From Schinkel to Foster. Germany’s amazing architecture

Karl Friedrich Schinkel, the star architect of Berlin’s Mitte

The Prussian architect and painter Karl Friedrich Schinkel, whose buildings are considered the pinnacle of European classicism, was a romantic and idealist – he dreamed of changing the world with beauty and believed that architects build not buildings but “symbols of life.”

One of Schinkel’s masterpieces is the Concert House on the Gendarmenmarkt © picture alliance / blickwinkel / McPHOTO

Schinkel lived and worked most of his life in Berlin, and his legacy defines the face of the German capital to this day. See Germania-Online for an overview of his most famous works.

Schinkel, who admired the idealism of Fichte, developed his own system of ideal aesthetics: he combined classicism, romanticism and historicism, was inspired by Greek and Italian beauty, but appreciated functionality, and architecture in general considered “an extension of the constructive activity of nature.

“Schinkel’s pentagon” is the name of the route through Berlin’s central Mitte district, covering the most famous buildings of the 19th century’s most famous German architect, Karl Friedrich Schinkel: The Old Museum, the Palace Bridge, the New Guardhouse, the Friedrichwerder Church and the Concert House on the Gendarmenmarkt. There we can walk through them. Let’s go!

The Old Museum (Altes Museum)

Once in Berlin, it is impossible not to visit the Museum Island. And there you can’t help but notice the building of the Old Museum, Schinkel’s masterpiece. It is located directly behind the park Lustgarten, next to the Berlin Cathedral and with its ancient grandeur deprives all tourists in Berlin of the gift of speech. Schinkel was commissioned to build the museum in 1822. Shortly before that he had become acquainted with the German classic Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who was still under the impression of his trip to Italy. Apparently he glorified Italy not only in his poems (“Do you know the country where lemons bloom?”, the poet wrote).

Schinkel went there in search of inspiration, and on his return he built a pompous building in the Classical style with a rotunda reminiscent of the Roman Pantheon, an idea designed to emphasize the idea of the museum as a temple of art. The building’s façade is decorated with 18 Ionic columns and a grand staircase.

This architectural sweep was used by the National Socialists – during the Third Reich Nazi marches were held in the Lustgarten Park, the museum’s columns were decorated with swastika flags, and party events were held in the building itself. During the Second World War, the building was badly damaged by bombing and was reopened to the public only in 1966. Today, there are collections of ancient art – Ancient Rome and Ancient Greece, and since 1999 the building of the Old Museum, together with the entire Museum Island is included in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

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Palace Bridge (Schloßbrücke)

After continuing along Unter den Linden toward the Brandenburg Gate, we arrive at the Palace Bridge, which connects the two neighborhoods of Spreeinsel and Friedrichswerder in the historic center of Berlin. The stone bridge was built by Schinkel in 1824, which finally made it possible to expand traffic on Berlin’s main street. Prior to that, it had been possible to cross from one side of the Spree to the other over a wooden bridge, the Hundebruke, which Napoleon Bonaparte did in 1806.

The main elements of the architectural decor are eight statues of the goddesses of Greek mythology standing on a marble pedestal. They are united by a single storyline – the formation of a young warrior. So, for example, the goddess Athena teaches him to handle a weapon, and the goddess Nika honors the winner. Incidentally, the railings of the Palace Bridge are identical to the grids of the Anichkov Bridge in St Petersburg, where Schinkel also left his architectural footprint.

The New Guardhouse (Neue Wache)

Leaving the German Historical Museum behind, one finds the Neue Wache, built according to a design by Schinkel in 1818. The Classicist work was intended as a memorial to fallen soldiers from the Napoleonic wars, but since the Berlin City Palace was across the street, it was also used as the guardhouse for the Prussian king Friedrich Wilhelm III. In 1931 the building was turned into a memorial to the victims of World War I. In the 1960s the GDR authorities decided to build an eternal flame there to commemorate the victims of fascism.

Today the New Guardroom is the main German memorial to the victims of war and tyranny, and in the center of the room is an enlarged copy of the Käthe Kollwitz’s sculpture “Mother and Perished Son”.

Friedrichswerder Church (Friedrichswerdersche Kirche)

We cross Unter den Linden and Bebelplatz, take a little left and get to the German Foreign Ministry building. Opposite it is another masterpiece by a Prussian architect – Friedrichwerder Church. The red brick building in medieval style was built in 1831 and was the first neo-Gothic church in Berlin – at the same time it housed the United Evangelical Protestant Church and the French Reformed congregation.

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For decades after World War II, the church stood in ruins and in the last few years it has been at the center of a major scandal: A luxury residential complex is being built next to it, which has had the worst effect on the historic building. Because of this in 2012, the church had to close, but, as noted by experts, the construction work has already caused irreversible damage to the masterpiece Shinkel.

Konzerthaus am Gendarmenmarkt

Our walk ends with a trip to one of the most beautiful squares in Berlin, the Gendarmenmarkt. There are three architectural masterpieces, but only one of them is by Schinkel – the Konzerthaus, located between the French and German Cathedrals. Built in 1821, the neoclassical building served as the Royal Dramatic Theater for almost a century, and in 1921, during the Weimar Republic, it was renamed the Prussian State Theater. Like other buildings by Schinkel, the building was badly damaged during World War II and only reopened in 1984.

After the reunification of Germany, it was renamed the Concert House and assigned to the Berlin Symphony Orchestra. For more than 20 years, a classical music festival has been held here every year in mid-summer. Watching twinkling fireworks explode into the starry night sky to the tune of Mozart’s symphony, it seems that Schinkel was probably right about the “symbols of life” after all.

From Schinkel to Foster. Germany’s amazing architecture

From baroque to modernity: Germany – the land of architecture. Here prominent figures of construction and reconstruction have left their mark, the Bauhaus was founded , you can choose from a wide variety of great and small icons.

Take to the skies in the fastest elevator in Europe. A sign at the entrance of the elevator has all the basic facts: rises to a height of 90.15 meters at a speed of 8.5 meters per second . The entire procedure takes only 20 seconds . From the Panoramapunkt in the Kollhoff Tower on Potsdamer Platz, which was completed in 1999, you can enjoy a breathtaking view of the German capital from the top. From the roof terrace you can see the Brandenburg Gate, the Victory Column, and Bellevue, the official residence of the German President.

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Berlin – City of Architecture

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Berlin – City of Architecture

The city itself is an architecture museum in itself: there are many sights to see during your stay in the capital, such as the French Cathedral in Gendarmenmarkt, one of the most beautiful squares in the city, which also has the German Cathedral and the Konzerthaus . Or the ruins of the neo-Romanesque tower of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church on the west side of Berlin, which serves as a powerful reminder of war and destruction.

In Berlin, the architect Karl Friedrich Schinkel designed the New Guard House ( Neue Wache ) and the Old Museum ( Altes Museum ), both considered masterpieces of neoclassical architecture. Sir Norman Foster designed the famous glass dome above the plenum of the Reichstag parliament, which became the seat of the Federal Parliament after the reunification of Germany.

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Berlin – City of Architecture

Since 1999, visitors have been able to walk through the glass dome. And Bauhaus architect Mies van der Rohe created an icon of classical modern art: the New National Gallery. Some of the lesser known buildings in the capital are the 65 meter high Borsigturm, opened in 1922 and the oldest high-rise building in the city, as well as the Lemke House, designed in 1932 by Mies van der Rohe – a modest gem in the east of Berlin.

Elbphilharmonie: Hamburg’s landmark

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Elbphilharmonie: Hamburg’s landmark

Hamburg’s new landmark is the Elbphilharmonie concert hall with its impressive glass construction in the HafenCity quarter . It opened in 2017 and was built on the site of a former brick warehouse. The older flagship of Germany’s second-largest city is the Chillichaus by architect Fritz Höger in the Konthorhaus district of the Old Town, which is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site .

It is an impressive example of German brick expressionism, prevalent in the 1920s. It was built with a donation from a Hamburg-born businessman who returned from Chile a rich man and is said to have bought up 4.8 million bricks to build it. The top of the building resembles the prow of a ship, and the structure is one of the most pointed buildings in Europe. The upper floors are rented out for offices, and the courtyard is open to the public with stores, cafes, and restaurants. To see Hamburg’s oldest building you have to go to the island of Neuwerk in the Wadden Sea . It is more than 100 kilometers from Hamburg, but belongs to the Hanseatic city. The island has a 700 year old lighthouse, which was once built to protect the trade at the mouth of the River Elbe. The view from the observation deck offers a spectacular view over the muddy banks.

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For lovers of half-timbered houses: Quedlinburg (timber frame houses, old town)

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For lovers of half-timbered houses: Quedlinburg (timber frame houses, old town)

If you go up the Elbe, along the Saale, and then the Bode, you will find yourself in Quedlinburg at the foot of the Harz. This proves yet again that even in the German countryside you can find architectural gems. Its 24,000 inhabitants make it famous for its Old Town. A walk there will transport you back to the Middle Ages. No other German town has so many half-timbered houses in such a small area: at last count there were 2,069 of them in six centuries. In 1994 the medieval-style buildings in the city were awarded World Heritage status by UNESCO. Visitors can book guided tours or visit the Museum of Tapestry Architecture in the Stnderbau .

If you are impressed by medieval architecture, you should also visit Nördlingen , a small town in Swabia, Bavaria . The old 2.6 km long circular roofed city wall dates back to about 1400 , visitors can walk along it – something visitors to Germany can only do here.

Bauhaus at its best: Dessau

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Bauhaus at its best: Dessau

Although we perceive the Middle Ages as a bygone era, the Bauhaus legacy continues to influence art, architecture, and culture to this day. The large group of buildings of the Walter Gropius school of Bauhaus, which was founded in Weimar in 1919, is located in Dessau, 90 minutes south-west of Berlin.

It was here in the mid-1920s that Gropius built the Bauhaus as well as the two-story apartment buildings known as the “Masters’ Houses. These buildings are interconnected cubic structures; their rooms were furnished with furniture by Marcel Breuer. Oskar Schlemmer, Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee and their families were among the first to occupy them. Dessau also has the Mies van der Rohe building: a kiosk that was once demolished but has now been restored.

An engineering feat: the Gölzsch Viaduct. The largest brick and stone bridge in the world.

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An engineering feat: the Gölzsch viaduct. The largest brick and stone bridge in the world

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This feat of bridge building is the largest brick bridge in the world and has been spanning a deep valley near Reichenbach im Wogtland , Saxony since 1851 . At the time of its construction, the 78-meter Gölzsch Viaduct was the tallest railway bridge in the world. It was designed by the German engineer Johann Andreas Schubert . Many footpaths lead walkers along this structure with its many arches. In the neighboring town of Milau a tethered balloon rises 150 meters into the air with a sensational view of the bridge. Perfect for large events.

Icons of modern residential architecture

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Icons of modern residential architecture

There’s no better place to get a feel for what it was like to live in avant-garde 1930s homes than the Schminke House in Loebau in Upper Lusatia in the east. This organic building, which was designed by Hans Scharun for a couple who owned a pasta factory, is one of the most famous houses of the modern era. Nicknamed “The Noodle Steamer,” this masterpiece offers something that other architectural gems often don’t: you and your family can settle in and stay here for the duration of your trip to Germany.

Other major German cities, along with Berlin and Hamburg, also offer architectural delights:

From Schinkel to Foster. Amazing architecture of Germany - Photo 9

Other major German cities, along with Berlin and Hamburg, also offer architectural delights:

– Dusseldorf, home of Frank O’Gehry’s sloped and curved buildings . – Munich is home to the Allianz Arena by Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meron, with brightly lit ETFE-film air panels on the facade. – Frankfurt am Main has the tallest skyscraper in Europe, the Commerzbank Tower, designed by Sir Norman Foster. – Dresden attracts visitors with a treasure trove of Baroque buildings, including the Zwinger palace complex, the Gewandhaus – once a cloth works, now a hotel – and the reconstructed Church of Our Lady.

From Schinkel to Foster. Amazing Architecture of Germany - Photo 10

Other major German cities, along with Berlin and Hamburg, also offer architectural delights:

But be warned! Don’t let the name confuse you. In Germany alone there are just under 200 churches dedicated to Mary, so they are also called churches of Our Lady. Nevertheless, some of their 20th century architecture is very interesting. For example, the red sandstone Church of Mary Königin in Saarbrücken was designed by the architect Rudolf Schwartz, one of the most important church builders in West Germany after World War II.

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