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The Tiergarten district

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The Tiergarten district


View from the Landwehr Canal into Matthäikirchstrasse. In the background is the Church of St. Matthew. The Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) now stands on this part of the former Matthäikirchstrasse. © Bildarchiv Foto Marburg

The Tiergarten district, located west of Potsdamer Platz between the Tiergartenstrasse promenade and the Landwehr Canal, was incorporated into Berlin in 1841 as the “lower Friedrichsvorstadt”. The transformation of the Tiergarten into an English landscape garden from 1833-1840, the construction of St. Matthew’s Church from 1843-1846, and the construction of the Landwehr Canal from 1845-1850 set the framework and fixed points for the rapid structural development of the quiet suburb. In the further course of the 19th century, it became the preferred residence of upper-class bankers, industrialists, and merchants, as well as high officials, scholars, and artists. The small-scale parceling of the district and the given building line led to the predominant development of stately tenements with only a few apartments. In order to meet the demands of the noble clientele and to justify high rents, the detached tenements got rear gardens and were equipped with decorative forms of picturesque villa construction. During the German Empire, the district was called the “Geheimratsviertel” (Privy Councilor’s Quarter) and was considered the most prestigious residential area in Berlin. It remained so only for a few decades. With the beginning of the 20th century, the process of structural densification and functional transformation into a business, official and embassy district began. “Aryanizations” and expropriations under National Socialism and the bombing war put an abrupt end to the district. It became part of the memory of the lost old Berlin. Today, only St. Matthew’s Church and Villa Parey, which is integrated into the structure of the Gemäldegalerie (Old Master Paintings), still bear witness to the former buildings in the Tiergarten district.


The Kaiser-Platane stands somewhat forlornly on the hard shoulder of Potsdamer Strasse at the junction with Scharoun Strasse. It is said that it was planted around 1858 on the occasion of the wedding of the later Emperor Frederick III and his wife, the British Princess Victoria. At that time, the Tiergarten district was under construction and the newly laid Viktoriastrasse and Margaretenstrasse intersected at this spot. The imposing tree survived the bombing and the demolition of the district. It was to be cut down for the construction of the relief road, as it was standing in the way. After protests from the residents, it was spared. By 1923, it had already become a legend. “… when the path passes the old plane tree, the hurried step slows down. Then the tree nymph whispers so loudly, and suddenly the world of the day before yesterday and yesterday is there again. As if it had never died. As if the gruesome today was nothing more than a bad, dark dream.” (Margarete Caemmerer 1923)


The photograph from 1937 shows the villa designed by Friedrich Hitzig at Viktoriastrasse 9, corner Margaretenstrasse. The Kaiser-Platane can be seen in the crop at the right edge of the picture. Hitzig had already saved the tree from being cut down once before during the construction of the square in the late 1850s. © bpk


Friedrich Seidenstücker documents with this photo the condition around 1960. The Kaiser-Platane survived the bombing without damage. The two residential buildings still standing in the background were demolished around 1968. © bpk / Friedrich Seidenstücker


In this photo by Rolf Koehler from September 20, 1966, the construction progress at the Kulturforum becomes clear. The Philharmonie has been open for 3 years, the Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) is under construction. In the meantime, the Kaiser-Platane is enclosed by the two multi-lane carriageways of the new Potsdamer Strasse on the central reservation. © bpk / Rolf Koehler


After Potsdamer Strasse was relocated again at the end of the 1990s, the Kaiser-Platane now stands next to the roadway in the direction of Potsdamer Platz in front of the property of the Staatsbibliothek (State Library). The photo by Eberhard Schröter shows the condition in 2020. © Eberhard Schröter

Adolph Menzel

With a pencil and sketchbook, Adolph Menzel explored the emerging Tiergarten district in the 1840s. With a precise eye, he documented a world in the process of transformation. He was fascinated by the still untouched wilderness with its pastures in the floodplain of the old Schafgraben, where shortly after the Landwehr Canal was built. Menzel drew the railroad line to Potsdam, inaugurated in 1838, and the lonely St. Matthew’s Church under construction. From 1875 he lived a few meters behind it at Sigismundstrasse 3 in a “stately house with high rents.” The thrifty Menzel’s property owner was the merchant, collector, and patron Eduard Arnhold, who resided around the corner at Regentenstrasse 19. After Menzel’s death in 1905, the house was demolished and rebuilt in a modified form. In 1907 it received a plaque indicating the last residence of the honorary citizen of Berlin. It survived the hail of bombs, but not the subsequent demolition.


The drawing of a pasture at the Schafgraben by Adolph Menzel is dated October 23, 1844. © Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Kupferstichkabinett, Dietmar Katz


The drawing by Adolph Menzel from 1845 is a sketch for the painting “The Berlin-Potsdam Railway” in the National Gallery. © Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Kupferstichkabinett, Dietmar Katz


Adolph Menzel’s pencil drawing shows the Schafgraben in October 1843 on the level of the street at Carlsbad. The branch canal shown in the center of the picture had been constructed in 1820. It led to the property extending to Potsdamer Brücke, where there was a public swimming pool from 1821 to 1838. © Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Kupferstichkabinett, Dietmar Katz


The drawing by Adolph Menzel was created around 1844/45 and shows the church of St. Matthew under construction. It is still the only building in the emerging Tiergarten district and is surrounded by shrubs and trees. © Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Kupferstichkabinett, Dietmar Katz


The photograph was taken around 1895 and shows Adolph Menzel in his studio in the rear building at Sigismundstrasse 3. © bpk / Zander und Labisch


The watercolor painting by an unknown artist shows Adolph Menzel’s residence at Sigismundstrasse 3 around 1870 at the right edge of the picture. The atmospheric depiction gives a good impression of the dignified apartment buildings of the Gründerzeit in the Tiergarten district. Menzel moved in in 1875 and lived in this apartment until he died in 1905. © Courtesy of Kunsthandel Dr. Moeller, Hamburg


The photo from 1949 shows the memorial plaque for Adolph Menzel at the house at Sigismundstrasse 3. The bullet holes and impacts of shell splinters are clearly visible. © Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-S98819, Fotograf(in) Richter


The photograph by Willy Pragher was taken in July 1957 on the occasion of filming on Sigismundstrasse. It was probably filming for the movie Young Lions with Marlon Brando, scenes of which were shot in front of Villa Parey. The ruins of the house at Sigismundstrasse 3 have already been demolished and disappeared from the street scene. © Staatsarchiv Freiburg W 134 Nr. 048792 / Fotograf: Willy Pragher

The dream of Italy

Starting in 1837, architect Friedrich Hitzig (1811-1881) began a vigorous building activity in the emerging Tiergarten district. In 1856-1858, he founded a construction company with the banker C.S. Achard to lay out Viktoriastrasse. There he built a coordinated ensemble of detached manorial tenement houses with two or three apartments, for the facades of which he enriched the simple classicism in the succession of Schinkel with representative Renaissance forms. A descendant of Berlin’s upper middle class, he knew the wishes and possibilities of his clientele. As a successful project developer, he marketed in his buildings and publications the longing for Italy that had gripped the nobility and bourgeoisie alike. At the same time, he paid attention to costs, as he also targeted civil servants as tenants. His houses with their balconies, oriels, altans, gables and flat towers largely determined the appearance of the old Tiergarten district until 1933.


Sheet XII. from the publication “Residential Buildings of Viktoriastrasse in Berlin” by Friedrich Hitzig, published in third edition in Berlin by Ernst & Korn, 1864. © Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Kunstbibliothek, Dietmar Katz


Illustration from the publication “Residential Buildings of Viktoriastrasse in Berlin” by Friedrich Hitzig, published in third edition in Berlin by Ernst & Korn, 1864. © Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Kunstbibliothek, Dietmar Katz


Residential building on Viktoriastrasse in Berlin. Illustration from the publication “Residential Buildings of Viktoriastrasse in Berlin” by Friedrich Hitzig, published in third edition in Berlin by Ernst & Korn, 1864. © Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Kunstbibliothek, Dietmar Katz


Situation plan of Viktoriastrasse in Berlin. Sheet XVIII. from the publication “Residential Buildings of Viktoriastrasse in Berlin” by Friedrich Hitzig, published in third edition in Berlin by Ernst & Korn, 1864 © Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Kunstbibliothek, Dietmar Katz

James and Eduard Simon

The cousins James (1851-1932) and Dr. Eduard Simon (1864-1929) were second-generation owners of the textile trading company Gebr. Simon, which was one of the largest trading houses in the German Empire. They belonged to the so-called “Kaiserjuden”, a group of assimilated upper middle-class Jews living in the Tiergarten district, who had achieved great prosperity in the Empire and struggled for recognition by the majority society through social commitment and patronage. Their passion was art, which they demonstrated by displaying their collections in their villas. Both were advised by Wilhelm von Bode and donated large sums to the Royal Museums. James Simon also donated numerous important works, including the bust of Nefertiti, and he financed excavation campaigns. In the 1920s, Gebr. Simon fell into economic difficulties, which ultimately led to Eduard Simon’s suicide in his house in the Tiergarten district on August 3, 1929.


From 1886 to 1927, James Simon lived with his family in his father’s villa built by Carl Schwatlo at Tiergartenstrasse 15a, the “Via Sacra of Christian and Jewish wealth” (G. Tergit). The building was destroyed during the Second World War. Today, the State Representation of Baden-Wurttemberg stands on the property. A plaque commemorates James Simon. © bpk


Portrait of James Simon at his study desk in front of works from his collection. The 97.30 × 86.00 cm oil painting was painted by Willi Döring in 1901. It is now in the collection of the Gemäldegalerie (Old Master Paintings). © Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Gemäldegalerie / Volker-H. Schneider


In 1909 James Simon had the villa remodeled to accommodate his collection by Alfred Breslauer. A gallery (photo) was installed on the main floor and a skylight hall on the upper floor. The presentation had museum quality, as the comparison with the James Simon cabinet in the Gemäldegalerie (Old Master Paintings) shows (next photo). © Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Zentralarchiv


Installation of the Picture Gallery and the Sculpture Collection in the Kaiser-Friedrich-Museum, Room 39, James Simon Cabinet. Circa 1905-1910. © Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Zentralarchiv


Dr. Eduard Simon lived in the villa built for him by Alfred Messel at Viktoriastrasse 7 from 1904, and Simon’s needs for the presentation of his collection were taken into account in the planning. For room art works by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo and a Venetian mirror cabinet, the rooms intended were adapted to house them. © Bildarchiv Foto Marburg


The noble villas in the Tiergarten district had rear gardens. In the Villa Simon, access to the garden from the elevated first floor was realized via a generous staircase. © Bildarchiv Foto Marburg


In 1969, in a conversation with his grandson, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe recalled the two large stone snails that were located in the portal of the stable building of Villa Eduard Simon, built by Alfred Messel in 1902-1904. As a trained ornament drafter, Mies knew the difficulty of freehand drawing such large ornaments. © Bildarchiv Foto Marburg


On February 1, 1913, Wilhelm II visited Eduard Simon in his house on Viktoriastrasse. The emperor praised the study, which was furnished with top-class Renaissance art, with the words: “You live very comfortably, dear Simon. I like it better than your brother James’.” The collection was auctioned off after Simon’s suicide in October 1929. © Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Kunstbibliothek, Dietmar Katz

Villa Parey

In 1895, the publisher Paul Parey had a villa built at Sigismundstrasse 4a in the old German style with a front house, side wing, remise and coach house. The retro architecture by Heinrich Layser and Karl von Grossheim with 16th century style elements such as tracery parapets, reliefs, friezes, and windows with pilaster frames, documented the taste of the owner of the house, who became successful and wealthy with magazines such as “Wild und Hund”. Parey died at the age of 58 in 1900, and the villa retained his name and survived World War II, during the final stages of which it was damaged in street fighting. For many years after the war, it was one of the last inhabited houses in the former Tiergarten district. Through the tenacity of its tenant community, it was saved from demolition when it was to make way for the new Gemäldegalerie (Old Master Paintings) building. Today it serves as a reminder of the history of the Tiergarten district as a built-in spolia including bullet holes.


The photograph of Villa Parey was handed out to all participants in 1965 with the documents for participation in the competition for the new buildings of the State Museums. © Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Kunstbibliothek, Nachlass Hans Wolff-Grohmann, Dietmar Katz


The photograph by Dietmar Katz from 1998 shows Villa Parey integrated into the new building of the Gemäldegalerie (Old Master Paintings) by Heinz Hilmer and Christoph Sattler. © bpk / Dietmar Katz

The Kemperplatz competition

After the end of World War I, economic decline and inflation accelerated structural change in the Tiergarten district. It was no longer possible to find tenants for the stately large apartments. Government agencies, embassies and posh stores for fashion, art and antiques settled in. The conversion of residential space into commercial space caused the Tiergarten district to lose its character as a quiet residential district. By 1929, 35% of the houses were owned by tradesmen. In 1921, a competition was held to build an office and commercial building on Kemperplatz. Innovative architects, Peter Behrens, the Taut brothers, Hugo Häring and Erich Mendelsohn took part. Max Osborn commented very critically on the building project in his review of the results in the Vossische Zeitung: “Enough is enough! The destruction of the old Tiergarten district must not be pushed any further. An audible halt is absolutely necessary here.”


Competition design by Peter Behrens in the magazine Frühlicht 1922. © Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Kunstbibliothek, Dietmar Katz


Competition design by Erich Mendelsohn in 1921 in the Architecture Collection of the Art Library (HdZ EM 777). © Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Kunstbibliothek / Nachlass Erich Mendelsohn, Dietmar Katz


Café “Schottenhaml” with Roland fountain at Kemperplatz in Berlin after 1927. © bpk / Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Kunstbibliothek, Photothek Willy Römer / Willy Römer