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Ernst Eichgrün: Palazzo Barberini, 1907, Potsdam Museum - Forum für Kunst und Geschichte
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Barberini Palace: Stories of a Building

In January 2017 the Museum Barberini moved into the reconstructed Barberini Palace.

This eighteenth century historic building was inspired by the Palazzo Barberini in Rome. Remodeled in the middle of the nineteenth century as an assembly house for art and cultural societies, and later used to house government offices, the Barberini Palace was destroyed in 1945.

A small exhibition (January 23 to October 3, 2017) dedicated to the eventful history of this imposing building and its many uses brought to life the Barberini Palace’s past through numerous historic documents and photographs—many of which can be seen now for the very first time.

An Architectural Work of Art
The Barberini Palace blends in with the architectural ensemble on Alte Markt (Old Market Square)

The Barberini Palace was built in 1771/72 on the Alte Markt after designs by the architect Georg Christian Unger and Carl von Gontard. His magnificent facade was an important focal point on the square. Between 1750 and 1777 Frederick the Great commissioned the beautification of this square at the heart of his residential seat. He was inspired by Italian High Renaissance architecture.

Giovanni Battista Piranesi: Palazzo Barberini in Rome, 1758/59

Giovanni Battista Piranesi: Palazzo Barberini in Rome, 1758/59

The Barberini Palace blends in with the architectural ensemble on Alte Markt (Old Market Square)

The Barberini Palace was built in 1771/72 on the Alte Markt after designs by the architect Georg Christian Unger and Carl von Gontard. His magnificent facade was an important focal point on the square. Between 1750 and 1777 Frederick the Great commissioned the beautification of this square at the heart of his residential seat. He was inspired by Italian High Renaissance architecture.

Giovanni Battista Piranesi: Palazzo Barberini in Rome, 1758/59

Giovanni Battista Piranesi: Palazzo Barberini in Rome, 1758/59

From Rome to Potsdam
The palace was inspired by the Palazzo Barberini in Rome
Andreas Ludwig Krüger: Palast Barberini, 1779, public domain
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Giovanni Battista Piranesi: Palazzo Barberini in Rome, 1758/59
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The Barberini Palace was modeled after the Palazzo Barberini in Rome, from which it took its name. Built between 1626 and 1638, this building is around 150 years older than the version in Potsdam. For a long time the Prussian palace was rumored to have been named after the dancer Barbarina, who was very popular during Frederick the Great’s time.

However, the Potsdam palace is not a simply a replica. Among the most striking differences are the mezzanines in the Potsdam building. Such mezzanines were a typical element in middle-class homes in eighteenth-century Potsdam and were added to make the space more efficient.

Transformation to Assembly House
Music, art and literature move in

In the middle of the 19th century, King Frederick William IV commissioned an extensive remodeling and enlargement of the palace. Prestigious ballrooms were added to the two upper floors. Cultural societies such as an art society and a literature society were given the right to use these rooms “in perpetuity”.

Floor plan of the Barberini Palace, c. 1850, Brandenburgisches Landeshauptarchiv, Grundbuchakte Humboldtstr. 5-6

Floor plan of the Barberini Palace, c. 1850, Brandenburgisches Landeshauptarchiv, Grundbuchakte Humboldtstr. 5-6

Music, art and literature move in

In the middle of the 19th century, King Frederick William IV commissioned an extensive remodeling and enlargement of the palace. Prestigious ballrooms were added to the two upper floors. Cultural societies such as an art society and a literature society were given the right to use these rooms “in perpetuity”.

Floor plan of the Barberini Palace, c. 1850, Brandenburgisches Landeshauptarchiv, Grundbuchakte Humboldtstr. 5-6

Floor plan of the Barberini Palace, c. 1850, Brandenburgisches Landeshauptarchiv, Grundbuchakte Humboldtstr. 5-6

A Stage for Stars
Cultural events were held in the palace

In the 19th century, cultural organizations enticed the Potsdam public to attend a broad range of cultural events in the palace. In addition to exhibitions and art raffles held by the art society and readings organized by the literary society, concerts were also held by the music society. Famous musicians such as the pianist Clara Schumann, the Russian pianist Anton Rubinstein, and the composer and director Wilhelm Furtwängler charmed their audiences.

Ballroom, c. 1907, Stadtarchiv Potsdam mit der Signatur StadtA Potsdam, 1-9/1091 Bl. 198

Ballroom, c. 1907, Stadtarchiv Potsdam mit der Signatur StadtA Potsdam, 1-9/1091 Bl. 198

Cultural events were held in the palace

In the 19th century, cultural organizations enticed the Potsdam public to attend a broad range of cultural events in the palace. In addition to exhibitions and art raffles held by the art society and readings organized by the literary society, concerts were also held by the music society. Famous musicians such as the pianist Clara Schumann, the Russian pianist Anton Rubinstein, and the composer and director Wilhelm Furtwängler charmed their audiences.

Ballroom, c. 1907, Stadtarchiv Potsdam mit der Signatur StadtA Potsdam, 1-9/1091 Bl. 198

Ballroom, c. 1907, Stadtarchiv Potsdam mit der Signatur StadtA Potsdam, 1-9/1091 Bl. 198

Samuel Friedrich Diez: Portrait of Clara Schumann (Leipzig 1819-1896 Frankfurt/Main), 1840, © bpk / Kupferstichkabinett, SMB / Volker-H. Schneider

Samuel Friedrich Diez: Portrait of Clara Schumann (Leipzig 1819-1896 Frankfurt/Main), 1840, © bpk / Kupferstichkabinett, SMB / Volker-H. Schneider

Ernst Haeckel (1834–1919], 1910, photo: Alfred Bischoff, bpk / Alfred Bischoff

Ernst Haeckel (1834–1919], 1910, photo: Alfred Bischoff, bpk / Alfred Bischoff

Lights! Music! Action!
In 1910 the first cinema in Potsdam opened in the Barberini Palace

The opening of the first cinema in the ballroom of the palace was celebrated as the “chief attraction of Potsdam” days before it even opened. On October 27, 1910 the big day arrived: The projectionist presented a newsreel. The enthusiastic audience saw the latest news and watched entertaining short films. Silent films were musically accompanied by a pianist.

Barberini Palace, n.d., bpk/Kunstbibliothek, SMB

Barberini Palace, n.d., bpk/Kunstbibliothek, SMB

In 1910 the first cinema in Potsdam opened in the Barberini Palace

The opening of the first cinema in the ballroom of the palace was celebrated as the “chief attraction of Potsdam” days before it even opened. On October 27, 1910 the big day arrived: The projectionist presented a newsreel. The enthusiastic audience saw the latest news and watched entertaining short films. Silent films were musically accompanied by a pianist.

Barberini Palace, n.d., bpk/Kunstbibliothek, SMB

Barberini Palace, n.d., bpk/Kunstbibliothek, SMB

Pay a Visit To…

Until the early twentieth century, the other rooms in the palace were divided into apartments. One of the residents was Rudolf Mahnkopf (1847–1937). He not only lived with his large family in the palace for nearly 60 years, he also worked as an administrator for the building’s galleries.

Portrait of Rudolf Mahnkopf (Potsdam 1847-1937), Adminstrator of

Portrait of Rudolf Mahnkopf (Potsdam 1847-1937), Adminstrator of

From Palace to Administrative Building
The search for administrative space led to the palace

In 1912 the city of Potsdam purchased the palace for 350,000 marks. The first city government agencies began moving in in 1913. These included the civil registry office, the vehicle department and the tourist office. During World War I the city set up a military office and the war aid center in the palace. The later distributed ration cards and paid out war aid to Potsdam inhabitants.

Städtische Lichtbildstelle Potsdam: Barberini Palace, Oct. 28, 1940, Potsdam Museum – Forum für Kunst und Geschichte

Städtische Lichtbildstelle Potsdam: Barberini Palace, Oct. 28, 1940, Potsdam Museum – Forum für Kunst und Geschichte

The search for administrative space led to the palace

In 1912 the city of Potsdam purchased the palace for 350,000 marks. The first city government agencies began moving in in 1913. These included the civil registry office, the vehicle department and the tourist office. During World War I the city set up a military office and the war aid center in the palace. The later distributed ration cards and paid out war aid to Potsdam inhabitants.

Städtische Lichtbildstelle Potsdam: Barberini Palace, Oct. 28, 1940, Potsdam Museum – Forum für Kunst und Geschichte

Städtische Lichtbildstelle Potsdam: Barberini Palace, Oct. 28, 1940, Potsdam Museum – Forum für Kunst und Geschichte

Listed on the Historical Registry
Restoration efforts progress slowly

Monument conservators complained about the considerable state of disrepair after the city purchased the building in 1912. In the following years, display windows and advertising signs were removed from the facade. At the end of the 1920s, the city had plans to build a pedestrian bridge to the Freundschaftsinsel; however, a lack of funds repeatedly held up the plans. Under the National Socialist mayor Hans Friedrichs and his autocratic leadership, several building projects were carried out.

Alfred von Loebenstein: Barberini Palace, 1940, Potsdam Museum – Forum für Kunst und Geschichte

Alfred von Loebenstein: Barberini Palace, 1940, Potsdam Museum – Forum für Kunst und Geschichte

Restoration efforts progress slowly

Monument conservators complained about the considerable state of disrepair after the city purchased the building in 1912. In the following years, display windows and advertising signs were removed from the facade. At the end of the 1920s, the city had plans to build a pedestrian bridge to the Freundschaftsinsel; however, a lack of funds repeatedly held up the plans. Under the National Socialist mayor Hans Friedrichs and his autocratic leadership, several building projects were carried out.

Alfred von Loebenstein: Barberini Palace, 1940, Potsdam Museum – Forum für Kunst und Geschichte

Alfred von Loebenstein: Barberini Palace, 1940, Potsdam Museum – Forum für Kunst und Geschichte

A Tour through the Barberini Palace
The palace has a history of many uses

As a public passageway, the open view of the columned hall, today’s foyer, connected the Alte Markt to the waterfront. The wings of the palace had several doors. From here, people could access the civil registry office, the youth hostel, and the public library. The restaurant in the cellar served the beer Potsdamer Stange.

BLDAM Bildarchiv, Ng.-Nr.: 22 g 26 / 1640.3

BLDAM Bildarchiv, Ng.-Nr.: 22 g 26 / 1640.3

The palace has a history of many uses

As a public passageway, the open view of the columned hall, today’s foyer, connected the Alte Markt to the waterfront. The wings of the palace had several doors. From here, people could access the civil registry office, the youth hostel, and the public library. The restaurant in the cellar served the beer Potsdamer Stange.

BLDAM Bildarchiv, Ng.-Nr.: 22 g 26 / 1640.3

BLDAM Bildarchiv, Ng.-Nr.: 22 g 26 / 1640.3

Destruction
Devastating damage in the Second World War

On April 14, 1945 the Barberini Palace was almost completely destroyed when the city center was carpet bombed by the Royal Air Force. During the war years, air raid shelters with beds had been set up at the back of the east wing. Apprentices to the city administration served as air raid wardens at night in the shelters.

Bundesarchiv: Image 170-378, To the left the old Town Hall with its figure of Atlas, to its right the central structure of the Barberini Palace, c.1947/1948, photo: Max Bauer

Bundesarchiv: Image 170-378, To the left the old Town Hall with its figure of Atlas, to its right the central structure of the Barberini Palace, c.1947/1948, photo: Max Bauer

Devastating damage in the Second World War

On April 14, 1945 the Barberini Palace was almost completely destroyed when the city center was carpet bombed by the Royal Air Force. During the war years, air raid shelters with beds had been set up at the back of the east wing. Apprentices to the city administration served as air raid wardens at night in the shelters.

Bundesarchiv: Image 170-378, To the left the old Town Hall with its figure of Atlas, to its right the central structure of the Barberini Palace, c.1947/1948, photo: Max Bauer

Bundesarchiv: Image 170-378, To the left the old Town Hall with its figure of Atlas, to its right the central structure of the Barberini Palace, c.1947/1948, photo: Max Bauer

Unfinished Plans
Unfinished Plans

In March 1948, the last heaps of rubble were removed. After the burnt-out Stadtschloss (City Palace) was demolished in 1960, the Alte Markt carried out its socialist function as a space for rallies and events. In 1989, construction began under SED leadership on a civic theater. After this shell was torn down in 1991, the Hans Otto Theater had an interim stage in in a building referred to as the Blechbüchse (tin can) on the palace compound until 2006.

Shell of the civic theater, 1990, Photo: Toas Töpfer, Archiv Toas Töpfer

Shell of the civic theater, 1990, Photo: Toas Töpfer, Archiv Toas Töpfer

Unfinished Plans

In March 1948, the last heaps of rubble were removed. After the burnt-out Stadtschloss (City Palace) was demolished in 1960, the Alte Markt carried out its socialist function as a space for rallies and events. In 1989, construction began under SED leadership on a civic theater. After this shell was torn down in 1991, the Hans Otto Theater had an interim stage in in a building referred to as the Blechbüchse (tin can) on the palace compound until 2006.

Shell of the civic theater, 1990, Photo: Toas Töpfer, Archiv Toas Töpfer

Shell of the civic theater, 1990, Photo: Toas Töpfer, Archiv Toas Töpfer