Schönhausen Palace

Berlin, Germany

Schönhausen Palace is a Baroque palace surrounded by gardens through which the Panke river runs. In 1662 Countess Sophie Theodore, a scion of the Holland-Brederode family and wife of the Brandenburg general Christian Albert of Dohna, acquired the lands Niederschönhausen and Pankow, then far north of the Berlin city gates. In 1664 she built a manor at Niederschönhausen in 'Dutch' style. Minister Joachim Ernst von Grumbkow acquired it in 1680 and, in 1691, his widow sold it for 16,000 Thalers to the Hohenzollern elector Frederick III of Brandenburg, who had fallen in love with the property earlier.

Frederick put the manor under the care of the Amt Niederschönhausen and had it remodeled into a palace from 1691-93 based on plans designed by Johann Arnold Nering. In August 1700 the Prince-elector prepared and planned his coronation as King in Prussia at Schönhausen Palace. In 1704 the now King Frederick I in Prussia contracted Eosander von Göthe to again enlarge the palace and its gardens. However after the king's death in 1713, his son and successor Frederick William I did not care much for the place. As a result, civil servants, such as Minister Friedrich Wilhelm von Grumbkow, moved in to use it as office space, part of the land was leased and both the palace and the park slowly became dilapidated in the ensuing years.

Under King Frederick II of Prussia, also known as 'Frederick the Great', the palace was once again turned into a royal residence for his wife, Elisabeth Christine of Brunswick-Bevern, who used it as her regular summer residence from 1740-90. Artist Johann Michael Graff most probably contributed the lavish stucco decorations executed during this time. As Frederick was unable to get on with her, he never visited Niederschönhausen and spent his summers at Sanssouci in Potsdam.

During the Seven Years' War in 1760, while the queen retreated to the Magdeburg fortress, Russian troops pushed deep into Prussia, occupied Berlin and devastated Niederschönhausen Palace. After 1763 it was rebuilt in its current form according to plans by Johann Boumann and the gardens were remodeled in a Rococo à la française style.

After the death of Queen Elisabeth Christine in 1797 the palace was seldom used. At times Frederica of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, widow of Prince Louis Charles of Prussia, lived at Schönhausen and had the gardens again remodeled, this time by Peter Joseph Lenné into an English landscape garden. Apart from that it served mainly as a storage facility for furniture and paintings.

The Prussian ruling Hohenzollern dynasty owned Schönhausen Palace until it was dispossessed and became a property of the Free State of Prussia in 1920, following the end of the monarchy in the course of the German Revolution of 1918–1919. It was then opened to the public and used for numerous art exhibitions as well as the government's official art department during the Nazi era, when several paintings of banned so-called 'degenerate art' were stored here. During the Battle of Berlin at the end of World War II, the palace suffered some damage but was repaired almost immediately by a Pankow Künstlerinitiative so that it could be used for an exhibit as early as September 1945. Soon thereafter the Soviet Military Administration confiscated the palace and turned it into an officer's mess. Later it served as a boarding school for Soviet students.

When the German Democratic Republic (GDR) was established in the Soviet occupation zone on 7 October 1949, the Soviets turned Schönhausen Palace over to the East German authorities. Until 1960 it served as the official seat of the GDR president Wilhelm Pieck, where he received state guests like Nikita Khrushchev and Ho Chi Minh. After his death it served at first as the seat of the newly established East German State Council, which moved to the Staatsratsgebäude at Mitte in 1964. It was then used by the GDR government as its official guest house and officially renamed Schloss Niederschönhausen. Numerous state visitors lodged here, among them Indira Gandhi, Fidel Castro as well as the last Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev and his wife Raisa Gorbachova in October 1989 on the eve of the East German Peaceful Revolution. At that time, the palace and part of the gardens were closed to the public and surrounded by a tall wall.

While German reunification was in progress in 1989 and 1990, the so-called Round Table met in the palace's outbuildings. Major portions of the negotiations leading to the Treaty on the Final Settlement with Respect to Germany also took place here, and a plaque now memorializes this period. After German reunification in 1991 the state of Berlin became the new owner of the palace and its gardens, and in 1997 the state put the property up for sale.

In 2003 there was some discussion about using the palace as the temporary residence of the President of Germany until the renovation of Schloss Bellevue would be completed, but this plan fell through because of the high cost (approximately € 12 million) that would have been required to bring the palace sufficiently up to standards. Furthermore, due to impregnation of the roof structure with chemicals to protect the wooden beams, for several years only the two lower floors could be used for occasional celebrations and guided tours.

On June 24, 2005, ownership of the palace was transferred to the Prussian Palaces and Gardens Foundation Berlin-Brandenburg. At the same time, € 8.6 million in federal funds was earmarked for renovation work. The palace was reopened 19 December 2009 to the public. In addition to the historic rooms dating to the time of the Prussian queen, the rooms used by the GDR President was reopened. Refurnishing the office used by Wilhelm Pieck and building a café for museum guests are also being considered. Furthermore, artworks from the collection of Elisabeth Christine are exhibited as well as the Dohna-Schlobitten collection, which previously was housed at Charlottenburg Palace.

Since 2003 the Bundesakademie für Sicherheitspolitik (BAKS) has been housed in two of the palace's auxiliary outbuildings.

References:

Comments

Your name



Rating

4.4/5 (based on Google user reviews)

User Reviews

Kris. Ell.b. (6 months ago)
Nice park and stylish castle.
Michael Dyrks (8 months ago)
Huge beautiful spot for a walk, jog or beer.
Scott (9 months ago)
Been in Berlin 15years and only found it now. Beautiful location away from the busy streets. Park is nice n chilled. Well worth a visit
Daniel Vazquez (2 years ago)
Mostly forgettable building, not particularly captivating. The exterior does not really much look like a palace at all. There was also a smell of urine in part of the exterior, I guess because they are public grounds, though would not have expected that. The gardens around the palace are all right though. All and all not likely to visit again.
Malcolm Simpson (2 years ago)
'The Palace has an interesting corner in Prussian & DDR history but doesn't rival the glorious palaces at Potsdam. It is being beautifully restored, but is essentially a modest building and mostly lacks furniture. The little park is mostly grass and trees. Worth a visit only if you've special interest or have done the top sights.
Powered by Google

Featured Historic Landmarks, Sites & Buildings

Historic Site of the week

Quimper Cathedral

From 1239, Raynaud, the Bishop of Quimper, decided on the building of a new chancel destined to replace that of the Romanesque era. He therefore started, in the far west, the construction of a great Gothic cathedral which would inspire cathedral reconstructions in the Ile de France and would in turn become a place of experimentation from where would later appear ideas adopted by the whole of lower Brittany. The date of 1239 marks the Bishop’s decision and does not imply an immediate start to construction. Observation of the pillar profiles, their bases, the canopies, the fitting of the ribbed vaults of the ambulatory or the alignment of the bays leads us to believe, however, that the construction was spread out over time.

The four circular pillars mark the start of the building site, but the four following adopt a lozenge-shaped layout which could indicate a change of project manager. The clumsiness of the vaulted archways of the north ambulatory, the start of the ribbed vaults at the height of the south ambulatory or the choice of the vaults descending in spoke-form from the semi-circle which allows the connection of the axis chapel to the choir – despite the manifest problems of alignment – conveys the hesitancy and diverse influences in the first phase of works which spread out until the start of the 14th century.

At the same time as this facade was built (to which were added the north and south gates) the building of the nave started in the east and would finish by 1460. The nave is made up of six bays with one at the level of the facade towers and flanked by double aisles – one wide and one narrow (split into side chapels) – in an extension of the choir arrangements.

The choir presents four right-hand bays with ambulatory and side chapels. It is extended towards the east of 3-sided chevet which opens onto a semi-circle composed of five chapels and an apsidal chapel of two bays and a flat chevet consecrated to Our Lady.

The three-level elevation with arches, triforium and galleries seems more uniform and expresses anglo-Norman influence in the thickness of the walls (Norman passageway at the gallery level) or the decorative style (heavy mouldings, decorative frieze under the triforium). This building site would have to have been overseen in one shot. Undoubtedly interrupted by the war of Succession (1341-1364) it draws to a close with the building of the lierne vaults (1410) and the fitting of stained-glass windows. Bishop Bertrand de Rosmadec and Duke Jean V, whose coat of arms would decorate these vaults, finished the chancel before starting on the building of the facade and the nave.

Isolated from its environment in the 19th century, the cathedral was – on the contrary – originally very linked to its surroundings. Its site and the orientation of the facade determined traffic flow in the town. Its positioning close to the south walls resulted in particuliarities such as the transfer of the side gates on to the north and south facades of the towers: the southern portal of Saint Catherine served the bishop’s gate and the hospital located on the left bank (the current Préfecture) and the north gate was the baptismal porch – a true parish porch with its benches and alcoves for the Apostles’ statues turned towards the town, completed by an ossuary (1514).

The west porch finds its natural place between the two towers. The entire aesthetic of these three gates springs from the Flamboyant era: trefoil, curly kale, finials, large gables which cut into the mouldings and balustrades. Pinnacles and recesses embellish the buttresses whilst an entire bestiary appears: monsters, dogs, mysterious figures, gargoyles, and with them a whole imaginary world promoting a religious and political programme. Even though most of the saints statues have disappeared an armorial survives which makes the doors of the cathedral one of the most beautiful heraldic pages imaginable: ducal ermine, the Montfort lion, Duchess Jeanne of France’s coat of arms side by side with the arms of the Cornouaille barons with their helmets and crests. One can imagine the impact of this sculpted decor with the colour and gilding which originally completed it.

At the start of the 16th century the construction of the spires was being prepared when building was interrupted, undoubtedly for financial reasons. Small conical roofs were therefore placed on top of the towers. The following centuries were essentially devoted to putting furnishings in place (funeral monuments, altars, statues, organs, pulpit). Note the fire which destroyed the spire of the transept cross in 1620 as well as the ransacking of the cathedral in 1793 when nearly all the furnishings disappeared in a « bonfire of the saints ».

The 19th century would therefore inherit an almost finished but mutilated building and would devote itself to its renovation according to the tastes and theories of the day.