How far should one go?

Part of the exhibition "Clashing styles?"

By Charlottenburg Palace

The reconstruction of Charlottenburg Palace was an extraordinarily impressive achievement and one that was initiated and carried out by only a small number of highly committed men and women. In addition to the organizational challenges of coordinating all the persons and bodies involved, decisions regularly had to be made concerning the future appearance of individual sections of the building. To lay the ground for the reconstruction of the historical monument, the extant remains had to be examined and recorded, and documentary evidence – pre-war photographs, prints and drawings, plans and descriptions – had to be collected. Only after the significance of this source material for Charlottenburg as a historical monument had been assessed could the real discussion begin – and even then, as today, the decision-making process was influenced not only by the financial and technical possibilities and the artistic personnel available but also by interests in society at large, political pressure, the question of future utilizations and, not least, personal tastes. Another factor that played a role was the quantity of furnishings still in existence. Within these demanding parameters, the overriding priority was to preserve the dignity of the building and yet to create a new atmosphere through which to convey its value and identity as a historical monument. This is why the decades-long process of reconstruction did not involve the application of rigid methodology – on the contrary, whenever a new problem arose or a new section of the building was to be dealt with, the goal was always to find the best possible solution for the respective matter in hand. The following examples are intended to illustrate the variety of different approaches applied.

Berlin, Schloss Charlottenburg, Restaurierung eines Spiegelrahmens für die Goldene Galerie (zwischen 1961 und 1973)Charlottenburg Palace

Contemporary wittness report. Only available in German.
00:00

Helmut Börsch-Supan

From 1961 curator and from 1983 to 1995 deputy director of the administration of the State Palaces and Gardens in Berlin.
Click here for the transcription of the original sound.

Berlin, Schloss Charlottenburg, Altes Schloss, Porzellankabinett, südöstliche Ecke vor den Retuschen (um 1960)Charlottenburg Palace

Saved

As a result of the air raids of 1943/1945, Charlottenburg Palace suffered massive destruction and damage through fire, explosions and water. Only after the statics had been checked, the remaining fabric made secure and weather protection put in place was it possible to examine the surfaces and safeguard the surviving materials and colours. In a few cases, rooms had survived in such a good state of preservation that the imperfections and traces of damage could be concealed by freshening up, partial reworking of surfaces, or small replacements – here, this process will be referred to as restoration

Berlin, Schloss Charlottenburg, Altes Schloss, Porzellankabinett, südöstliche Ecke mit der Porzellanausstattung und dem Deckenbild von Anthonie Coxie (vor 1945)Charlottenburg Palace

Saved

Berlin, Charlottenburg Palace, Old Palace, Porcelain Cabinet, south-eastern corner with its porcelain and the ceiling painting by Anthonie Coxie, state before 1945

Berlin, Schloss Charlottenburg, Altes Schloss, Porzellankabinett, südöstliche Ecke vor den Retuschen (um 1960)Charlottenburg Palace

Saved

Berlin, Charlottenburg Palace, Old Palace, Porcelain Cabinet, south-eastern corner before retouching, state c. 1960

In the air raids of 1945, the blast wave from a direct hit on the adjacent chapel caused most of the plaster shell of the Porcelain Cabinet’s ceiling to come loose and shatter on the floor. In addition, parts of the rich stucco decoration on the walls were destroyed. In the restoration, large parts of the ceiling were put back into place and missing sections were replaced.

Fragmente der Decke des Porzellankabinetts von Schloss Charlottenburg vor der Wiederanbringung (um 1948)Charlottenburg Palace

Saved

Fragments of the ceiling of the Porcelain Cabinet at Charlottenburg before restoration, c. 1948

Berlin, Schloss Charlottenburg, Altes Schloss, Porzellankabinett nach der Wiederherstellung Ende der 1960er Jahre (2017)Charlottenburg Palace

Saved

Berlin, Charlottenburg Palace, Old Palace, the Porcelain Cabinet after the restoration at the end of the 1960s, state in 2017

In the course of the ceiling’s restoration, some lost wall ornaments were replaced with copies made using moulds taken from surviving elements. Most of the porcelain had been removed for safekeping before 1943 but was carried off to the Soviet Union after the war. The pieces that had remained in place were smashed. To replace them, similar historical pieces were acquired and copies of certain small vases were made at the Royal Porcelain Manufactory Berlin (KPM).

Berlin, Schloss Charlottenburg, Neuer Flügel, Goldene Galerie während der Rekonstruktion (1965)Charlottenburg Palace

Regained

In certain rooms at Charlottenburg, the destruction of the decoration was so extensive that to restore just the surviving remains would not have given an impression of the room’s original appearance. If, however, there were photographs, descriptions and surviving material fragments to provide detailed information about forms, proportions, materials and colours, the persons responsible could consider the possibility of a reconstruction. In such cases, the process was not so much a strict re-enacting of the original craftsmanship as of a striving for an artistic approximation to the original.

Berlin, Schloss Charlottenburg, Neuer Flügel, Goldene Galerie (vor 1943)Charlottenburg Palace

Regained

Berlin, Charlottenburg Palace, New Wing, Golden Gallery, state before 1943 

By the beginning of the twentieth century, all rooms of art-historical importance were as a rule well documented, with extensive accounts and descriptions in published form. In addition, restoration programmes in Charlottenburg’s early years as a museum after 1927 had resulted in detailed photographs and drawings being made of some rooms and in mouldings being taken of decorative elements. After the destruction of the war, these items provided an invaluable basis for the work of reconstruction

Berlin, Schloss Charlottenburg, Neuer Flügel, Goldene Galerie nach der Zerstörung (25.02.1944)Charlottenburg Palace

Regained

Berlin, Charlottenburg Palace, New Wing, Golden Gallery after the destruction, state on 25 February 1944 

Berlin, Schloss Charlottenburg, Neuer Flügel, Goldene Galerie während der Rekonstruktion (1965)Charlottenburg Palace

Regained

Berlin, Charlottenburg Palace, New Wing, Golden Gallery during the reconstruction, February 1965 

The Golden Gallery is an outstanding example of a comprehensive reconstruction. Although it was almost entirely gutted by fire, the surviving remains of the green marble-stucco and rich relief decoration provided precise information about the erstwhile colours and forms. In addition, several hundred detail photographs were taken shortly before the destruction. The reconstruction process lasted from 1961 to 1973.

Berlin, Schloss Charlottenburg, Neuer Flügel, Goldene Galerie (2018)Charlottenburg Palace

Regained

Berlin, Charlottenburg Palace, New Wing, Golden Gallery, state in 2018 

Today, the overall impression given by the Golden Gallery is highly authentic. Only through comparison with the pre-war photograph does it become clear to the practised eye that, for example, the ceiling turned out for constructional reasons to be flatter than the original. Those involved in the rebuilding of Charlottenburg were fully aware that they could not turn the clock back – on the contrary, they knew that their reconstructions would be spatial realizations of ideas of the former state.

Berlin, Schloss Charlottenburg, Altes Schloss, sogenanntes Gläsernes Schlafgemach von Sophie Charlotte nach der Wiederherstellung (2017)Charlottenburg Palace

Refraining

One important initial step towards recovering the impression of a given room or space was to reconstruct its original structure and its most formative ornamental elements and wall hangings or painted surfaces. Then, in a series of steps, followed the parts demanding more elaborate work, such as chimney-pieces or ceiling paintings. Decisions regarding their reconstruction might not be taken for years and depended not least on the extent of documentation and of the availability of artists and financial means. When a conscious decision was made not to reconstruct such elements, the room in question is said to have undergone a partial reconstruction.

Berlin, Schloss Charlottenburg, Altes Schloss, sogenanntes Gläsernes Schlafgemach von Sophie Charlotte (um 1910)Charlottenburg Palace

Refraining

Berlin, Charlottenburg Palace, Old Palace, the ‘Looking-Glass Bedchamber’ of Sophie Charlotte, state c. 1919 

Changes had been made to this room in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries: the full-length mirrors on the back wall were spaced further apart and the decorative overmantel (still visible on the photograph) was removed. While the richly stuccoed ceiling is not dominated by the painting, it is nevertheless an important element in the overall impression made by the room.

Berlin, Schloss Charlottenburg, Altes Schloss, sogenanntes Gläsernes Schlafgemach von Sophie Charlotte nach der Wiederherstellung (2017)Charlottenburg Palace

Refraining

Berlin, Charlottenburg Palace, Old Palace, the ‘Looking-Glass Bedchamber’ of Sophie Charlotte after the partial reconstruction, state in 2017 

In the partial reconstruction of this room, which was entirely destroyed in 1943, the mirrors, in accordance with the Baroque furnishing, were brought closer together than they had been before the war, whereas the chimney-piece and wall above were more simply realized. In contrast to the treatment of these ornamental elements, it was decided to refrain entirely from reconstructing the ceiling paintings by Augustin Terwesten the Elder.

Contemporary wittness report. Only available in German.
00:00

Helmut Börsch-Supan

From 1961 curator and from 1983 to 1995 deputy director of the administration of the State Palaces and Gardens in Berlin.
Click here for the transcription of the original sound.

Berlin, Schloss Charlottenburg, Altes Schloss, Ovaler Saal (Gartensaal) (2019)Charlottenburg Palace

Approximation

Palaces are not immutable stage sets but living organisms that have undergone repeated changes over the centuries. From the late nineteenth century onwards, art historians have regarded the first state as the original and thus of higher value than states featuring later additions. Even in the years immediately following the nationalization of the properties in 1918 and their subsequent opening to the public as museums, those responsible strove to restore rooms and gardens to their earlier state. Following the total destruction of Charlottenburg Palace, it was possible at various locations to pursue this goal on a larger scale through the free reconstruction of historical states.

Berlin, Schloss Charlottenburg, Altes Schloss, Ovaler Saal (Gartensaal) (vor 1940)Charlottenburg Palace

Approximation

Berlin, Charlottenburg Palace, Old Palace, Oval Hall (Garden Room), state before 1940 

In 1843, King Frederick William IV had numerous structural changes carried out in the Old Palace. In the central oval hall on the ground floor, he had a ring of free-standing columns built in, topped with an entablature to set it off from the ceiling and stablilize the floor above.

Berlin, Schloss Charlottenburg, Altes Schloss, Ovaler Saal (Gartensaal) (2019)Charlottenburg Palace

Approximation

Berlin, Charlottenburg Palace, Old Palace, Oval Hall (Garden Room), state in 2019 

In the reconstruction, in order to approximate the room to its state as described in the inventory of 1705, it was decided not to replicate the columns; and the walls, rather than being given textile hangings as recorded in the inventory, were simply painted in colour. One of the reasons behind the decision to approximate the room to its original state was that its windows look directly onto the likewise reconstructed Baroque parterre.

Berlin, Schloss Charlottenburg, Altes Schloss, Porzellankabinett (2006)Charlottenburg Palace

Improved

Those responsible for the reconstruction of Charlottenburg Palace drew not only on photographs of the pre-war states but also on older pictorial sources such as Baroque engravings. In the latter case, they were aware that the artists often not only depicted the real state but also incorporated suggestions for improvements or plans that were subsequently not carried out. Pursuing the principle that the reconstruction was not simply to replicate the pre-war state but to realize an ideal of the Baroque palace, they were even prepared to make additions inspired by historical graphic sources but never actually implemented before.

Ansicht der Kaminwand des Porzellankabinetts von Schloss Charlottenburg, publiziert im Theatrum Europaeum Band 21, 1738 (ohne Jahr (1718)) by Johann Friedrich EosanderCharlottenburg Palace

Improved

Johann Friedrich Eosander von Göthe, view of the chimney-piece in the Porcelain Cabinet at Charlottenburg Palace, no year (1718), published in Theatrum Europaeum, vol. 21, 1738, Engraving 

The Prussian court architect Johann Friedrich Eosander von Göthe not only designed the Charlottenburg porcelain cabinet but also documented it for posterity in two large engraved views. In the details he even went so far as to give a sketchy rendering of the painted decoration on the porcelain, albeit in a schematic and uniform manner. As there is no inventory from this early period, it cannot be verified how accurately he reproduced the actual appearance of the cabinet in his day.

Berlin, Schloss Charlottenburg, Altes Schloss, Porzellankabinett, Kaminwand (vor 1945)Charlottenburg Palace

Improved

Berlin, Charlottenburg Palace, Old Palace, Porcelain Cabinet, chimney-piece, state before 1945 

The Porcelain Cabinet was devastated by enemy troops in 1760 and the porcelain restocked in the early nineteenth century. As a result, the pre-1943 array of porcelain was considerably less homogeneous than it appears on the engraving. Likewise, there are differences in the arrangements at the fireplace and in the alcoves. The most noticeable differences are around the top of the mirror.

Modell zur kreativen Nachschöpfung der Drachen über dem Spiegel im Porzellankabinett von Schloss Charlottenburg (um 1965) by unbekanntCharlottenburg Palace

Improved

Hans Joachim Ihle (?), model for the free recreation of the dragons over the mirror in the Porcelain Cabinet of Charlottenburg Palace, presumably c. 1965, state in 2021, Plaster, partial shellac finish, 115 x 90.5 x 35 cm 

A glance at the older descriptions and photographs confirms that the two dragons and the sitting Buddha adorning the chimney-piece mirror in the print of 1718 were never actually realized but, rather, had been invented spontaneously by Eosander for the engraving. As the reconstruction of the room was oriented around the Baroque prints and not the pre-war photos, models were made of the dragons and Buddha, which were then included in the reconstruction.

Berlin, Schloss Charlottenburg, Altes Schloss, Porzellankabinett (2006)Charlottenburg Palace

Improved

Berlin, Charlottenburg Palace, Old Palace, Porcelain Cabinet, state in 2006 

The over 2,700 porcelain objects in this room were almost all acquired on the art market during the post-war period, with the engraving serving as a guide in the search for the ‘right’ objects and patterns. As a result, the arrangement of figures and vases on the chimney-piece, for example, is largely in accord with the print and the crowning of the mirror with dragons makes the ensemble more ‘Baroque’ than ever before.

Berlin, Schlossgarten Charlottenburg, Balustrade am Karpfenteich (2019)Charlottenburg Palace

Invented

The persons in charge of the reconstruction of Charlottenburg Palace and its garden were now and again confronted with gaps in the documentation of the pre-war state, so that free decisions had to be made concerning certain details. In doing this, however, they were always at pains to base their interpretations on the palace’s history and ‘spirit’. One notable exception to this was the case of the balustrade above the carp pond, which was in no sense a reconstruction but a free invention consciously intended to mark a dividing line in the garden. 

Berlin, Schlossgarten Charlottenburg, Blick auf die Mittelachse des Garten-Parterres (2020)Charlottenburg Palace

Invented

Berlin, Charlottenburg Palace garden, view down the central axis of the parterre, state in 2020 

The central axis of the garden was from the outset dominated by the ornamental ‘broderie parterre’ and the large pond immediately behind it. After the parterre had been reconstructed, avenues of trees were planted to the right and left to mark it off from the surrounding garden, which had grown and been altered continuously in the course of time.

Berlin, Schlossgarten Charlottenburg, Balustrade am Karpfenteich (2019)Charlottenburg Palace

Invented

Berlin, Charlottenburg Palace garden, balustrade above the carp pond, 2019 

In 1968, in order to create a clear termination to the Baroque-style parterre reconstructed along the central axis and mark it off from the area behind restored as a landscape garden, a balustrade – which had never existed – was invented to stand to the left and right of stairs leading down to the water. The shapes of the plinths and balusters were inspired by a parapet in the garden of the palace of Weilburg an der Lahn.

Allegorie der Luft (1768) by Wilhelm Christian Meyer (Entwerfer)Charlottenburg Palace

Invented

Wilhelm Christian Meyer, Allegory of Air, 1768, SPSG, KPM Porzellansammlung des Landes Berlin 

In 1984, in order to underline the fact of the balustrade being an invention – but also to give it an even more Baroque feel – it was embellished with eight enlargements of eighteenth-century Berlin porcelain allegorical figures, cast in aluminium with a white finish, and a pair of vases.

Credits: Story

How far should one go?

Project management: Samuel Wittwer
Concept and realisation: Jule Sophie Christ
Assistance: Florian Dölle
Texts: Samuel Wittwer
Translation: Sophie Kidd and John Nicholson, Vienna

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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