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Classical Revival

Germany breaks from its past to embrace the past.

Sep 16, 2013, Vol. 19, No. 02 • By MARK FALCOFF
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For some time, it was thought—and German advocates of modern architecture hoped—that rebuilding a Baroque Renaissance palace in Berlin would prove a practical impossibility. In fact, this has not proven to be the case: A collection of 20,000 photographs of Prussian buildings (1855-1920) survived the war, and the collection includes 40 DVDs containing digital images of the exterior and courtyard façades of the Stadtschloss in very high resolution. In addition, there are precise measurements, dating to 1879, that were discovered at the Berlin Land Registry Office as recently as a decade ago. All these findings have been creatively assembled and coordinated via computer, allowing 3,000 decorative motifs to be reproduced, stone by stone, to within a millimeter—a task never before attempted.

Although it was thought that carving Baroque figures in sandstone was a lost art, in Spandau, a workshop has been established under the leadership of two stone sculptors, Mathias Körner and Eckhart Boehm, who both trained in the classical tradition and are fully familiar with the stylistic peculiarities of Schlüter. Each element will first be done in plaster, and will then be approved by a committee of art historians before orders are given to produce it in sandstone. All the surviving fragments of the original Stadtschloss have been moved here as well.

The task ahead is certainly not an easy one, and the palace may not open on schedule (in 2019). There are nearly 500 windows, some as large as garage doors, and more than 2,000 feet of façade has to be reconstructed, complete with figures such as a cudgel-swinging Hercules. Forty-seven eagles with widespread wings will hang on the roof, the largest of which will have a wingspan of eight-and-a-half feet. 

While some critics persist in calling the project “kitsch” and “counterfeit,” the restoration project represents a turning point in Germany’s postwar and post-Cold War normalization, as well as a reaffirmation of the more prideful aspects of its history and identity. At a time when civic beauty is under attack everywhere by trendy nihilists and intimidated arts commissions, the restoration of the Stadtschloss strikes a blow on behalf of beleaguered lovers of classical architecture—wherever they might be.

Mark Falcoff is a writer and translator in Washington and Munich. 

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