Posts Tagged ‘Museum Island’

Berliner Dom Transforms Multiple Times

Monday, October 9th, 2017


The Protestant Berliner Dom (Berlin Cathedral) is located on Museum Island in the heart of Berlin, alongside the River Spree. It is Berlin’s largest church and a frequent venue for concerts and readings. The massive dome that soars above the main nave has become a well-known landmark in the city’s historic center. Despite the name, the Berlin Cathedral is not an actual cathedral since the church is not the seat of a bishop. Instead, it has the status of a parish church. During the Hohenzollern dynasty (rulers of Prussia) and during the reign of the German Emperors, the Berliner Dom was the court’s church.


Tops of Berliner Dom, two spires and Television Tower. Photo © Gundi Seifert, 2017.

Tops of Berliner Dom, two spires and Television Tower. Photo © Gundi Seifert, 2017.


History of the Berliner Dom

The Berliner Dom has a long history. It started as a modest Roman Catholic church in the 15th century, became a Protestant place of worship, was elevated to the status of supreme parish church and survived several demolitions and reconstructions.

FIRST CHURCH – In 1451, Prince-Elector Friedrich II (Irontooth) of Brandenburg moved into the newly erected Stadtschloss (City Place) on the southern part of Museums Island. Read: Berlin’s Museum Island The Stadtschloss included a Catholic chapel. In 1454, Friedrich II elevated that chapel to a Supreme Parish and Collegiate Church.

SECOND CHURCH -Friedrich II wanted a freestanding church, and in 1465 he had one constructed on the present site, across from the Stadtschloss. Read: Stadtschloss Berlin Reconstruction The new church was an unpretentious building. Following the Reformation, it became a Lutheran church and also served the Hohenzollern family as their court church.

THIRD CHURCH – In 1747, that second church was completely demolished and replaced by a Baroque building. Then, between 1820 and 1822, the Baroque church was remodeled into a neo-classical edifice.

FOURTH AND PRESENT CHURCH – In 1894, Emperor Wilhelm II ordered demolition of the neo-classical building and the construction of the much bigger, present-day cathedral to ensure that the Protestant Berliner Dom compared favorably to the Catholic St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Construction of the current structure was completed in 1905.

War Damage and Reconstruction of the Berliner Dom

In 1944, toward the end of World War II, a firebomb hit the Berliner Dom and severely damaged the dome itself and much of the structure. Following the division of Germany and Berlin, the Cathedral was located in East Berlin. Despite plans to raze the church, East German government officials had a temporary roof installed to protect what remained of the church’s interior. In 1975, they ordered the demolition of the cathedral’s northern wing. It had survived the war intact but had to go because it housed the Denkmalskirche, a Memorial Church and Hall of Honor for the Hohenzollern dynasty. At the same time, as many crosses as possible were removed from the cathedral. Fortunately, however, the East German government decided to reconstruct the remainder of the church in simplified form.

By 1984, five years before the fall of the Berlin Wall, restoration of the interior began. Following reunification work continued, and in 1993, the Berliner Dom reopened. The cathedral was consecrated for the second time in 1996 while restoration work continued until 2002.

What not to miss when visiting the Berliner Dom

The Berliner Dom is considerable more ornate than most Protestant churches. Aside from an abundance of marble columns and gilded ornaments, the cathedral’s dome, pipe organ, Imperial Stairwell and crypt are particularly worth seeing.

The DOME of the Berlin Cathedral reaches a height of 322 feet. The outer structure was rebuilt with a simplified cupola and spires. The dome is intricately decorated with mosaics, created by Anton von Werner.

The cathedral’s richly decorated IMPERIAL STAIRWELL was already used by the German Emperor. After climbing 267 steps to the viewing gallery, visitors are rewarded with splendid views of the entire interior of the Berliner Dom and of central Berlin.

From 1545 on, the royal family of Hohenzollern used the church as the family burial place. The Hohenzollern CRYPT contains nearly 94 coffins, sarcophagi and burial monuments from four centuries. Cathedral The only Hohenzollern ruler not buried here is Kaiser Wilhelm II, who abdicated in 1918, at the end of the First World War.

The reconstructed PIPE ORGAN has more than 7,000 pipes and was originally built by Wilhelm Sauer in 1905.

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 my story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.



Berliner Stadtschloss to Humboldt Forum

Monday, June 13th, 2016

The Berliner Stadtschloss (Berlin City Palace) dates back to 1443. It was the residence of the Margraves of Brandenburg, Prussian Kings and German Emperors. More than 60 years after its demolition, the exterior of the Berliner Stadtschloss is now being reconstructed in all its former grandeur. Called not Stadtschloss but “Humboldt Forum,” the building is scheduled to open in 2019 and will serve as Berlin’s new cultural center.

Berliner Stadtschloss - now Humboldt Forum - under construction in April 2016, photo © J. Elke Ertle,

Berliner Stadtschloss – now Humboldt Forum – under construction in April 2016, photo © J. Elke Ertle,

Location of the Berliner Stadtschloss

The Berliner Stadtschloss, Germany’s equivalent of Buckingham Palace, was located at the Schlossplatz in the historical core of Berlin, opposite the Lustgarten and the Berlin cathedral. Following the division of Berlin the City Palace ended up in the Soviet sector of the city.

History of the Berliner Stadtschloss

At the turn of the 18th century, Frederick III – Elector of Brandenburg and later Prussia’s first King – chose architect and sculptor Andreas Schlueter to turn the existing 15th century medieval castle into a majestic City Palace. Toward the end of World War II, the grand structure was seriously damaged. Although repair was possible, the socialist regime of East Germany preferred to divest itself of this symbol of Prussian imperialism. In 1950, therefore, the Berliner Stadtschloss was demolished. In 1976 a new and contemporary edifice rose in its place, the Palace of the Republic (Palast der Republik).

After the fall of the Berlin Wall, it was discovered that the Palace of the Republic contained 5,000 tons of asbestos. In 2008, it shared the fate of the royal residence, and the Palace of the Republic – palace for the people – was also demolished. Following countless fierce debates over what should happen to the now empty site, the parliament of reunited Germany decided to reconstruct the City Palace. However, only the original three baroque façades of the old Berliner Stadtschloss facing north, west, and south will be reconstructed. The Renaissance front facing east will be more contemporary because there is insufficient documentation relative to its original appearance.

Humboldt Forum

Since Germany hasn’t had a monarchy for almost 100 years, the newly reconstructed Berliner Stadtschloss will not serve as a royal residence. Instead, it will be a museum and a venue for public events and exhibitions. Its name is a reference to the legacy of the brothers Alexander von Humboldt (the explorer) and Wilhelm (the diplomat). At the start of the 19th century, the Humboldt brothers did groundbreaking work in researching foreign cultures. The Humboldt Forum will house non-European exhibits and arts to complement nearby Museum Island, which houses European history. The various collections will be presented and interpreted together as part of a shared cultural heritage.


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 my story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.












Coelln and Berlin

Monday, September 23rd, 2013

During the 13th century, itinerant merchants founded two trading posts, on opposite sites of the Spree River, Coelln and Berlin. Coelln was first cited in a 1237 deed. The date is commonly regarded as the origin of Berlin, although the city is not mentioned until 1244.

Cölln is first cited in 1237, Berlin in 1244

Berlin (red), Coelln (yellow) Two settlements on opposite sides of the River Spree

The twin settlements were located between the already established towns of Spandau to the northwest and Koepenick to the southeast. Since Coelln and Berlin were on the trading route between Madgeburg and Frankfurt/Oder, they grew quickly. Initially, the Muehlendamm – Mill Dam – that crossed the River Spree served as the only connection between them. Each settlement had its own town hall and mayor. Relations were often tense. When a fire swallowed up a large part of Coelln, the people of Berlin declined to help. But they begged Coelln for assistance only two years later when their own town was burning. An outbreak of the Bubonic plague in Coelln caused Berlin to block the Mill Dam in order to keep the contagions in check. But when a Berlin woman spotted a dead body on the far side of the causeway to Cölln, she climbed over the barriers to steal his jacket. By doing so, she spread the epidemic to Berlin.

In 1307 Coelln and Berlin merged into a single town to improve the inhabitants’ prospects for defending against the sovereign. They constructed a second crossing, the Lange Bruecke – Long Bridge which was later renamed the Rathausbruecke -Town Hall Bridge. It still exists today and is Berlin’s second oldest bridge. A bridge was also constructed to replace the Mill Dam. It was called the Muehlendammbruecke and is now Berlin’s oldest bridge, located between Gertraudenstrasse and Molkenmarkt.

The original two settlements were situated just southwest of today’s Alexanderplatz and the Nikolai section. While Berlin grew into a cosmopolitan city, Coelln became part of its historic core. Its northern peak has become known as Museum Island and its southern part as Fischerinsel – Fishermen’s Island. Coelln’s name survives only in Berlin’s southeastern borough of Neukoelln.


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.



Stadtschloss Berlin Reconstruction

Thursday, July 18th, 2013

Following years of heated debates, the Stadtschloss Berlin reconstruction is ready to start. On June 12, 2013, German President Joachim Gauck laid the foundation stone for the 590 million euro project.

The Stadtschloss Berlin (Berlin City Place) was a royal and imperial palace in the city’s center. Originally built in the 15th century as a fort to guard the crossing of the River Spree, the castle stood on Fishers’ Island, now known as Museum Island. Throughout the intervening centuries its face continued to change until the famous architect Andreas Schlueter finalized its appearance in the middle of the 18th century.

Stadtschloss Berlin ca. 1920

Stadtschloss Berlin ca. 1920

The Stadtschloss Berlin served as the residence to various Electors of Brandenburg and to the Hohenzollern Kings of Prussia. Following the demise of the German Empire in 1918, the palace was turned into a museum. Badly damaged during Allied bombings in World War II, it ended up in the eastern sector of the city. In 1950, East German leaders decided to demolish rather than to repair it. More than a decade later, East Germany built a new Staatsrat building (Council of State) on part of the site and added the Palast der Republik (Palace of the Republic) in the 1970s. When the Palast der Republik, a large modern building, was found to be contaminated with asbestos shortly before German reunification in 1990, it was closed to the public. Following unification the new Federal government of the united Germany demolished the building and left the area a parkland, pending a decision on its ultimate future.

Heated debates arose. Some citizens advocated for the Stadtschloss Berlin reconstruction. Others suggested that the exterior baroque facades be rebuilt, but a modern interior added. Some advocated the retention of the Palast der Republik to preserve its historical significance. Others argued for a public park. Lobby groups formed, and finally, after two decades of passionate debates, the Stadtschloss Berlin will return to the heart of Berlin.

A key figure in the debates has been a businessman from Hamburg, Wilhelm von Boddien. He founded and heads the Association Berliner Schloss. Upon project completion in 2019 the Stadtschloss Berlin reconstruction will house a modern museum containing collections of African and other non-European art.


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 my story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.