Through the Ages
From the residence of Prussian princesses to an innovative platform for art and culture: For the PalaisPopulaire, the rooms of the historic Prinzessinnenpalais were redesigned by the renowned Berlin-based architectural office Kuehn Malvezzi. Today, behind the baroque façade there is state-of-the-art technology and clear, contemporary architecture. The building reflects Berlin’s eventful history. It tells of princesses and wars, as well as East German modern art.
A Prussian House:
the Prinzessinnenpalais and the Hohenzollern
The history of the Prinzessinnenpalais began with two buildings erected at the Berlin Festungsgraben (Moat). The Prussian architect Friedrich Wilhelm Diterichs (1702–1782) linked them via a central porch to a new palace standing crosswise to magnificent Unter den Linden boulevard. The adjoining baroque garden, which includes an orangery, was built in 1740. The garden is walled off and not accessible to the public. Later, it was transformed into a landscape garden in keeping with the tastes of the time. In 1755, the “Bad Margrave” Frederick Henry of Brandenburg-Schwedt (1709–1788) purchased the prestigious building.
When the palace was sold to the Prussian Crown after his death in 1788, Prince Louis Charles of Prussia, with his wife Frederika and their three children, became one of the first residents. After his early death and the departure of his widow, the Prussian ruling couple King Frederick William III (1770–1840) and Queen Louise (1776–1810), whose family had grown, made the palace the residence of their three then small daughters: Princesses Charlotte (1798–1860), Alexandrine (1803–1892), and Louise (1808–1870). From that time on, the building was called the Prinzessinnenpalais (Princesses’ Palace). But it was expanded before they moved in.
In 1809, a year before her death, Queen Louise asked the artist and architect Karl Friedrich Schinkel, who had just returned from a trip to Italy, to design the front building of the Prinzessinnenpalais. The young Schinkel was just making a name for himself during this time and was trying to get a foothold in Berlin. His design shows prominent architecture that opens the building to Unter den Linden in an elegant way. However, Schinkel’s version was too expensive for the queen. So instead, the more restrained design of the then government “Oberhofbaurat” and director of the Berlin Ducal Building Committee, Heinrich Gentz (1766–1811), was implemented. Schinkel was only allowed to design the transition to the Kronprinzenpalais (Crown Prince’s Palace). Gentz died in 1811, the year the palace was completed.
Princess Alexandrine of Prussia (1803–1892)
© bpk/ Kupferstichkabinett, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, SMB/ Jörg P. Anders
In Franz Krüger’s famous painting “Parade auf dem Opernplatz zu Berlin” (1824–1830), one sees the courtly society—the princesses and their escorts—in magnificent gowns looking out of the window, while on Unter den Linden the king and his son-in-law, the Russian Czar Nicholas, who married Princess Charlotte, take the salute.
After the daughter moved out, the palace became the residence of Auguste von Harrach, named Princess von Liegnitz (1800–1873), whom Frederick William III had secretly wedded in 1824, thirteen years after Luise’s death. The king had met the young countess in 1822 while he was undergoing a course of treatment in Bad Teplice in Bohemia. The relationship was difficult for the 54-year-old, because the princess was not from a ruling family, was 30 years younger, and was Catholic to boot. After the king’s death she continued to live in the Prinzessinnenpalais.
Until the end of the German Empire, the Prinzessinnenpalais was inhabited by various personalities from the family. A few days after the November revolution in 1918, the estate of the Hohenzollern was confiscated and from then on administered by the Prussian finance ministry. Although the conflict around the so-called Expropriation of the Princess in the Weimar Republic lasted until 1926, the Prinzessinnenpalais was transferred to the administration of the State Museums, as was the neighboring Kronprinzenpalais, in which the Nationalgalerie under Ludwig Justi presented modernist works in a “Gallery of the Living” starting in 1919. On March 13, 1931, commemorating the 150th birthday of Schinkel, the Schinkel Museum opened in the Prinzessinnenpalais. Paintings, drawings, and sketches show the diversity of his work. But the museum had to close its doors after just two years.
Kronprinzenpalais on Unter den Linden (1919)
Ruins of the Prinzessinenpalais after World War II
Turbulent Times: The Prinzessinnenpalais after World War II
During World War II, large parts of the historic center of Berlin were destroyed, including the Prinzessinnenpalais and the neighboring Staatsoper (State Opera). The reconstruction, which was already planned in the early 1950s, was delayed until the burnt-out building finally became instable in 1962 and had to be demolished. Like the opera, the Prinzessinnenpalais was rebuilt based on the plans of Richard Paulick (1903–1979), for new usage as an “opera café.” The former assistant of Walter Gropius at the Bauhaus in Dessau combined, as desired by the East German state leadership, a historical reconstruction of the exterior with modern solutions inside. But he incorporated historical reminiscences in the interior as well, including the cast-iron banisters from Schloss Buch, which like the palace was built by Diterich, and a blue starry sky inspired by Schinkel.
On December 25, 1963, the Opera Café celebrated its opening. Shortly thereafter, the formerly private Prinzessinnengarten (Princesses’ Garden), almost completely destroyed in World War II, was rebuilt as a public park. Here, statues of generals that had previously been exhibited on Unter den Linden found a new home. The Prinzessinnenpalais with the Opera Café, opera bar, wine bar, and grill restaurant quickly became a popular meeting place for Berliners and tourists alike. In addition, the Opera Café was used as a shooting location for one of the most successful DEFA productions, “The Legend of Paul und Paula.” Paul and Paula, the protagonists of the 1973 cult film, dance in the café. And the Opera Café also hosted weekly disco evenings for the East German gay scene.
After German reunification, ownership of the palace was passed on to the Treuhand (“Trust”). Subsequently, the café reopened under the name Opernpalais. For the new café, the ambience was radically transformed: Richard Paulick’s modern design gave way to rococo-style furnishings. Boasting Europe’s largest selection of cakes and pies, the building again became a visitor magnet, attracting many prominent individuals, including Queen Silvia of Sweden, the actors Alain Delon and Sophia Loren, and star tenor Placido Domingo. The café closed when the building had to be thoroughly refurbished in 2012.
Deutsche bank leased the building starting in 2017 and had the interior completely refurbished by the renowned Berlin architectural office Kuehn Malvezzi as a new platform for art, culture, and sports. On three floors, large spaces were created for exhibitions, events, and educational offers. The ground floor again houses a café with a garden terrace that picks up on the building’s tradition. In the fall of 2018, the former Prinzessinnenpalais will open as the PalaisPopulaire.