Destruction. Reconstruction?

Part of the exhibition "Clashing styles?"

By Charlottenburg Palace

During the course of the Second World War the city of Berlin suffered widespread destruction from American and British air raids. Allied air forces flew a total of 310 raids on the city. In Berlin alone 50,000 people were killed during the war. Ahead of these campaigns, the British government had dropped leaflets in an attempt to inform the urban population about the progress of the war and to warn them of the impending bombing raids. The leaflets also urged the evacuation of the city; however, no such measures were undertaken. The heaviest raids were carried out between November 1943 and March 1944, and from February to the end of April 1945. By the end of the war in Europe in May 1945, around eleven per cent of Berlin’s constructed area had been completely destroyed, and numerous other buildings, including the Berlin palaces, badly damaged. Only a short time after the war ended the Berlin municipal authorities started to hold discussions on how to deal with the palaces that had been destroyed.

Stadtplan Berlins mit Berliner Schlössern und SehenswürdigkeitenCharlottenburg Palace

Berlin city map

The most important buildings that appear in the exhibition are highlighted in colour.

Berlin, Berliner Schloss, südliche Ecke mit Bombenschäden (1945)Charlottenburg Palace

The war and its aftermath

The Berlin palaces after the bombs

From 1927 to the end of the war the Berlin palaces became the responsibility of the Department of State Palaces and Gardens (Verwaltung der Staatlichen Schlösser und Gärten), a body which following the end of the monarchy in 1918 was responsible for the Prussian palaces in all of Germany. In the wake of the Second World War it was the Berlin Palace, Monbijou and Charlottenburg that had been worst hit by aerial bombing, whereas the palace on the Pfaueninsel (Peacock Island) and the Grunewald hunting lodge had suffered only slight damage. 

Britisches Flugblatt mit der Warnung an die Zivilbevölkerung vor Luftangriffen auf Industriegebiete (1943-09-01)Charlottenburg Palace

The war and its aftermath

British leaflet warning the civilian population of bombing raids on industrial areas, 1 September 1943 

In 1943 the British government had this leaflet air-dropped over German cities with armaments industries. They were dropped over Berlin and the area around Charlottenburg Palace, as the district of Spandau with its extensive munitions plants in Siemensstadt was located nearby. In November 1943, two months after the leaflet was dropped, the palace was largely destroyed by bombing.

Berlin, zerstörte Innenstadt mit Berliner Schloss und Berliner Dom, Blick in Richtung Unter den Linden (Ende 1945)Charlottenburg Palace

The war and its aftermath

Berlin, the ruined city centre with the Berlin Palace and Berlin Cathedral, looking towards Unter den Linden in late 1945, Copyright: bpk / Carl Weinrother

Following the dropping of the leaflet warning the civilian population in September 1943, from November onwards countless buildings were destroyed in Allied bombing raids. By the end of the war in Europe in 1945 the city centre lay in ruins. The Berlin Palace and Berlin Cathedral were extensively damaged, and on the famous boulevard Unter den Linden only sixteen buildings out of sixty-four remained standing.

Berlin, Berliner Schloss, südliche Ecke mit Bombenschäden (1945)Charlottenburg Palace

The war and its aftermath

Berlin, Berlin Palace, south corner with bomb damage, February 1945 

In 1944 a high-explosive bomb tore open the north-west side of the façade facing the Lustgarten of the Berlin Palace, destroying the picture gallery. The large-scale aerial bombardment on Berlin of February 1945 unleashed a fire which destroyed the rooms in the north and south wings. Overall, however, large parts of the outer shell of the palace remained relatively intact.

Berlin, Schloss Monbijou, Sprengung der Ruine (1958)Charlottenburg Palace

The war and its aftermath

Berlin, Monbijou Palace, controlled demolition of the ruins, 1958 

Monbijou Palace suffered considerable destruction as a result of various bombardments in 1943. The Allied target was presumably the bunker of the main telegraph office, which was located in the palace grounds. The palace was gutted by fire and large parts of the external walls were destroyed. As a first measure the ruins were provisionally secured and closed off.

Berlin, Schloss Charlottenburg, Altes Schloss, Ehrenhof und Schlossplatz mit Kriegszerstörungen (vor 1949)Charlottenburg Palace

The war and its aftermath

Berlin, Charlottenburg Palace, Old Palace, cour d’honneur and palace square with wartime destruction, before 1949 

 Charlottenburg Palace was badly hit on 22 and 23 November 1943. The first floor in the domed central section was destroyed, as were the ground-floor rooms facing the gardens, the New Wing, the theatre building and the Great Orangery. The overall degree of destruction was greater than at the Berlin Palace.

Berlin, Schloss Charlottenburg, Neuer Flügel, Mittelrisalit mit Kriegszerstörungen (1943/1944)Charlottenburg Palace

The war and its aftermath

Berlin, Charlottenburg Palace, New Wing, central section with wartime destruction, 1943/1944 

Large parts of the New Wing of Charlottenburg Palace were badly damaged by firebombs. Only a small number of rooms were preserved, though not undamaged, including three on the ground floor and three rooms facing the garden on the upper floor. Both the large ceremonial rooms – the Golden Gallery and the White Hall – were gutted by fire.

Berlin, Schloss Charlottenburg, Altes Schloss, Ehrenhof, zwei Steinmetze bei Ausbesserungsarbeiten am westlichen Wächterhäuschen (1953)Charlottenburg Palace

Demolition or reconstruction

A question of location?

After the end of the war in Europe in May 1945 the Soviet Military Administration assumed the running of the Berlin municipal authority. As director of municipal building, Hans Scharoun was entrusted with developing a programme for reconstruction. His application to secure the palaces was rejected, since the Communist members of the city council, regarding them as ‘tokens of imperialism’, were against preserving such buildings. With the founding of the Federal Republic of Germany and the German Democratic Republic in 1949 Charlottenburg Palace, located in the west of the city, and the Berlin Palace and Monbijou, situated in the east, ended up under different regimes.

Helmut Börsch-Supan im Weißen Saal von Schloss Charlottenburg (Juni 2020)Charlottenburg Palace

Zeitzeugenbericht, bitte Ton anstellen
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, Berliner Schloss, Sprengung des Apothekenflügels (06.09.1950)Charlottenburg Palace

Demolition or reconstruction

Berlin, Berlin Palace, controlled demolition of the Apothecary Wing, 6 September 1950, Copyright: bpk

Although the proposal to secure the whole of the Berlin Palace was rejected, in 1945 money was made available for work on the White Hall as an exhibition space. However, keen to do away with the symbols of the monarchy, the government of the GDR ordered the demolition of the palace in July 1950, despite protests. The first part to be demolished was the Apothecary Wing.

Berlin, Berliner Schloss, Beseitigung der Trümmer nach der Sprengung (02.06.1951)Charlottenburg Palace

Demolition or reconstruction

Berlin, Berlin Palace, removal of the rubble after demolition, 6 February 1951,  Copyright: bpk / Nina von Jaanson

Following removal of the rubble, the site of the palace became a parade ground on the model of Moscow’s Red Square. In 1973 work began on the construction of the Palace of the Republic, which was subsequently demolished between 2003 and 2008. From 2012 to 2020 a new building with the peripheral footprint of the Berlin Palace was constructed to house the Humboldt Forum.

Berlin, Schloss Monbijou, Die gesprengte Ruine (1960)Charlottenburg Palace

Demolition or reconstruction

Berlin, Monbijou Palace, the demolished ruins, 1960 

Proposals to reconstruct Monbijou Palace as a museum were rejected by the government, and the ruins were scheduled to be demolished in 1957. One of the most prominent protesters against this decision was the director general of the State Museums, Ludwig Justi. He was assured that the ruins would be preserved, but after his death in the same year the government regarded this agreement as lapsed. Demolition ensued in 1958.

Berlin, Schloss Charlottenburg, Altes Schloss, Corps de logis und rechter Seitenflügel (1947)Charlottenburg Palace

Demolition or reconstruction

Berlin, Charlottenburg Palace, Old Palace, corps de logis and right-hand wing, 1947 

Initial work on securing the fabric of the badly damaged Charlottenburg Palace began in February 1946, and by the end of that year a number of rooms had been temporarily re-roofed to secure them against the winter weather. The order for the work had been issued to the municipal district office by the British Military Government.

Berlin, Schloss Charlottenburg, Neuer Flügel (1947)Charlottenburg Palace

Demolition or reconstruction

Berlin, Charlottenburg Palace, New Wing, 1947

In 1947 work started on repairing and refurbishing the interiors for exhibitions, as the municipal administration also envisaged Charlottenburg Palace as a major venue for cultural events. In 1948 the rate of progress was affected by monetary reform measures, the blockade of the Western sectors by the Soviet Union and the resulting division of the city’s administration.

Berlin, Schloss Charlottenburg, Altes Schloss, Ehrenhof, zwei Steinmetze bei Ausbesserungsarbeiten am westlichen Wächterhäuschen (1953)Charlottenburg Palace

Demolition or reconstruction

Berlin, Charlottenburg Palace, Old Palace, cour d’honneur: two stonemasons repairing the masonry on the western sentry box, 1953

In 1953 the Old Palace was re-roofed and by 1956 the cupola had been restored. In the same year the government voted to finance reconstruction of the palace from federal funds as part of the overall plan of reconstruction for Berlin.

Margarete Kühn vor dem eingerüsteten Mittelbau von Schloss Charlottenburg (1953)Charlottenburg Palace

Persistence pays off

Margarete Kühn and Charlottenburg Palace

After the end of the monarchy in 1918 and the conclusion of the negotiations held between the state and the former royal house relating to property and possessions, the Verwaltung der Staatlichen Schlösser und Gärten (Department of State Palaces and Gardens) was founded in 1927. With the division of Germany in 1947 two new administrative bodies were created: in the GDR the Staatliche Schlösser und Gärten Potsdam-Sanssouci (State Palaces and Gardens Potsdam-Sanssouci), responsible for the palaces in Potsdam and Brandenburg, and in West Berlin as part of the Federal Republic of Germany the Verwaltung der Staatlichen Schlösser und Gärten Berlin (Department of State Palaces and Gardens Berlin). After reunification these two institutions joined forces in 1995, henceforth being known as the Stiftung Preußische Schlösser und Gärten Berlin-Brandenburg (Prussian Palaces and Gardens Foundation Berlin-Brandenburg). While the bodies officially responsible for the palaces changed over the decades, it was often individuals like Margarete Kühn who ensured continuity.

Prof. Dr. Margarete Kühn (1904-1995) im Jahr 1950 (1950)Charlottenburg Palace

Persistence pays off

Prof Dr Margarete Kühn (1904–1995) in 1950, bpk / Liselotte Orgel-Köhne

The art historian Margarete Kühn had been working at the Department of State Palaces and Gardens in Berlin since 1929. Her office was located in the Royal Berlin Palace, remaining there even after the building’s partial destruction. With the division of Berlin the main office of the new West Berlin Palaces Department was established at Charlottenburg Palace, with Kühn as its director.

Zeitzeugenbericht, bitte Ton anstellen
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.

Margarete Kühn vor dem eingerüsteten Mittelbau von Schloss Charlottenburg (1953)Charlottenburg Palace

Persistence pays off

Margarete Kühn in front of the scaffolded central section of Charlottenburg Palace, 1953

It is thanks to Margarete Kühn that Charlottenburg Palace was secured soon after the end of the war and thus protected from further dilapidation. She turned to Major Norris, the officer in charge of protecting art treasures in the British Occupied Zone. He succeeded in having the palace granted the status of a ‘Befehlsbau’ (A building that was considered important for the culture of the city.), which brought special protection and privileges.

Zeitungsbericht aus dem Pressespiegel der SPSG (2005)Charlottenburg Palace

Persistence pays off

Newspaper article from the press review of the SPSG, 5 March 2005

Margarete Kühn worked on the reconstruction of Charlottenburg Palace, sometimes under challenging conditions, until she retired from the Palaces Department in 1969. In 2005, ten years after her death, her life’s work was honoured with the naming of a street after her in the borough of Charlottenburg.

Porträtbüste Prof. Dr. Margarete Kühn (1975) by Joachim DunkelCharlottenburg Palace

Persistence pays off

Joachim Dunkel, portrait bust of Prof Dr Margarete Kühn, 1975
Bronze, 48 x 24 x 22 cm
SPSG

Zeitzeugenbericht, bitte Ton anstellen
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.

Porträtbüste Prof. Dr. Martin Sperlich (1998) by Joachim DunkelCharlottenburg Palace

Persistence pays off

Joachim Dunkel, portrait bust of Prof Dr Martin Sperlich, 1998
Bronze, 41 x 22 x 27.5 cm
SPSG

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.

Prof. Dr. Martin Sperlich auf der Balustrade von Schloss Charlottenburg bei der Aufstellung der Skulpturen (1978)Charlottenburg Palace

Persistence pays off

Prof Dr Martin Sperlich on the balustrade of Charlottenburg Palace as the sculptures were being installed, 1978

Martin Sperlich did not join Margarete Kühn’s team as a second scholarly member of staff until 1957. He followed her as director of the Palaces Department in 1969. Until his retirement in 1984 he continued the reconstruction of Charlottenburg Palace in her spirit.

Credits: Story

Destruction. Reconstruction? 

Project management: Samuel Wittwer
Concept and realisation: Jule Sophie Christ
Assistance: Florian Dölle
Text: Jule Sophie Christ
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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