Daring to rebuild Berlin Palace

Passion, searching, learning, weighing up, combining, knowledge, research and sobriety

by Wilhelm von Boddien

The crest of Inner Portal II in the Great Palace Courtyard on the south side

Miniature of the crest of Inner Portal II

Public reaction was full of incredulity and astonishment. For years, newspapers used to write about our endeavours to reconstruct Berlin Palace in its original form as if they were writing about some prohibited, arrogant act that needed to be stopped. We were the palace spooks, the gang of palace counterfeiters.

The new palace was called a Disneyland, a fake, a phantom from a forbidden dream. We were simply unseemly, reactionary and revisionist and several journalists also just ridiculed us.

None of the palace opponents had any idea of what a great help they were being to us all. They made us step up our game. We acquired ever more in-depth knowledge and in the execution of our plans left nothing more to chance. To do this, we didn’t have to reinvent the wheel. Rather, we were able to orient ourselves on famous examples. There are countless reputable and successful reconstructions of famous buildings. Reims Cathedral, for example, and Ypres Cloth Hall were both either badly or completely destroyed in World War I. Warsaw Old Town and Palace, St. Michael’s Monastery in Kiev, the Abbey of Monte Cassino and the Royal Palace and, above all, the Frauenkirche in Dresden were all razed to the ground in World War II.

Frank Kösler during the conception of the portal crest on the model wall

All historic stone buildings have, however, actually long since been reconstructed, even if they were never destroyed. The creeping process of destruction through snow and ice, storms and acid rain, heat and cold takes its toll on the stone, which weathers away. Restoration work is constantly going on to safeguard buildings from falling into disrepair. We would have no knowledge of the beauty of old cathedrals if they had not been repeatedly restored. Over the centuries, they would simply have crumbled away. Imagine Cologne Cathedral without its site maintenance team pottering about on it somewhere. Do you know any post-war series of photos of this monument, taken from all sides on any given day where you do not see scaffolding on at least one picture?

From template to rough clay application to finely modelled clay sculpture: Ada Kösler shapes the initials of Friedrich Wilhelm I.

The Schlossbauhütte (the construction project workshop) is a major draw. When are you going to arrange a visit? Tel.: +49 (0)30 / 2067 3093!

Drawing on all these examples, and many more, we honed our understanding, intensified our knowledge, learned and at the same time began to utilise the latest technologies, which considerably simplified our work. The computer, with all its programming possibilities, helped to make pictures true to size, since the palace’s building plans have been missing for almost 300 years. Berlin Palace had left its legacy in all sorts of different archives, often discovered only by chance: an enormous jigsaw puzzle of restoration plans using inches and other measurements, usually imprecise and in need of interpretation. Dozens of photographs taken by Meydenbauer and sketches (land registry measurements) from the Kaiser’s time were waiting to be interpreted. Added to those were the wonderful detailed photos that Eva Kemmlein with her Leica took of the ruins from scaffold and fire escapes, as the demolition of 1950 had already begun. The Ernst von Siemens Arts Foundation donated money that in 1999 was passed on to Berlin Technical University.

The original portal crest shows here its incredible variety.

The recovered original of the right-hand genius being built in again.

The finished 1: 1 model, this time of the crest of Inner Portal IV in the Great Palace Courtyard on the north side

Finds are an added help: here the original crown from Portal II …

… and its recovery and transport away from a Berlin garden. We are still looking for such finds and are glad to receive any information about such pieces!

Also found in the garden: an eagle of the chain of the Order of the Black Eagle from the crest.

Led by Prof. Dr. Albertz, it developed a photogrammetry programme that enabled what would otherwise have been impossible: an exact reconstruction of the palace façades to a degree of at least 99%. At the Friends of Berlin Palace, our central partner became Stuhlemmer Architects of Berlin. They searched and searched with detective-like fervour and repeatedly found new, conclusive archive evidence, which perfectly filled the gaps in the puzzle, until in 2006 the archaeologically accurate building plans were then drawn. As with the shredded Stasi documents, the mountain of material was arranged by the Stuhlemmer team like a puzzle into an overall structure, which, fed with all sorts of different information and measurements, produced a cohesive set of core data and ultimately the building plans. These became the basis developed under commission from the Friends of Berlin Palace for the historic façades that are now being created.

At the same time, we were looking for and found highly trained sculptors, who were familiar with the Prussian Baroque style, for which they developed a particular sensitivity – and had a very challenging task. In order to interpret Schlüter’s team of sculptors from around 1700, they had to sacrifice a part of their own personalities and thus skills of interpretation, anything that was at odds with reconstruction true to the original.

In Matthias Körner, Eckard Böhm, Stefan Werner-Schmelter, Steffen Werner, Peik Wünsche, Andreas Hoferick, Frank Kösler, Carlo Wloch, Bernhard Lankers and later many others, we found gifted artists, almost all originating from the famous sculpting workshop of Jürgen Klimes in Berlin, who as their teacher under the difficult conditions of artistic work in the GDR had created a phenomenal nucleus, without any idea of how beneficial this would one day be for our work. However, Jürgen Klimes loved Prussian Baroque, which he revitalised at the Zeughaus, the cathedrals on Gendarmenmarkt and other famous buildings. It was also he and his workers who in 1963 integrated into the National Council building the so-called Liebknecht Portal, i.e. Portal IV of Berlin Palace, even then largely reconstructed based on the rescued portal’s ruined original stones.

One worry, however, did cause us many a sleepless night: for reasons of cost the construction time for the palace would be very short – and an unimaginable amount of sandstone has to be built into its façades, over 10,000 tonnes in fact, which has to be worked by hand. Would we ever find enough sculptors to do this?

We found them, albeit including in a different form.

The Prussian eagle in the cartouche above Portal V…

…the lost original…

…being precisely modelled in sculptor’s clay

Converting the plaster model of a window hood on the Eosander Risalit facing the Lustgarten into sandstone

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