History of the Konzerthaus Berlin up to 1945

Find out more about the long and changing history of the Konzerthaus Berlin.

By Konzerthaus Berlin

Konzerthaus Berlin

The Französisches Komödienhaus framed by the two churches (1788) by M. F. AdolphKonzerthaus Berlin

The Konzerthaus Berlin is located on Gendarmenmarkt square. In the 18th century, the stables of the cuirassier regiment of the "Gens d’Armes", the legendary Prussian cavalry regiment of Frederick William I, were located here. His successor, Frederick II, had the stables demolished in 1773 and erected new buildings: two large churches with Florentine-style domes framing a particular building – the Französisches Komödienhaus. It opened on 22nd April 1776. In August 1787, the theatre was renamed the Königliches Nationaltheater.  

Mozart in the Nationaltheater (1789) by AnonymKonzerthaus Berlin

Schiller’s "The Robbers", Shakespeare’s "Hamlet" and Goethe’s "Egmont" were all part of the repertoire. In addition to watching the works of prominent authors on stage, one could also meet famous figures in the auditorium. In 1789, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart attended a performance of his opera "The Abduction from the Seraglio", then being performed under the name "Belmonte and Constanze". He reputedly made fun of a violinist who played the wrong notes.

Gendarmenmarkt with the newly-built Nationaltheater (1801) by AnonymKonzerthaus Berlin

However, the building was not prestigious enough to suit Frederick William III’s taste. He ordered a new construction of the Nationaltheater. Executed as commanded – under the Director of the Royal Office of Works, Carl Gotthard Langhans, a theatre twice the size was constructed with 2,000 seats, and officially inaugurated in 1802. Due to the particular shape of the roof, the theatre was given the nickname "Koffer" (trunk). On 29 July 1817, the building was completely destroyed by fire.

Stage design for "Undine" by Karl Friedrich Schinkel (1816) by Karl Friedrich SchinkelKonzerthaus Berlin

During the short period of existence of Langhans’ building, hundreds of operas and plays were performed and prominent guests were welcomed, including Beethoven and Schiller. One famous and highly successful premiere was that of the romantic magic opera "Undine" by E.T.A. Hoffmann on 3 August 1816. Incidentally, Hoffmann also lived across the street from the Nationaltheater from 1815 until his death in 1822. Today, a plaque at Charlottenstrasse 56 pays tribute to Hoffmann and his artistic work for future generations.

The Schauspielhaus (1825) by AnonymKonzerthaus Berlin

Only a few months after the devastating fire, in November 1817, the king ordered the submission of plans for a new theatre. Privy Chief Building Officer Karl Friedrich Schinkel and Artistic Director Count Brühl were entrusted with the task. Schinkel presented a design that exceeded all expectations – he created a veritable temple of art, with the Greek god Apollo sitting enthroned on the roof. On 26 May 1821, the building was ceremoniously opened as the Schauspielhaus, and Goethe’s "Iphigenia in Tauris" was performed. For this occasion, Goethe wrote a special prologue, stating: "So it was right! Just as desired by my might – And yet I fear its splendour; What I yearned for, demanded and ordered, Now stands and surpasses my will a hundred times!"

The concert hall in Schinkel’s Schauspielhaus by AnonymKonzerthaus Berlin

The building attracted prominent artists. On 27 November 1826, the Berlin premiere of Ludwig van Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony took place in the Great Hall; in 1829, Niccolò Paganini gave a guest performance, and in 1838, Goethe’s "Faust I" had its Berlin premiere here. Likewise, Liszt, Wagner and Mendelssohn all stood on the stage. The smaller concert hall, "perhaps the most beautiful hall on earth" as the "Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung Leipzig" wrote in 1821, also attracted widely travelled artists and guests to the Schauspielhaus.

The stage design by Carl Wilhelm Gropius of the hunting lodge for the opera “Der Freischütz” (1821) by Carl Wilhelm GropiusKonzerthaus Berlin

On 18 June 1821, about a month after the opening of Schinkel’s theatre, Carl Maria von Weber’s opera "Der Freischütz" premiered at the Schauspielhaus. The stage design was by Carl Wilhelm Gropius, who had been trained as a landscape painter by Schinkel himself just a few years earlier.  

The Jessner staircase. Stage design by Emil Pirchan for Shakespeare’s "Richard III" (1920) by Emil PirchanKonzerthaus Berlin

In 1919, the theatre was renamed the Preussisches Staatstheater. The first Artistic Director was Leopold Jessner. His productions polarised audiences, as he incorporated clear political references and Expressionist elements. He also criticised the imperial state and the power and influence of the elite. Following intense and sometimes anti-Semitic protests, Jessner gave up his post in 1930.

Gustaf Gründgens (1930) by AnonymKonzerthaus Berlin

In 1934, Gustaf Gründgens was appointed Artistic Director by Hermann Göring. The most prominent actors of the time, including Werner Krauss, Elsa Wagner, Marianne Hoppe and Bernhard Minetti, gathered under Gründgens’ tutelage. Despite the circumstances of the era, Gründgens succeeded in taking a critical stance, guiding the theatre to performances of the very highest level. Many politically vulnerable actors assisted the director, which led to the theatre being nicknamed "the island". Gründgens’ last production was Schiller’s "The Robbers" on 29 June 1944.

Farmland on Gendarmenmarkt (1945) by AnonymKonzerthaus Berlin

On 20 and 22 April 1945, the last concerts took place in the Staatstheater. Excerpts from Puccini’s "Tosca" and Rossini’s "The Barber of Seville" were performed. Although the theatre was still officially in operation, the consequences of the war could not be overlooked. There was great destitution and poverty, and people were hungry – so in the spring of 1945, parts of Gendarmenmarkt were converted into farmland.

View of the theatre’s destroyed interior by AnonymKonzerthaus Berlin

In May 1945, SS units set fire to the building. The auditorium and irreplaceable parts of the archive collections fell victim to the flames.  However, the walls, which were up to four metres thick, withstood the fire. The theatre, badly damaged and gutted, remained standing on Gendarmenmarkt for many years – until well into the 1970s, at which point its reconstruction as the Konzerthaus began.

Credits: Story

© Konzerthaus Berlin

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