhaus, in the Leipzig Opera and, together with the Thomanerchor, in the St. Thomas Church.

According to Claudius Boehm (translated by Tom Greenleaves) the earliest roots of the Gewandhaus Orchestra can be traced to 1479. At that time, Leipzig’s City Council hired three artistic pipers (Kunstpfeifer) to provide musical accompaniment at church services, theater productions and concerts.

First Gewandhaus

Leipzig’s earliest concerts took place in private homes. Then an inn hosted the events. As the concerts increased in popularity, a larger space became essential, and in 1781, the City of Leipzig constructed a concert hall. Because the textile merchants had no use for a substantial part of the upper floor in the Garment Hall between the Gewandgaesschen and the Kupfergasse, the space was converted into a concert hall. It accommodated up to 500 patrons. Mozart played in this hall. So did Carl Maria von Weber and Franz Liszt. Hector Berlioz, Johannes Brahms, and Richard Wagner conducted here. The popularity of Gewandhaus concerts increased beyond all expectation so that the auditorium was modified several times to increase audience capacity. Unfortunately, the acoustics suffered each time, and a new concert hall was discussed.

Second Gewandhaus

In 1884, the Second Gewandhaus opened its doors on the south side of the Augustusplatz. It was designed by Martin Gropius and consisted of a main concert hall and a chamber music hall. While the City of Leipzig owned the First Gewandhaus, the Gewandhaus Concert Board owned the Second Gewandhaus. Anton Bruckner performed here at the organ, Paul Hindemith on the viola, Igor Stravinsky at the piano. Johannes Brahms, Edvard Grieg, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and Richard Strauss all conducted the Gewandhaus Orchestra at one time or another. The Second Gewandhaus was destroyed during bombings in 1944. For a while, the Gewandhaus orchestra performed in various halls throughout the city and moved into the zoo in 1947.

Third Gewandhaus

The conductor Kurt Masur initiated the campaign for the construction of the Third Gewandhaus on Augustusplatz. It opened in 1981, two hundred years after the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra had moved into the First Gewandhaus site.

The amphitheatrical Great Hall accommodates an audience of over 1,900; the Mendelssohn Hall approximately 500. The Great Hall is crowned by its imposing organ, with its four manuals, 92 stops and 6,638 pipes. Today’s Gewandhaus hosts approximately 800 events per year, which include its concert series, organ recitals, various chamber music series, conferences, symposia and lectures.

Inside the Gewandhaus Photo © J. Elke Ertle

Inside the Gewandhaus
Photo © J. Elke Ertle


For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of Walled-In is a story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.


Schloss Cecilienhof – Cecilienhof Palace

Thursday, November 20th, 2014

Schloss Cecilienhof became international known as the site of the Potsdam Conference in 1945. Prior to the end of World War II, the palace had served as the home of Crown Prince Wilhelm, his wife, Duchess Cecilie von Mecklenburg-Schwerin and their six children. Located southwest of Berlin, Germany, the English Tudor-style building resembles a Grand English Country Manor with its half-timbered walls, bricks and many chimneys. With a total of 176 rooms, Cecilienhof is considerably larger than it seems.

Schloss Cecilienhof - Cecilienhof Palace

Schloss Cecilienhof – Cecilienhof Palace

Schloss Cecilienhof’s Pre-1945 History

The castle was the last palace to be built by the Hohenzollern, a dynasty that ruled Prussia and Germany for 500 years. The German Emperor Wilhelm II had Schloss Cecilienhof built for his eldest son, Crown Prince Wilhelm. Construction began in 1914 and was completed in 1917. After only one happy year together in their new home, the royal couple remained separated for the rest of their lives. Even before the revolution of 1918, the Crown Prince rarely found time to be with his family. The Duchess and her six children continued to live at the palace from time to time until 1920 when Schloss Cecilienhof was confiscated. The royal couple’s two oldest sons, Wilhelm and Louis Ferdinand, remained at castle to attend public school in Potsdam. But when the Red Army drew close to Berlin in February of 1945, the Duchess and all of her children fled without being able to salvage many of their possessions. At the end of World War II, the Soviets seized Cecilienhof, which was located within the Soviet Zone of Germany.

Schloss Cecilienhof and the Potsdam Conference

From July 17 to August 2, 1945, US President Harry S. Truman, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and General Secretary of the Communist Party’s Central Committee Joseph Stalin convened at the Schloss Cecilienhof to decide the future of Germany. The three Allied powers decided to meet at the palace because the capital itself was too heavily damaged.

Prior to the Potsdam Conference, thirty-six rooms and the Great Hall were renovated and furnished with furniture from other Potsdam palaces. The Hohenzollern’s furniture had been removed by the Soviets and stored elsewhere. Cecilie’s music salon and writing room, Wilhelm’s smoking room, library and breakfast room as well as the Great Hall (where the Potsdam Agreement was signed) were among the rooms that were renovated and used during the Potsdam Conference. The various delegations were housed in the suburb of Potsdam-Babelsberg.

The Great Hall at Schloss Cecilienhof where the Potsdam Agreement was signed

The Great Hall at Schloss Cecilienhof where the Potsdam Agreement was signed

Schloss Cecilienhof’s Post-1945 History

After the Potsdam Conference had ended, Soviet troops used the palace as a clubhouse for a while. Later, Schloss Cecilienhof was handed over to the state of Brandenburg. In 1952, a memorial for the Conference was set up in the former private chambers of Crown Prince Wilhelm and Duchess Cecilie. The East German government used the palace for state receptions and other important meetings. In 1960, part of the castle was turned into a hotel. Today, part of Schloss Cecilienhof still serves as a museum. The hotel is temporarily closed for renovations and expects to reopen in 2018.

Since 1990, Schloss Cecilienhof is part of the Palaces and Parks of Potsdam and Berlin UNESCO World Heritage Site.



For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of Walled-In is a story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.