Architecture in Berlin

Compared to the rest of Germany, the history of architecture began relatively late in Berlin and Brandenburg and is strongly related to the rise of Prussia since the 17th century, whose capital was Berlin.

In this century, Berlin has been the center of German architecture, and as no other German city has better reflected the ups and downs of German history such as the country's division, and the great contradictions and ruptures that have contributed to its architectural development.

Middle Ages

The first buildings of importance in the Berlin-Brandenburg region were built in the 12th and 13th centuries under the margraves from the House of the Askanians.
The Cistercian monks erected cloisters such as Lehnin, Chorin, and Zinna. Following suit, many towns and cities in the region were built up, such as Berlin, Brandenburg, Potsdam, Spandau, Frankfurt, or Templin.
Many village and city churches, town halls and city fortifications came into being: at the beginning they were made of granite blocks and later mainly of brick.
The first architectural style typical of the region- the "märkische Backsteingotik"- developed and reached its peak in the 14th century. (Nikolaikirche, Marienkirche - Berlin)


Under the rule of the Hohenzollern, numerous renaissance palaces were built between the 15th and the mid-17th centuries in the March of Brandenburg. However, many of them have not been preserved in their original designs, being later rebuilt or destroyed.

Well preserved, however, are the Saxonian renaissance palaces of Finsterwalde, Doberlug, Drehna and Senftenberg in the Niederlausitz, a region which was later transferred to Brandenburg.
In Berlin the Ribbeck-Haus, the Grunewald Hunting Palace and the Spandau citadel are well-preserved from this epoch.
Construction of the Berliner Schloss (palace) also began in this period. The palace, however, was torn down in the 1950s.


In the second half of the 17th century Friedrich Wilhelm, the Great Elector, brought many Dutch architects to his court. Johann Arnold Nering was the most famous of them, not only having constructed numerous palaces such as Potsdam, Glienicke, Oranienburg, and Caputh, but also having shaped the city and the rural landscape of those days.
The palaces and gardens were connected with avenues. Many canals and bridges were built.
In Berlin, the Zeughaus (Royal Armoury) at Unter den Linden and the central building of the Charlottenburg palace were put up in this period. Friedrich Wilhelm's son, Friedrich III. (after 1701 Friedrich (Frederick) I., King of Prussia), followed his father's architectural activity and commissioned baroque architect Andreas Schlüter, who had before been working in Danzig and Warsaw, with the enlargement of the Royal Palace, the Berliner Stadtschloß.
Schlüter abandoned the strict Dutch baroque style distinctive of his predecessors and laid out his structures in Italian baroque, which had more wealth in forms.

Frederickian Rokoko

After 1740, under Frederick the Great, the so called "Frederickian Rococo" emerged. It was strongly influenced by French Rococo and based on its model.
The most important architect in this period was Georg Wenzeslaus von Knobelsdorff, who was in charge of drafting the plans for the palaces of Sanssouci and Rheinsberg, the German State Opera, the St. Hedwigs-Cathedral and the Humboldt University in Berlin. In 1763 Karl von Gontard, who designed the twin copulas of the German and the French cathedral, and his students Georg Friedrich Boumann and Georg Unger, became Knobelsdorff's successors. 


With the End of the 18th century, the epoch of classicism also began in Berlin and Brandenburg.
Berlin's important architects of early classicism were Gotthard Langhans (Gate of Brandenburg), Friedrich Wilhelm von Erdmannsdorff, and David Gilly, later the founder of the architectural academy.
At the beginning of the 19th century Karl Friedrich Schinkel began his work. He not only brought Prussian-style classicism to its peak, but also founded Romanticism.
The Alte (old) Museum, the Neue Wache (New Guardhouse) and the Schauspielhaus (theater) belong to Schinkel's work.
Also at the beginning of the 19th century, Peter Josef Lenné, probably the most distinguished landscape architect, planned the reconstruction of the Tiergarten (Berlin's central park) and the Landwehrkanal (canal) in Berlin, and designed an immense Roman landscape around Potsdam.
In this unique countryside, which recently was put on UNESCO's World Heritage List, antique-looking villas, early Christian churches and cloisters, and classical ruins were built.
This classicist period can probably be described as the peak of Prussian architecture. After Schinkel's death, his students Friedrich August Stüler (Old National Gallery, New Museum, St. Matthäi-Church) and Ludwig Persius maintained his tradition.


At the end of the 19th century Historicism developed out of Romanticism. In Prussia this style was also named "Wilhelminismus"after the Prussian King and German Emperor Wilhelm I.
During Historicism a variety of styles emerged, which were based on the model of different historical periods.
Two importent buildings of this time are the Berlin Cathedral, built by Julius Carl and Otto Raschdorff, and the Reichstag (Parliament) by Paul Wallot.
During this time architect Ludwig Hofmann put up municipal buildings in neo-Renaissance and neo-Baroque style.
After 1870, during the so called "Gründerzeit" (Foundation Era), Berlin began to grow rapidly. Numerous tenements, often with several courtyards, were quickly put up and their street facades were decorated with historical stucco elements.

Modern Architecture

At the beginning of the 20th century some architects departed from Historicism, trying to develop a more modern and useful architecture.
With the AEG-turbine plant, Peter Behrens paved the way for industrial architecture. Hermann Muthesius designed a new and modern Country-House style for Berlin's newly developing suburbs. Alfred Messel drafted the first department stores and Oskar Kaufmann, putting up the Volksbühne and the Hebbeltheater, introduced new trends in theater construction.
In the 1920s Berlin architecture became world-famous.

Some important architects of the 1920s are:

Architecture in Nazi Germany

This exiting and diverse development abruptly came to an end with the National Socialists.
Many architects went into exile, persecuted as Jews, such as Erich Mendelsohn, or for seeing no chance to continue working as architects, such as Walter Gropius and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.
Others, like Hans Scharoun and Hugo Häring, stayed in the country but were virtually not allowed to work.
For official public buildings the Nazis propagated a new architecture, which strongly followed classicism, and should, above all, impress with sheer magnitude.
New tenements were built in the "Heimatstil" (native style).
Buildings of this time are the Olympic Stadium, the Waldbühne (an outdoor amphitheater) by Werner March and the Tempelhof Airport by Ernst Sagebiel.
As Hitler's Generalbauinspektor (General Building Inspector), Albert Speer developed gigantic plans for reconstructing Berlin as World-Metropolis "Germania". However, with the beginning of these plan's execution, the "Third Reich" came to its end.

Reconstruction after World War II

After World War II Berlin's center lay reduced to rubble.
The first plans by Hans Scharoun envisioned a totally new city structure, realigned on the ice marginal valley running through the city.
A green urban landscape was to be developed with ample freeway connections and a spacious building development of lined settlements and high-rise buildings interspersed.
The access-balcony flats at Karl-Marx-Allee built by Hans Scharoun are well-preserved from this period.
Soon, however, the city's separation into East and West was foreseeable and plans for reconstructing the city as a whole became an illusion.

Architecture in West-Berlin

However, this previous urban landscape concept remained valid for West-Berlin up to the beginning of the 1980s.
Numerous architectural projects of urban development such as: the Hansaviertel, the Kulturforum, the buildings around Hallesches Tor and Kottbusser Tor, the Märkisches Viertel and Gropiusstadt (two high-rise colonies), can only be understood against this background.
In 1957 the Hansaviertel (a high-rise colony) was built in connection with the "Interbau" (exhibition) by renowned architects from around the world such as Walter Gropius, Alvar Aalto and Oskar Niemeyer.
Also in 1957, Unité d´habitation was built by Le Corbusier. The urban development planning of the Kulturforum and the design of the State Library and the Berlin Philharmonics were made by Hans Scharoun, the planning of the New National Gallery by Mies van der Rohe.

Since funds for the entire reconstruction of West-Berlin weren't available, many historical quarters decayed after often having only been poorly rebuilt after the war. With the early 1980s, many of these quarters got on the city's demolition list, triggering resident protest and squatting.
This lead to a changed policy and to a cautious renovation urban development concept, first realized at Charlottenburg's Klausener Platz by Prof. Hardt-Walther Hämer. This concept became the basis of the International Building Exposition (IBA) in 1987, under which numerous interesting projects of tenements renovation in Kreuzberg and new city quarters in Rauchstraße and in Tegel were realized.
New projects were developed by Joseph Paul Kleihues, Oswald Mathias Ungers and Rob Krier, among others.
The historical Central European urbanity was re-discovered as a model.

Architecture in East-Berlin and in the German Democratic Republic

In East-Berlin an unique "socialist" reconstruction style was propagated, based on the model of the Soviet Union.
The motto was, "Palaces for the people".
The first showpiece project was Karl-Marx-Allee in Friedrichshain.
At the same time, the basic principles of socialist urban development were formulated, which also took into consideration spacious housing estates and parks in the city center.
According to these principles, an iron and steel combine was built in the Brandenburg town of Eisenhüttenstadt.
In the 1960s, industrialization of housing construction became top priority. East-Berlin and many Brandenburg towns saw the construction of large prefab settlements.
Important architects, often working together in planning collectives, were the following:

Due to neglect, numerous quarters also began to decay in the East in the 1980s and squatting became popular there too.
The renovation of Husemannstraße for the 750-year celebration and the reconstruction of the Nikolaiviertel (Nicholas Quarter) by Günter Stahn showed a first sign of a change of views.
Attempts were made to use prefab construction also for city reconstruction such as at the Gendarmenmarkt, Friedrichstraße, and at the Rosenthal Suburb.

The 1990s (The Reunification)

After the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, a huge building boom began, with numerous major projects in the city center.
Big investors such as Debis and Sony put up entire city quarters at Potsdamer Platz - among others planned by Hilmer and Sattler, Renzo Piano, Helmut Jahn and Hans Kollhoff.
New governmental quarters, planned by Axel Schultes, are being built next to the Reichstag, which was reconstructed by Norman Foster.
North of the governmental quarters, a new central station is under construction by Gerkan, Marg and Partner.
New residential quarters were built, e.g. at the Moabiter Werder along the Spree river, in Spandau Wasserstadt (water town), on the Stralau peninsula and in Karow-North.
Some interesting individual projects such as the Jewish Museum by Daniel Libeskind and an ecological high-rise building were also constructed.

In addition Brandenburg, being Berlin's surrounding countryside, was seized by a big building boom with numerous development projects and industrial settlements.

The Berlin-Brandenburg region thus became a Mecca for people interested in construction sites and architecture.