THE OLD STADTSCHLOSS of Potsdam, destroyed by aerial bombing during the Second World War, will rise again next to the Old Market in the Brandenburg capital. The provincial government has decided to rebuild the old Stadtschloss to serve as a home for the Landtag, Brandenburg’s provincial parliament. While it was first conceived of building a modern building on the site, or having some reconstructed façades and others modern, a €20-million donation from the software entrepreneur Hasso Plattner has ensured the façades and massing of the building will follow the outline of the old stadtschloss. The interiors will be simple and modern, and to keep the costs down, much of the finer Baroque detailing of the façades will not be included. “I hope,” Herr Plattner said, “that the necessary compromises do not diminish the great impression overall.”
The original Potsdamer Stadtschloss was constructed for Prussia’s Frederick the Great to a design by Georg Wenzeslaus von Knobelsdorff; building work started in 1744 and was completed in 1752. The building was destroyed during an American bombing raid in April 1945, but the ruins survived until 1960, when the Communist rulers of East Germany decided to demolish and remove the remaining debris. (The stable block, which remained standing, was turned into a film museum).
The palace’s absense left a formless void in the middle of Potsdam’s city center. In the mid 1990s, the Prince of Wales put together an Urban Task Force to study the city in terms of traditional urban design and architecture and recommended rebuilding much of the lost structures of the Old Market. This included constructing a new stadtschloss on the outline of the old one, but to a new design in a traditional style. While the proposals of the Prince of Wales’s Urban Task Force initiated much debate and discussion, the old palace’s Fortuna Gate was restored in 2000-2001 with funds donated by the television host Günter Jauch (of the old Hanseatic family of Jauch). Last year, the Brandenburg parliament finally decided to commit to rebuilding the palace, and construction work began last month. The decision to restore the old palace has inspired similar plans to reconstruct the old Barberini Palace next door.
The reconstruction of the Potsdamer Stadtschloss is not a singular incident but part of a larger trend in the reunited Germany of the past two decades. (C.f. Berlin’s decision to rebuild its city palace). “In particular, the architects are to blame,” the journalist and conservative former politician Alexander Gauland writes. “After they squandered the Bauhaus legacy in soulless box architecture in the West and no-less-soulless Eastern-bloc slab construction, everyone is pressing for reconstruction. From the historic Zeil in Frankfurt to the Dresden Frauenkirche, to the Berlin & Potsdam city-palaces, citizens are calling for the restoration of the old, since the modern cannot provide a sense of home.”
The Potsdam plans are superior to the Berlin concept in that the modern is left to the interior while the exterior will show the traditional style and form. Herr Gauland, voicing the opinion of many other Potsdam inhabitants, nonetheless attacks the design as “a lazy architectural compromise: neither fish nor meat, not Knobelsdorff but instead really new”. Despite these reservations, we trust the overall idea is one to be commended and welcomed.
The view across the courtyard towards Schinkel’s Church of St. Nicholas.
One early plan called for a modern structure to be built in the courtyard to house the Brandenburg provincial parliament.
However, it was decided to house the legislature in the center of the main wing of the palace itself.
The interiors will be in a clean, bare modern style in contrast to the building’s exterior.
Some parts of the interior, such as the entry staircase, will be restored to a pared-down classical version of their former Baroque exuberance.