Rebuilding Destroyed Castles: New Purposes for Old Buildings

Under construction: The City Palace in Berlin
We have covered hundreds and hundreds of castles here on Castleholic, most of them in Germany. With their history even more diverse than their architecture, there is, however, one decisive time period that comes up in almost any castle's history: World War II and its consequences for the (former) royal or noble residences. Especially the urban palaces and castles suffered heavily during the days of the war, be it air raids or shelling towards the end of the war. While many palaces were heavily damaged and later rebuilt, others were razed to the ground to make room for more functional buildings, car parks or something more suitable with post-war life in Germany. 

However, the 21st first century has seen the resurrection of a number of palaces leveled to the ground in the years and decades after the war after initial damage, be it the city residences of Potsdam, Brunswick and Berlin or the Baroque palace of Herrenhausen in Hanover. Naturally, rebuilding monuments to Germany's past - before there even was a Germany - is never without controversy as some consider any reconstruction of an old palace backward-looking by taking the wrong role models for a modern Germany. And so finding a convincing combination of history and the present is key - with some interesting outcomes. 

One thing all the reconstructions have in common is a new purpose for the old palaces. As the monarchy in Germany was abolished 100 years ago, royal residences aren't needed anymore - and so there are very modern purposes behind the reconstructed facades: While the Braunschweiger Schloss (reconstructed 2005-2007) houses a museum, the city library, archives and other cultural institutions, it is also home to Brunswick's largest shopping centre. The Potsdamer Stadtschloss (2010-2014) is now home to the state parliament of Brandenburg and Schloss Herrenhausen's modern interior (2011-2013) is used as a conference centre and museum. The Berliner Stadtschloss (city palace) is currently being rebuild and will be home to the Humboldt Forum, a museum and congress complex scheduled to be opened in 2019.

While the rebuilding of royal residences is a more recent phenomenon, the 1980s and 1990s already saw the reconstruction of other historic buildings all over Germany. From the historic market squares of Frankfurt and Hildesheim to the Church of Our Lady in Dresden - almost every German town has reconstructed some of its historic buildings destroyed during or in the aftermaths of World War II. During the war, carpet-bombing by Allied forces leveled up to 80 percent of the historic centres of Germany's main cities. Because living space was needed badly after 1945, functional architecture was the preferred way of construction in the years after the war to give people a roof over their heads. It was also an easy way to free German inner-cities of historical ballast to pave the way for a new and democratic Germany. 

During the late 1970s tides changed and discussions about historical reconstructions started. During 1980s for example, the Knochenhauer Amtshaus, considered Germany's most beautiful half-timbered house, originally built in 1529 and destroyed during World War II, in the central German town of Hildesheim, was brought back replacing a cement building dating back to the 1960s. No matter if in the 80's, 90's, 2000' or 2010's - while there are always critical voices, the support by the local people for the reconstruction is usually far greater with millions and millions first Deutsche Mark and later Euros in donations. While its often said that the elderly are the main supporters of reconstruction to see the cities of their childhoods once more, support is actually strongest among the people below 30 according to surveys in Berlin and Frankfurt.

Maybe it's a sign for a more relaxed and reflected attitude towards German history? You cannot eradicate the past by vanishing buildings. They are part of history and history is part of us. There is no way forward without the past as well as the present. Finding a balance between the new and the old is what Germany and Germans have understandably struggled with for decades and maybe it is part of coming into our own. And while putting a shopping centre into a castle may not ultimately be the right balance creating some kind of Disney-esque townscape, the facade is at least nicer to look at and aesthetically more pleasing than most other German shopping monstrosities.

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