Sunday, 16 May 2010

What to see: The New Guard House (Neue Wache), Berlin

When King Friedrich Wilhelm III of Prussia in 1815 returned to his capital Berlin at the end of the Napoleonic Wars, planning began for a new guard house to be built towards the eastern end of the main street Unter den Linden.
The New Guard House was built in the years 1817-1818 by Karl Friedrich Schinkel, the most famous of Prussian architects. With this small building Schinkel, in the words of Gottfried Rieman, “developed his concept of an architecture of classicist magnificence, manifested, in the years to come, in all his major works”.
The guard house mixes a Roman castrum with a Greek temple, but was also conceived to be a monument to the Prussian victory over Napoléon. As such it was flanked by statues of some of the leading Prussian generals and a Victoria forms the centre point of the tympanum.
As the name implies, it was first used to house the guardsmen and thus it was there the changing of the guard took place in the days of the monarchy. Emperor Wilhelm I used to watch the ceremony from a window in Altes Palais, his mansion across the street, a habit which eventually became an obligation – Baedtker’s guide to Berlin stated that the Emperor could be seen in his window at that time and therefore he felt he could not disappoint the tourists.
Following the end of the monarchy, Heinrich Tressenow in 1931 turned Neue Wache into a memorial to soldiers killed in action. After WWII GDR made it a monument to the victims of fascism and militarism – the statues of the generals were accordingly removed.
Since 1993 Neue Wache is a memorial to all victims of war and tyranny. Under the oculus is Käthe Kollwitz’s sculpture “Mother with dead son”, inscribed “Den Opfern von Krieg und Gewaltherrschaft”.

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