“The sole path to modern greatness lies in the study of the ancient.”
These words encompass the essence of Karl Friedrich Schinkel’s (1781–1841) artistic vision. Like his hero and mentor Friedrich Gilly, Schinkel understood that Greek architecture was the pinnacle of this concept and so applied ancient Grecian architectural conventions to his own work as a marker of the ascendancy of the Prussian empire.
Tour of his existing works
Of Schinkel’s 40 completed works in Berlin, 17 remain today. Unfortunately a number of his buildings fell victim to ‘symbolic demolition’ at the hands of occupying forces in the city throughout the last two centuries. Nonetheless, the ones that did survive are a huge pull for visitors, and our guide will help you navigate your way around them.
Central Berlin is home to a number of Schinkel’s greatest achievements, the most central of these clustered together. Bear in mind these works are interesting both outside and in so you really could spend a whole day looking around them properly. Our mini guide in Mitte you will take you around the..
Schauspielhaus (1818–21) – After the destruction of Langhans’s Nationaltheater, Schinkel replaced it with the Schauspielhaus, a brilliant design derived from the Ancient Greek Choragic Monument of Thrasyllus, Athens, with the square columns of Ancient Egyptian temples. Accompanied by the twin churches in the Gendarmenmarkt it forms one of the most striking urban ensembles in Berlin.
Friedrichswerdersche Kirche (1821-30) – The building is currently part of the Berlin State Museums’ ensemble, holding the Alte Nationalgalerie’s collection of nineteenth-century German sculpture. In the upper floor there is an exhibition dedicated to the life and work of Schinkel.
Neue Wache (1816-18) – the earliest of Schinkel’s greatest works, it was originally built as a guardhouse for the troops of the Crown Prince of Prussia, but the building has been used as a war memorial since 1931.
Schloßbrücke (1822-24) - The Schloßbrücke (‘Palace Bridge’) over the Spreekanal links the Spree Island, the former location of the historic Berlin Palace, with the street ‘Unter den Linden’. On the bridge there are sculptures according to an overall design by Schinkel, which depicts the life of a warrior.
Altes Museum (1822-30) – This was built to house the Prussian royal family’s art collection. The building counts among the most distinguished in the Neoclassic style, and was a high point of Schinkel’s career. Since restoration work in 1966, it now houses the antique collection of the Berlin State Museums.
Biography of early life
1781– Schinkel born in Neuruppin, about 17 miles northwest of Berlin.
1787 – He loses his father to the great fire of Neuruppin.
1794 – He moves with his remaining family to Berlin.
1799 – He enrolls for architectural training under mentor Friedrich Gilly (1772 – 1800), who inspired Schinkel to move away from music and art and focus his studies on architecture. Schinkel moves into the Gilly family household.
1800 – A tragic year for the 19 year old Schinkel, who loses both his mother and his good friend Friedrich.
Though a talented architect, David Gilly (Friedrich’s father) lacked the raw aesthetic vision of his late son and the young Schinkel. As a man of convention and functionality, David Gilly made clear the importance of mathematics and structural engineering in architecture at a time when the trend in Germany seemed to be a withdrawal from such values in teaching practice.
Gilly subsequently formed his own school for young architects in Berlin to focus on these neglected arts, and inspired Schinkel’s lifelong love for Neo-classical architecture. At the beginning of the nineteenth century the only prominent Neo-classical buildings in Berlin were Langhans’ Brandenburg Gate, inspired by the Athenian Propyleum, and the new Mint by Gentz (who taught Schinkel at the Bauakademie). In the years to come Schinkel’s vision and innovation would shape the very landscape of Berlin according to this style, in ways that remain obvious today.
1803-05 Schinkel studies vernacular and medieval architecture during his tour of Italy and France, and is captivated by the architecture he finds in Milan and Naples.
1806 – Schinkel returns to Berlin in the year of the defeat of Prussia by the French. These are lean times with no architectural commissions, so Schinkel makes panoramas and dioramas to get by. His work attracts the attention of Queen Luise.
1809 – Queen Luise commissions him to redecorate several palace-interiors in Berlin and Charlottenburg. He is soon appointed to a post in the Department of Public Works, and his influence over the landscape of Berlin takes off.
1810 – Death of the Queen. Schinkel co-designs her grave in Charlottenburg and memorial at Gransee over the next two years.
1813 – Schinkel designs the Iron Cross military decoration.
1815 – He is promoted to Geheimer Baurat (Privy Building Officer) with powers to plan Berlin and oversee all State and Royal building-commissions.
Schinkel died before Germany’s industrialization really took off, so his fascination with innovative materials and methodology had little scope for developing beyond theory. Throughout his life Schinkel used materials with sensitivity, and his attitude toward new technologies and industrialization was always judicious. Couple this with his elegance as a designer, had Schinkel lived on to mid-century when the tools for realizing his visions became available one can only imagine the impact this would have had on the panorama of Berlin as we see it today.
But ‘what-ifs’ aside, and in spite the many demolitions of his work that took place over time, the legacy of one of Germany’s most innovative and forward-thinking minds lives on in the buildings he created, the people he inspired, and the Berlin we know and love today. And, akin to the quote at the beginning of the article, this forward drive was inherently rooted in his ability to look to the past and learn from what has already been.
If only everyone were little more like Karl Friedrich Schinkel.
Practical information and comprehensive guide
|1810-40 Mausoleum of Queen Luise (with H. Gentz), Berlin|
|Charlottenburg, Mausoleum im Schlosspark, Spandauer Damm 20, 14059 Berlin
|1817-18 Neue Wache, Berlin|
|Neue Wache, Unter den Linden 4, 10117 Berlin|
|1818-21 Kreuzberg Monument (later altered), Berlin|
|Viktoriapark, Katzbachstraße 21, 10965 Berlin|
|1819-21 Schauspielhaus, Gendarmenmarkt, Berlin|
|Konzerthaus Berlin, Gendarmenmarkt, Charlottenstraße, 10117 Berlin|
|1820-33 Monument for General Scharnhorst, Invaliden Friedhof, Berlin|
|Invaliden-Friedhof, Scharnhorststraße 33, 10115 Berlin|
|1821-30 Friedrich Werdersche Kirche, Berlin|
|Friedrichswerdersche Kirche, Werderscher Markt 1, 10117 Berlin|
|1821-24 Schloß Tegel (remodeling), Berlin|
|Schloß Tegel, Adelheidallee 19, 13507 Berlin|
|1821-26 Luisenkirche (tower only), Charlottenburg, Berlin|
|Luisenkirche, Gierkeplatz 4, 10585 Berlin|
|1822-24 Schloßbrücke, Berlin|
|Schlößbrücke, 10178 Berlin|
|1822-30 Altes Museum, Lustgarten, Berlin|
|Altes Museum, Bodestraße 1, 10178 Berlin|
|1823 Arts and Crafts School (remodeling), Berlin|
|1824-25 Neue Pavillion (now Schinkel Pavillion), Berlin|
|Schinkel Pavillon, Oberwallstraße 1, 10117 Berlin
|1824-29 Schloß Glienicke (including park structures), Berlin|
|Schloss Glienicke, Königstraße 36, 14109 Berlin|
|1832-34 Nazarethkirche (altered and rebuilt), Wedding, Berlin|
|Freie Nazarethkirche e.V., Nazarethkirchstraße 51, 13347 Berlin|
|1832-34 Saint Johannes (later altered), Alt Moabit, Berlin|
|Evangel. Kirchengemeinde St. Johannis, Alt-Moabit 25, 10559 Berlin|
|1832-34 Saint Paul, Gesundbrunnen, Berlin|
|St.-Pauls-Kirche, Pankstr. 54, 13357 Berlin|
|1835-37 Große Neugierde, Glienicke Park, Berlin|
|Schloss Glienicke, Königstraße 36, 14109 Berlin|