Thursday, 23 July 2015

A royal palace reborn

The Humboldt Forum will emulate the old Berlin City Palace, but not copy it.

Since I've been here in Berlin I've ridden my bike across Museuminsel many times on my journeys between East and West. I've been meaning to check out the construction site for the Humboldt Forum, where they are building a replica of the old royal palace that was torn down by the East Germans.

Little did I know that I had been looking at it all along. The building is now in quite an advanced stage of construction, with a complete shell and the outlines of what the palace will look like. But it didn't occur to me that the building shell I had been riding my bike by, which looks quite modern, was the start of the rebuilt palace.

Yesterday me and a friend stumbled upon it coming from a different direction, and it was only then that I realized that this was actually the Berlin Palace. Overcome with a sudden curiosity, we went into the Humboldt Box, the information center for the project. 

It was only there that I learned why this building shell looked so modern. I had thought that they were actually rebuilding the palace, but in fact it's an entirely new building that only resembles the palace. Inside the box they have models of the old palace and the new forum. And while they are similar, there are some significant differences. 

First off, while the palace had two courtyards, the forum will have one and a half. A large part of the space that used to be the second courtyard will be roofed in. Also, the whole facade along the River Spree will be completely modern, not making any attempt to emulate the old facade. 

But the front (pictured above) will remain largely the same, with some differences (for instance, no turrets on either side of the dome).

The palace, which had housed the ruling Hohenzollerns since the 15th century, was heavily damaged during the war. It was entirely possible to refurbish it, but the East German government decided instead to demolish it in the 1950s, because if its association with the monarchy.

At first they were going to build a 'culture palace tower' similar to the ones that stand in many Eastern Bloc cities such as Warsaw and Riga. But instead they built a rather understated (and ugly) Palace of the Republic. This building was much unloved and after reunification they decided to tear it down and rebuild the old royal palace.

It's an interesting concept - building something that resembles the palace but will actually be something completely different. Based on the exhibit, it seems like it will be really similar to the Louvre in Paris. The architecture in particular (the covered central courtyard, the underground levels) seem very similar.

It's scheduled for completion in 2019. Will I still be in Berlin by then? We shall see!

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