Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Kolonnade am Neuen Palais

I started going to Berlin around 1997, it was a time when the whole city was under a major transformation effort. Berliners had lived in a strange suspended atmosphere since August 1961 when the Berlin wall went up and very effectively divided the City in two, isolating the Western part within the greater East German State. The Old East side of the City was left untouched by the Communist as a monument to war and the new Socialist model city was built on the Eastern side of the Spree River. On the Western side there was renovation and reconstruction but it was a siege mentality, no one knew how long it would go on. Well, the wall fell in November 1989 and life in Berlin and Germany changed for ever.

With Reunification in 1990 the re-established Capital of Berlin and it's City Government decided that a new philosophy was required to give Berlin a boost. Politicians decided that Berlin should return to its roots and this could be achieve by putting the emphasis on the Spirit of the Age of Enlightenment.
Promoting Germany's great philosophers, musicians, poets, artists and academics, it was said that the Nazi Dictatorship which lasted 12 years could not and should not be the only thing that defined Berlin or Germany.

Potsdam as a suburb of Berlin just a few minutes away by public transport was also greatly disfigured by the second world war and then fell into a somewhat sleepy state for many decades of negligence by the Communist authorities. Potsdam was the Residence of the Kings of Prussia and then the German Emperors. It is said it was a garrison town, yes in a way it was, however having the Court living in the City made for a centre of art and culture. The King would travel to the City Palace in Berlin for important State functions otherwise would simply live and work from the Potsdam City Palace or in one of the many other palaces in Potsdam, like the Neues Palais (New Palace) located in the great Royal Park where the famous Sans Souci Palace of Frederic II the Great is also located.

Neues Palais c.1763, Royal Park Potsdam

Berlin in the 1990's was a beehive of activity, still is, everything on the Eastern side of the City where most of the marvellous Baroque Architecture was located was in need of re-building. The infamous wall had to be removed completely to the point that it is difficult nowadays to say where it was. The Reichstag was re-built by the famous English Architect Norman Foster in 2000 to serve as the new Parliament of the re-united Germany.

The old Reichstag now the German Bundestag

At the same time all the museums on the museum Island on the Spree in the heart of the Capital were re-built or restored as well the high Italian Renaissance style Lutheran Cathedral and the Roman Pantheon like Catholic Cathedral St-Hedwige. Many other buildings throughout the city and monuments like the famous Brandenburg Gate were also restored in it's XVIII century style.
This of course included the necessary and expensive work of infrastructure and railways to be modernized. Postdamer Platz and Liepziger Platz where the Canadian Embassy is now located were totally rebuilt given that this was where Hitler had his Chancellery and then the Wall crossed the area, it was nothing but empty expanses for decades after 1945.

 Leipziger Platz, Berlin, newly rebuilt

So I decided while visiting Berlin in 1999 to visit Potsdam. Easy enough to do since it is a suburb, though a separate city and the seat of the Parliament of the Land of Brandenburg.
Potsdam being the Residence of the Hohenzollern dynasty has many palaces, parks and magnificent villas in the Italianate style. Though on my first visit what I really wanted to see was the palace of Frederick II, Sans Souci where he entertained his friends like Voltaire, musicians like J.S. Bach and others.
I remember walking from the train station across the Havel river and up the street to the Royal Park. Potsdam is an old city so it is very walkable and the distances are not great. So I first visited Sans Souci which is a gem of the baroque age. Built on the specification of Frederick II it was his hermitage, a place where no one came unless specifically invited, his grenadier guards would keep others at bay. A small palace more like a large mansion decorated in the colours and taste of Frederick, his wife was never invited to come here, she lived in the Charlottenburg Palace in Berlin.

Frederick was re-buried as was his wish in the garden of his palace beside his Italian hounds in 1991.

I then walked in the park the 2 Km distance to the Neues Palais built by Frederick after the Seven Year War. The vast park is dotted with Chinoiserie like the Tea House and Palaces like the Orangerie and the Marble Palace, there is also the Antique Temple which at the time was a museum for the coin collection of Frederick but became a mausoleum to the Hohenzollern family around 1850. The Neues Palais was built for Official functions and for Frederick's family to live in when they came to Potsdam or attended Court. This way no one came to Sans Souci and could be barred from approaching again by his faithful Grenadier. 

What surprised me at the Neues Palais was how small the rooms used by Frederick or his brothers were. They are very utilitarian, a bedroom is also your dressing room and a room to have a meal in.
A second room is for your aide de camp to sleep and work in and for receiving visitors. All the other great State rooms where for Official functions and opened only on such occasion so to save on heating and lighting cost. Frederick was a Calvinist after all. Sans Souci on the other hand was to live in so he had many more rooms and privacy. Though guests were made to sleep in town at a Tavern or some house put at their disposal.

When I visited Potsdam much of the renovations we see today like the restored Canals and rebuilt Palaces and other monuments was just getting under way. Much was in the planning phase such as the re-building of the City Palace in front of the St-Nicholas Church.

In front of the Neues Palais is a large courtyard for military reviews and parades on the other side of which is a Colonnade in late baroque style c.1767. It was in a terrible ruined state, victim of the weather, neglect and bombing during the Second World War. Originally this colonnade and buildings was used  to house the servants and staff of the Palace. Today it is one of the four campuses of the University of Potsdam.

The renovations have just been completed at a cost of 2.5 million Euros. I was impressed with this restoration work given the dilapidated state of this colonnade after 60 years of neglect and damage by war. It is basically plaster, stone and masonry work and needs to be regularly maintained to keep its pristine appearance. Here in Canada we do not maintain anything, usually we simply demolish and put in a parking lot or some terrible modern structure. Recently I read that the City of Ottawa had given the green light to the demolition of no.7 Clarence street in the old By Ward market. The building is simple and small, it is made of leftover stones which were used for the construction of the Rideau Canal. There was so much cut stone left over that the Government simply sold it to whoever wanted it for a low sum of money. This is why in the entire Ottawa Valley every building has a grey stone facade on Main street and many public buildings of the period c. 1830 are of stone.

The National Capital Commission and its architects said that the building had come to the end of its life and should be demolished. They proposed instead a what was described as a ''sensitively designed  modern building for the 21th century''. It's a glass box with steel here and there, it simply does not fit with any of the other buildings in the market area. The City Committee refused the design saying it was not acceptable for the historic district. I wrote a Letter to the Editor of the Ottawa Citizen to present the point of view that if in Europe buildings can be saved and restored why can we not do the same thing. The letter was very popular and well received, the NCC wanted to know who I was and looked my profile up on Linked In.

No. 7 Clarence will be demolished unfortunately because of the mediocrity which permeates all levels of government and the NCC nowadays. Lack of vision and no imagination, preferring to do whatever the developers want. Hopefully the design proposed by the NCC will not be as offensive as the first draft.

Colonnade opposite the New Palace in Potsdam c. 1920. It was built in 1767.

In 1997 prior to any restoration work, the damage of time can be seen clearly.

 There are 65 sculptures on the colonnade and many were either missing or damaged. They had to be replaced and artisans sculpted new ones identical to the old ones.

 one of the corner pavillon of the colonnade being restored in 2012

Central arch of the colonnade prior to restoration looking across at the New Palace


  1. my one and only time in Berlin was in the late 80s; how different it must be nowadays. I wants to see it again.

  2. I've never been to Berlin or that area of Germany. This is a great tour. I wouldn't mind taking a trip there.

  3. it's a great place to visit.

  4. I visited Sansouci Garten in 2000 - with my then girlfriend, before she became my wife. It's a very special place for us! We used to travel all over Europe in 2000, when I worked in Dresden, and this is one of the more memorable places. Schloß Schönbrunn on the outskits of Wien is another awesome place...