The reliquary of the GDR. A palace, a balcony and another palace.

View of the building of the former State Council of the GDR.

I feel quite tired lately of pointing out the apparent tastelessness of the new Berlin City Palace (future Humboldt Forum). I am tired of speaking about the unbelievable brutishness that can be seen from anywhere in the Pleasure Garden or when approaching from Breite Straße, trying to explain how it is possible that a group of people advocated a contemporary functional building with baroque facades glued to it and how a majority of decision-makers then followed that phantasm.

A toy-like house, similar to the specimen that can be found in Potsdam since 2014, this newest of acquisitions of Berlin’s History Disneyland will be a unique attraction opposite to the UNESCO World Heritage Museum Island. An attraction that will look like heritage – that will look like what it used to be: a unique example of a northern baroque style. A new photo background for those in love with a royal ambience.

Image of the balcony of Karl Liebeknecht of the former State Council in Berlin.
The balcony of Karl Liebeknecht, seen from inside. Curiously now looking onto the new toy-Palace …

A silent witness

A small anecdote remains to be told, which is going to be the main topic of this article: original parts of the former City Palace still exist and are on display (and have been for the past 52 years). These remains are standing quite unnoticed opposite today’s bilding site. They are part of the building which represented the very political power that was responsible for deleting the old City Palace in the first place: The building of the former State Council of the GDR still shows parts of the old portal number IV of the Berlin home to the Hohenzollern rulers. A building which today ironically is a school for future managers, the European School of Management and Technology.

Front view of the reconstructed gate IV of the Berlin City Palace..
Front view of the reconstructed gate IV. It is from the smaller balcony on the first floor that Karl Liebknecht delivered his speech to the masses on November 9th, 1918.

How could it be that socialist government architecture was so radically blended with a palatial entry portal? The connection goes back to the end of World War I.

November Revolution

On November 9th, 1918 the century-long ruling of the Hohenzollern family came to an end. Germany and Berlin were going all haywire. The end of World War I is near. Calls for the abdication of the emperor were growing louder and louder. Various ships of the German fleet had refused to attack English ships in what they regarded as a futile act of sacrifice. What had started at sea developed into a general strike with more and more workers participating all over the nation. The Kingdom of Bavaria had already ceased to exist with the declaration of the Free State. And in Berlin people were marching towards the centre of town on that very day. There was trouble ahead.

The Chancellor of the Reich, Max von Baden, declared the emperor William II abdicated. Rumor had it, that the left-wing socialists, led by the lawyer Karl Liebknecht, were planning to read a declaration to the people. The more moderate Philipp Scheidemann, member of Parliament himself and eager to go first, steps onto one of the windows of the Reichstag building and proclaims the Republic as the new form of state at two o’clock in the afternoon.

Karl Liebknecht refuses to be silenced and two hours later he is standing on a car in front of the City Palace, facing the Pleasure Gardens, speaking to the masses. He proclaims a socialist republic in the Russian tradition. While he is speaking, the palace behind him is taken by storm and as a consequence is lead to the balcony on the first floor (remember, in Germany we have a ground floor, followed by a first floor) of portal IV, where he continues to address the people. It is just the same balcony that William II used to declare the mobilization in 1914.

Image of the Berlin City Palace before the destruction.
The Berlin City Palace in its full splendour before the destruction of World War II. To the right underneath the dome is the so-called gate of Eosander, the second gate from the left is gate IV (Liebknecht).

Following the two speeches on that day, it seems that the newspapers talk a lot more about Karl Liebknecht’s proclamation than the one of his moderate colleague Scheidemann. Being less popular though than the representatives of the moderate wing of the party, it is the bourgeois version of a republic that in the end becomes reality, leading Germany into the so-called Weimar Republic. The Marxists need to wait for another 31 years and another World War before they can bring their own version of a state to life in the form of the GDR.

Although it was the speech of Philipp Scheidemann that had been more influential in 1918, it is the one of Karl Liebknecht wich is not forgotten in 1949 when the instance is to be transformed into the myth of origin of the new socialist Germany. Similar to the cult of saints in some churches, the balcony from which Liebknecht spoke is rescued from destruction and kept for further veneration … sorry, for further use. But I’ll come to that later.

What happened to the City Palace after the events of 1918? Following the revolution, the palace is eviscerated in various rounds. The more or less emptied rooms were then used by museum administrations, parts were opened to the public and concerts were held in the famous Schlüter courtyard (named after one of the later architects of the building).


The next episode in the history of the palace is shaped by World War II. During a raid on 3 February 1945, large parts perish in the fire. The inside of the palace is considerably damaged, whereas the facades withstand the fighting in a promising condition.

Image of the damaged Berlin City Palace in 1950.
The Berlin City Palace in 1950, five years after the air raid. 32 Million Marks would have saved it, 10 Million Marks cost the complete destruction.

What to do with the damaged building after the end of war? For quite some time it was unclear what the future of the palace would look like. Following the liberation of Germany, the City Palace remained in the Soviet zone. As early as 1946 the head of municipal planning, Hans Scharoun (future architect of the building of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra as well as the new State Library, both behind Potsdamer Platz), arranged for the first measures of preservation. In 1949, after the separation of Germany into two different states, the building finds itself on the new ground of the GDR.

Experts agreed on the fact that even five years after the war damages took place, the building could have been rescued with a moderate amount of money. The communist regime however regarded the palace as a symbol of Prussian absolutism. Since the founding of the GDR in 1949, the heads of planning in east Berlin were incorporating principles of Russian origin in their own considerations. After various visits to the Soviet Union, socialist planners presented the „16 Principles for the Reconstruction of Towns“, which were subsequently incorporated into the new 1950 Statute of Reconstruction.

It is open to question which of the 16 principles were seen as a guideline for the relevant decisions regarding the palace. The articles are rather vague and theoretic. Principle number 5 though can be read with some sarcasm when it comes to the question of demolition:

«When discussing urban planning, organic principles and the consideration of historic structures need to be the foundation of the elimination of damages. It is to be noted that this axiom requires the analysis of historic structures and not the blind duplication of them. The town planner needs to work on the elimination of shortcomings within the historically grown structures. For this end he needs to rigorously assess what is to be seen as a shortcoming, how it is to be eliminated, with what means, at what cost and in what time. Of course a consideration of economic efficiency plays a vital role and we were shown buildings in Moscow that were destined for elimination, whose destruction however had been postponed for economic reasons as well as such of amortization.»

Costs were thought to be the strongest argument and a study was conducted as to how much the restoration of the whole palace would amount to. The study was initiated by the Ministry of Reconstruction of the GDR, but soon after put aside without any comment as the result showed a lower figure than expected: A mere 32 Million GDR-Marks would have been needed to restore the palace. Later on, the elimination of what was left of the palace cost the state some 10 millions in total …

The decision which was finally put into action can be found ahead of time in a note for a file of the department of construction and housing of the Magistrate of Berlin dating from 5 September 1949:

«The meeting of the planning collective discussed the question of the City Palace and came to the agreement that the courtyard of Schlüter („Schlüterhof“) is to be kept in its current form and to be re-erected in later times, and that the front of the palace itself be eliminated due to its deterioration.»

It is in terms of those guidelines that Walter Ulbricht, then first secretary of the Socialist Unity Party at the time, declared on the party’s third convention in 1950:

«The centre of our capital, namely the Pleasure Garden and the area of the current ruin of the palace, must become the grand venue for demonstrations, on which the will of our people to fight and build can express itself.»

On 15 August 1950 the politburo decreed the demolition of the City Palace, which was approved of by government on August 23rd and accepted by the Magistrate on August 31st. The decision was announced to the public and a multitude of protest ensued, amongst which many architects, preservationists and scientists presented their rational arguments against such act of vandalism.

The official government position, compliant with Soviet perspective, stated that the palace had been built by subjects on piece rates under slave-like conditions. It was a monument to feudalism and the paradigm of imperial decline.

The former director of the State Palaces, Professor Gall, wrote a wonderful reply in an article that was published in the journal „Kunstchronik“ of the same year:

«It seems that the intention is to eradicate a monarchic and aristocratic tradition. What a naive and unskilled misunderstanding of artistic content and circumstances! Surely every old building served some objective purpose, but no grand artist constructs for their time exclusively, they always look at eternity. The Berlin Palace not only represents the striving for power as well as the dignity of the young Prussian royalty from its very beginning, its form also bears witness to the high-spirited willingness and the powerful being per se. The Egyptian pyramid, the Greek temple, the Roman Pantheon, the gothic cathedral – they are all monuments of limited thought patterns, but as pieces of art they are so much more than that. They did long ago fulfill their commitment as envisaged by their creators. What remains is their enigmatic life as a shaped form, radiating a creative wealth that keeps reflecting itself in the ever-changing context.»


However, the battle was lost. The demolition began on September 7th of 1950 and destroyed one of the most remarkable baroque monuments of northern Europe. The oldest part of the entire complex, the pharmacy, was demolished with two detonations at 10.28 a.m. and 1 p.m. 90 kilograms of exploder had been distributed into some 500 blast holes. After various other detonations it was on December 30th that the destruction of the so-called gate of Eosander (named after its builder Johann Friedrich Eosander von Göthe) deleted the last famous structure. Smaller explosions happened until March of 1951 to shred larger parts of debris. In April of that year, the area that had been the location of the City Palace for the past 500 years was finally empty.

What happened to the debris and which parts were kept? Most rubble was searched for reusable materials such as metals and bricks. The majority of the remains was transported with trains, some trucks as well as ships to the east of Berlin. Some of it piled up in the form of the mountain of rubble that lies east of the zoo in Friedrichsfelde. Some was dumped in Berlin’s forests. Another large portion of it was incorporated into the growing mountain of Volkspark Friedrichshain. Some sandstone was transformed into ashlar stones that today constitute the stairs on the hill as well as the walls on the way up the hill. A walk in that park will literally bring you in touch with the former palace.

Some decorative parts of the facade were kept, amongst which was the known gate with the balcony of Karl Liebknecht’s unsuccessful proclamation of a socialist republic back in 1918. Owing to the extreme workload, those cherished parts could not be carefully dismantled though. They had partly been wrapped in straw and let to fall apart during the detonations. Naturally, quite some damage happened to the elements that were to be kept. They were subsequently transported to a provisional storing place in Pankow-Heinersdorf to the north of Berlin. The storing place was more of a dump and the rescued pieces were left in the outside for years, which caused further damage. Until then, nobody knew what do to with the remains which officially had the status of a relic.


It is only in 1960 that things move on. After the death of Wilhelm Pieck, the first president of the GDR, a collective State Council as Head of State is introduced. The plan was to house the new institution together with other organs of government in a central building that was to appear at Marx-Engels square, a bit to the west of today’s TV-tower. If you have been to Warsaw, then you have seen the Palace of Culture and Science and you have a good image of what the central building in Berlin would have looked like. It was mainly a lack of funding that prevented a similar statement from being erected in Berlin. The newly formed State Council had to look for an alternative.

The building that was later to become the permanent address for that organ was first devised as a provisional home. And it had to be ready for 1964, the year in which the GDR was going to celebrate its 15 years of existence. The idea to add the existing parts of Karl Liebknecht’s balcony to the new State Council was initially voiced by Hermann Henselmann, the main responsible architect for today’s Karl-Marx-Allee and former lead-planner of the Magistrate of Greater Berlin.

The new home to the State Council was the first governmental building to be constructed in central Berlin after the war. Implementing Henselmann’s initial idea, the structure of sandstone and red granite was conceived along the proportions of the former palace’s gate IV. The few remaining parts of the gate were rescued from the dump and incorporated into the new construction more than ten years after the demolition of their original context. The young republic could thus use the proclamation of 1918 as part of their own narrative. In the end only 49 pieces of the original were used in the reconstruction of the gate. Even the grille on the balcony of the second floor is from a different part of the palace.

View of the building of the former State Council of the GDR.
Only some 49 pieces of the original gate were incorporated into the reconstruction. You can see where it is original as the patches hint at the earlier damages from the war. The rest of the gate has been constructed using sandstone (unlike the original structure which was made out of bricks).

The government of the „first socialist republic on German ground“ thus presented itself as completing the work that Karl Liebknecht had begun in the November Revolution. The adoption of the gate’s main proportions as seen in the height of floors for the new building ironically led to palace-like dimensions on the inside. The GDR had caused the elimination of the old City Palace as it was a remnant of the monarchic empire, just to house its State Council in a building that by subordination acquired palatial dimensions itself. After all, the Socialists were back in a new palace.

Detail of gemmail glass work by Walter Womacka.
The entire staircase is decorated with a gemmail glass by Walter Womacka. Womacka, former head of the School of Art and Design Berlin-Weissensee, chose common socialist iconography to tell the history of the young republic. When in Berlin, you might have noticed his other prominent work, the large mosaic mural that decorates the House of the Teacher at Alexanderplatz.
Detail of the gemmail glass by Walter Womacka.
Detail of the gemmail glass by Walter Womacka.

Later on the history of the building witnesses a new, unexpected turn – or repetition in history. After the fall of the Berlin Wall it is the home of the State Council of the GDR that is endangered by demolition. It became a listed building as early as 1990, but its elimination was openly discussed in 1992. It was finally saved and from 1999 to 2001 served as a provisional chancellery to Gerhard Schröder, until the new one near the old Reichstag building was finished.

Oh, History …

Every age tries to prove that it is right. When Karl Liebknecht’s gate was incorporated into the new building in the early 1960s, the Prussian eagle that was part of the decoration was eliminated. And with the German reunification it was the national coat of arms of the GDR that had to disappear from the place it had been assigned to in 1964. Systems change and thus symbols have to follow.

Image of the coat of arms of the GDR
The national coat of arms of the GDR. It had to disappear from the main entrance, but luckily it is an integral part of the main conference room, so it cannot be taken away. Only: notice the curtains … You may want to cover it if you rent the place and find it “inappropriate.”

In today’s context it is interesting to remember the two figures of 10 and 32 million Marks. A few years after the City Palace was taken away to establish a rather unattractive space for demonstrations, a new palace was built on the former site. It was known as the Palace of the Republic and official figures of the time priced it at 485 Million Marks – a figure that today is thought to be double as high. Today we are again building a new palace. It is going to be the old City Palace, modern on the inside with baroque facades glued to it. 600 Million Euros. Guess what: the Palace of the Republic had to go. Oh well.

Image of tiles of the interior of the former State Council in Berlin.
Parts of the entrance hall of the former State Council are decorated with wonderful tiles made in Meissen to the northwest of Dresden in Saxony.
The logo of Meissen porcelain.
The logo of Meissen porcelain that we normally know from china ware.
Image of curtains inside the former State Council.
Lots of long, brown curtains. Excellent!

No storytelling no more.

Wie kann ein guter Kompromiss aussehen? Was ist ein fauler Kompromiss? Wann ist der Kompromiss so faul, dass er buchstäblich bis zum Himmel stinkt? Und was tut man nicht alles, um die Fäule einige Zeit lang nicht zu bemerken?

Ich habe diese Geschichte schon häufig erzählt – warum also nicht hier posten, in einer meiner Muttersprachen. Vielleicht nutzt es dem ein oder der anderen zur Motivation. Was ist Motivation und was kann sie im Leben bewirken?

Das interessierte Kind (in uns)

Als Kind und Jugendlicher war ich immer daran interessiert, zu verstehen, wie ES funktioniert. ES war im Grunde alles – die ultimative Frage nach dem Leben, dem Universum und allem anderen (später verstand ich, dass 42 ein guter, aber wenig befriedigender Versuch einer Antwort war).* Ich hatte immer den Eindruck, Dinge erst verstanden zu haben, wenn ich sie selbst erklären konnte. Und ich wollte sehen, wie alles funktioniert. Von innen, dabei sein, selbst machen.

Ich studierte Molekularbiologie und später dann auch Philosophie. Das war total aufregend und ich genoss die Einblicke, die ich mir erarbeitete. Einblicke in die kleinsten konkreten Bestandteile lebendiger Materie und die größten Sinnfragen, die Menschen schon immer bemüht haben. Ich lernte Prinzipien kennen, die dafür verantwortlich sind, dass wir körperlich weitestgehend symmetrisch aufgebaut sind, und ich verstand, dass Gerechtigkeit nicht immer etwas mit einer Verteilungsgleichheit von Ressourcen zu tun hat.

Nach Abschluss beider Studiengänge begann ich nach einer kurzen Auszeit mit einer Promotion in der Philosophie zum Begriff der Realität. Zu diesem Zeitpunkt war ich allerdings schon zehn Jahre an der Uni gewesen, und mein Körper zeigte mir deutliche Ermüdungserscheinungen. Ich schlief einfach jedes Mal nach zehn Minuten in der Bibliothek ein. Nach einigen krisenhaften Monaten kam ich zu dem Entschluss, dass es hier für mich nicht weitergehen würde. Was nun? Ich hatte schließlich „nichts Richtiges“ gelernt, was sollte ich im Fall eines Abbruchs machen?

Go east

Irgendwie packte ich den Mut zusammen, exmatrikulierte mich (entgegen sehr freundlichen Warnungen) und landete über kurze Umwege in der Unternehmenskommunikation. Dieser große Schritt beinhaltete auch eine räumliche Veränderung. Ich verließ das fröhliche Rheinland und suchte im kargen Preußen mein Glück. Schnell begann ich, in einer Agentur für Kommunikation zu arbeiten und innerhalb weniger Jahre entwickelte ich mit einem Team Kampagnen, gab Unternehmen ein neues Antlitz und erarbeitete in Kunden-Workshops Markenkerne und Strategien für die Außenwahrnehmung.

Hatte ich in der Zeit an der Uni versucht zu verstehen, was Wahrnehmung ist, wie sie funktioniert und welche Grenzen ihr vielleicht auferlegt sind, so war ich nun damit beschäftigt, Wahrnehmung zu konzipieren, zu leiten und vor allem umzubiegen. Das ging einige Zeit gut, bevor mir langsam klar wurde, dass die Arbeit immer anstrengender wurde und ich mich immer bleierner fühlte.

Im Laufe der Zeit wurden körperliche Signale immer lauter, die mir zunächst kurios vorkamen, die ich aber irgendwann verstand: Saß ich am Schreibtisch, um an einem zuvor verkauften Projekt zu arbeiten, wurde ich immer unruhiger. Meine Beine wippten und ich musste ständig aufstehen und mich bewegen. Ich hatte irgendwann das Bild, dass fast die Gesamtheit der Zellen in meinem Körper von diesem Schreibtisch und den Aufgaben weg wollte. Jede Muskelfaser in mir wollte meinen Körper dazu bewegen, aufzustehen und wegzugehen. Weg von diesem Schreibtisch, weg von den Fragestellungen und Zielsetzungen, die mich nicht im Geringsten interessierten, und bei denen ich absolut keinen Sinn sah – weder für mich, noch für den Kunden.

Die Erinnerung an diese körperlichen Symptome sind noch sehr lebhaft, und ich bin froh, dass mir mein Körper ein zweites Mal mit allen möglichen Mitteln angezeigt hat, wo der Weg nicht mehr langgehen kann. Ich dachte damals an zahlreiche Biographien, von denen ich schon einmal gehört hatte – von Menschen, die erst richtig krank werden mussten, bevor sie einen neuen Weg in ihrem Leben einschlugen. Da wollte ich auf keinen Fall hin. Es erschien mir traurig, erst abwarten zu müssen, bis mein Körper krank oder kaputt ist, um erst dann eine anerkannte Begründung zu haben, meiner Motivation zu folgen und den Wert meines eigenen Lebens voll auszuschöpfen.

Und was machst du so?

Zufälligerweise traf ich jemanden, der mir den nächsten Schritt anbot. Auf meine Frage bei einer Party, „was machst du denn so“, sagte mir ein Bekannter, er würde mit Jugendlichen durch Europa fahren und ihnen die Kultur des Kontinents näherbringen. Ich war selbst erstaunt, als ich mich wortwörtlich selbst hörte: „Das will ich auch machen“ … Ich hatte noch nie mit Jugendlichen gearbeitet, wollte sicherlich nichts mit Tourismus zu tun haben und überhaupt!

Gleichwohl folgte ich meiner Intuition und ließ mich (ein wenig) ein. Nach einigen Bewerbungshürden ging es los, zunächst noch parallel zum Agenturbetrieb: Ich begann, amerikanische Jugendliche durch Europa zu begleiten und ihnen dabei den Kontinent, die Geschichte, seine Kunst und Architektur, unsere Denkweise und vieles mehr nahezubringen. Dabei konnte ich meinen Interessen freien Lauf lassen und mein Verständnis von Einsicht voll ausleben: Was motivierte die Menschen, sich auf die Französische Revolution einzulassen und war danach wirklich alles besser als zuvor? Sind Konzentrationslager eine Sache der Vergangenheit oder finden wir solche Strukturen auch heute noch in unserer aufgeklärten und modernen Welt? Welche Gestaltungselemente fügten die Römer in die griechische Baukunst ein, die uns noch heute Räume erleben lassen?

Ich konnte Diskussionen führen über Geschichte, über das, was wir wissen können und über das, was vielleicht eine schöne Hypothese ist. Ich konnte mich auf Fragen einlassen und meine Überzeugung weitergeben, dass oftmals nicht die Antwort das wesentliche Element des Verstehens ist, sondern eine akkurat formulierte Frage.

Auch in Berlin fing ich an, Menschen durch die Stadt zu führen und mich mit ihnen über Geschichte und auch aktuelle Themen zu unterhalten. Gibt es Parallelen zwischen dem Alten Fritz, seiner Eroberung Schlesiens und der aktuellen Situation auf der Krim? Ist das Verschwinden des Palastes der Republik in irgendeiner Weise zu vergleichen mit dem Verschwinden des alten Stadtschlosses 1950?

All diese Fragen schienen mir real zu sein. Realer und für mich interessanter als die Antworten, die ich Menschen durch Kampagnen in ihr Gehirn einpflanzen wollte. In der Unternehmenskommunikation dachte ich mir Geschichten aus, die das Verhalten von Menschen beeinflussen sollten. Bei meinen Führungen dachte ich mir Fragen aus, die Menschen mit den Begriffen der Wahrheit und der Erkenntnis spielen ließen. Und mein Körper sagte mir ganz klar, welche der beiden Tätigkeiten ihm besser tat.

Angel und Gäste vor der Berliner Dom
Ist das jetzt ein gutes Beispiel für Renaissance-Architektur oder nicht? Angel mit Zuhörerschaft vor dem Berliner Dom.


Also noch einmal umschwenken? Alles auf eine Karte setzen? Natürlich habe ich mir die Frage gestellt, ob ich es schaffe, mich zu ernähren. Bei all dem lustigen Geblubber von Selbstverwirklichung und Lebensenergie und Lust am Machen darf man eine Sache nicht aus den Augen verlieren: Man muss sich am nackten Leben halten. Es muss einfach am oberen Ende genügend reinkommen, damit am unteren Ende ausgeschieden werden kann – man verzeihe mir diese Plattheit, aber es muss meines Erachtens mit genau dieser Klarheit darauf verwiesen werden. Sitzt man nicht zufälligerweise auf einem Sack Geld, so muss die erste Selbstverwirklichungstat lauten, sich am Leben zu halten.

Auf eine Sache aber konnte ich mich verlassen. Mich selbst. In den vergangenen zehn Jahren erlebte ich immer wieder Situationen, in denen ich fast verzweifelt wäre. Wie soll dieses oder jenes Projekt weiterlaufen? Wie kann ich diesen Auftrag umsetzen? Wie soll um Himmelswillen dieser Zeitplan funktionieren? In allen diesen Situationen hatte ich erlebt, dass ich mich immer auf mich und meine Kompetenzen, meine Urteilskraft und meinen Willen verlassen konnte. Das wirst du schon schaffen. Du hast es bisher immer geschafft. Augen auf, Hirn an und dran bleiben!

Mit war bereits klar geworden, dass im Bereich der Kulturvermittlung Chancen steckten. Da ging was. Mit ein wenig Geschick wäre das kein Sprung ins komplett Ungewisse. Mit einem etwas kühlen Kopf könnte ich daraus etwas machen – ein Versuch wäre es wert. Heute bin ich froh, dass ich mich immer wieder dafür entschieden habe, auf meinen Körper zu hören und meinen Kopf und Verstand dabei nicht gänzlich auszuschalten. Dass ich darauf vertraut habe, immer meinen eigenen Weg zu suchen und erst einmal einige Schritte auszuprobieren.

Und besser noch: Ich hatte Blut geleckt. Die Erinnerung an meine alte Liebe für Einblicke, Verständnis und das Betrachten von Zusammenhängen … alles war wieder da. Ich fing an, neue Projekte zu entwickeln, teilweise künstlerischer Art, teilweise wissenschaftlich in der Herangehensweise. Bei meinen Reisen durch Europa sprach ich über Geschichte und Architektur, ich lief durch Berlin und sprach über Preußen und die Herausforderung, in einer Hipster-Stadt zu leben. Und ich hatte noch genügend Zeit, anderen Projekten nachzugehen. Heute arbeite ich an einem Film zum religiösen Glauben und stelle dabei die Frage, was eigentlich Glaubensgemeinschaften zusammenhält. Ich interviewe Menschen zu ihrem Glauben und gehe Fragen nach, die mir schon lange auf der Seele brennen. Weil es mir Freude macht. Weil es mich ausmacht. (Und falls sich jemand angesprochen fühlt: ich suche aktuell noch nach Interviewpartnern. Einfach mal reinschauen in das Projekt, mitmachen oder frech weiterleiten.)

Was zählt? Zufriedenheit am Morgen

Unterm Strich schaffe ich es heute, die Balance zu halten, zwischen einer Arbeit, die mich reizt, interessiert, mich bereichert, und mir deshalb keine Energie raubt, so dass ich mich zusätzlich ganz persönlichen Projekten widmen kann. Ist das Verwirklichung? Es fühlt sich zumindest saugut an!

Ich bin wieder näher am Content – oder an dem, was ich als solchen verstehe. Ich suche wieder nach Wahrheit und nach tatsächlichem Verständnis tatsächlicher Zusammenhänge, weg von einem – vielleicht nicht platten – aber doch aufgesetzten Storytelling. Ich erzähle meine eigene Story. Oder besser noch: Ich verfolge sie selbst.

Hätte ich mir diesen Weg ausgesucht? Nein. Hätte ich mir einen Job gesucht, der im Bereich Tourismus liegt? Nein. Fühle ich mich gut, bin ich nah an meinen Interessen und kann ich mit ruhigem Gewissen das vertreten, was ich mache und dabei morgens mit Freude aufwachen? Ja.

* Vgl. Douglas Adams: Per Anhalter durch die Galaxis.
Dieser Beitrag ist gleichzeitig eine Teilnahme am Blog-Award der Ergo #DeinWeg.

The hidden Mies – Haus Lemke Berlin

Picture of Haus Lemke Berlin by Mies van der Rohe

Now, I don’t want to be misunderstood: This here is not a Mies van der Rohe blog. It is a pure coincidence that the second entry is on one of his buildings again (previous entry talking about the New National Gallery). But this Sunday’s afternoon walk took me to visit one of Mies’s less known buildings.

After some of the more grey weeks that Berlin has to offer in winter, today’s sun urged me to take a walk and enjoy the bright yellows of the leafs and the fresh air of damp grounds in the parks. So I went up north to the area of Weißensee, to circle the local lake and to turn east, past one of the many neighbourhoods where Bruno Taut left his marks, namely coloured windows, and then into Hohenschönhausen. There, located right by another lake (there are quite a few in that part of Berlin) is to be found the rather unobtrusive and kind of unspectacular Haus Lemke. It is easy to walk past it as most of the houses left and right do more in order to attract the visitor’s attention.

Fassade of Haus Lemke Berlin
Simple brick is what you get from the outside when you approach from the street.

Small and yet impressive

Built from 1932 to 1933, the house is quite stunning as to its size. It is small. Very small if you compare it to its surrounding buildings. And it follows one of the principles of Mies van der Rohe’s architecture in a most pleasant way: It is neutral and somehow steps back, merely offering space for what is happening inside without competing for attention.

Initially intended to be a two-storey home, it was built with a ground floor only. The fact that today it is the smallest house with the biggest garden is due to the fact that the proprietors bought two lots in the early 1930s. Karl Lemke had made his money with a printing company in Berlin, and it was through a suggestion of a friend that he and his wife Marta turned to the then director of the Bauhaus, Mies van der Rohe, to design a house for the plot they had bought. Here, the businessman Lemke would also hold receptions in order to impress his clients with the beautiful scenery.

View of the garden and lake of Haus Lemke.
View of the garden and lake of Haus Lemke. Pure poetry.
Haus Lemke Berlin in autumn
View from the other side of the lake at early evening in autumn. It is difficult to see the house, due to its size as compared to the other buildings that surround it.

In the end, it was going to be Mies’ last private house to construct before he emigrated to the USA in 1938. Even the furniture was developed by Mies and his colleague Lilly Reich, some of which can be seen today at Berlin’s Kunstgewerbemuseum (Museum of Decorative Arts).

Today it is hard to imagine that the initial plan was to build a second floor. The present house is very much connected to the ground. Following a very modern fashion of the time, the interior of the rooms is at exactly the same level as the outside. Stressed by the large windows and the reticent design of borders between the inside and the outside, the rooms form a spectacularly simple unity with the garden, opening up to the lake.

Connection between inside and outside at Haus Lemke Berlin
When inside one is connected with the outside and the space feels much bigger.
Beautiful wooden floor inside.
Beautiful wooden floor inside.

From home to laundry to Mies landmark

Given its famous author, one is surprised that it took a few years in order to restore the house and open it to the public in the early 2000s. Marta and Karl Lemke only lived in their house for about twelve years, when they were “kindly asked” by the Red Army to abandon it as the whole area had been declared a restricted zone. From 1945 up to the 60s it was used by the Soviets as a garage, followed by the secret police of the GDR who would use it as a laundry as well as a canteen for their employees. Only in the late 70s some new consciousness for the history of Mies’ building arose and it was finally a private initiative to secure the site as the landmark it is today.

Haus Lemke Berlin
Many details to be found inside after the restoration of the early 2000s.

The house is open to the public and can be visited. Guided tours are offered as well, enquire on site.