Exhibition Room 8

An Unloved Capital?

A Window into Germany

The Spreebogen government district on the bend of the River Spree is the most important government location that Greater Berlin has ever had. It was the seat of the Reichstag parliament during the imperial era and became the centre of the Weimar Republic in the 1920s. It was also the planned site of the Great Hall, conceived by the Nazi leadership to be the largest building in Berlin and the centrepiece of the capital of the Reich. It became an outlying area in limbo when the city was divided, but is now home to a complex of government buildings, the state’s most visible presence in the capital. The Spreebogen district is the youngest of Berlin’s large government districts – much younger than the palace area and younger than the Wilhelmstrasse government quarter. It illustrates how the spatial focus of the state’s presence in Berlin has migrated westward.
Photo: Philipp Meuser, 2020

In 1920, Berlin had been Germany’s capital for less than half a century. Unlike London and Paris, Berlin was a far cry from being the undisputed centre of a large European country. The city was more like Rome and Moscow, a young capital with a mixed reputation. The Greater Berlin Act of 1920 did not include any provisions that clearly regulated its status as the capital of the young Weimar Republic. Nevertheless, the state as a whole has been instrumental in shaping the development of the city since then. Today, federal projects influence public debate and, increasingly, the image of the capital. The state has made the city, much to either the joy or annoyance of Berliners – and has done so for centuries. The difference now is that the capital has become very popular abroad and is seen as a cheerful and tolerant city in a country that is often underappreciated. Berlin has another anniversary coming up in 2021: 150 difficult years as the German capital.

A state’s global standing and economic performance largely depend on the beauty and the prestige of its capital. […] ­Germany and its importance in the world are judged on the impression that the imperial capital makes on other countries. […] Berlin does not view its tasks from a local perspective, but rather from the point of view of the whole of Germany.

Tourist advertising for Berlin (has) to reckon with the empire’s tense hostility towards Berlin. […] Berlin is like New York in the United States. People admire its rapid growth, but can’t quite come to love it yet. One of the main aims of Berlin tourism advertising is to dispel prejudices against the capital.

Gustav Böß,
mayor of Greater Berlin from 1921 to 1929
Berlin Today, Berlin 1929

Locations for Parliament
and Government

In 1920, the state’s presence in Berlin was centred in three locations that defined the city: Hohenzollern palace, which was actually a Prussian building; Wilhelmstrasse, a symbol of governance; and Königs­platz, the seat of the Reichstag and the German state’s most powerful building in Berlin. The palace was a masterpiece of architecture that had evolved over centuries, but by the late nineteenth century, it had long since lost its role as the sole centre of power. Wilhelmstrasse rose to become the official government headquarters of the new empire and became a synonym for the German government. When the General Staff building was built between 1867 and 1871, it became the ‘soul of the army’ and marked the beginning of government building moving into the Spreebogen area around the bend of the River Spree. Building in the area reached its peak with the construction of the Reichstag between 1884 and 1894, and this also marked the end of construction in the period.

The Spreebogen District

No other area of the city conveys the brutal history of the state’s presence in Berlin as vividly as the Spreebogen district. It has been the seat of republican, dictatorial, allied and now democratic rule in the city.

Otto Kohtz’s design for the Reichshaus building at Königsplatz in 1920. The monumental, pyramid-like, multi-storey office building was intended to provide space for Reich authorities.
AM TUB, no. 9063
The Federal Chancellery in 2019. Some Berliners refer to it as the ‘washing machine’. Moltkebrücke bridge is visible in the foreground.
Photo: Thomas Spier, apollovision
The River Spree in 2019. There is a popular city beach on the southern bank of the river, downriver from the Federal Chancellery, the Swiss Embassy and Paul Löbe House.
Photo: Thomas Spier, apollovision
The new Reichstag, seat of Germany’s federal parliament, pictured from the Marschallbrücke bridge in 2019.
Photo: Thomas Spier, apollovision


During the imperial era, many people began to notice a distinction emerge between a western ‘imperial side’ and an eastern ‘Prussian side’ of the Wilhelmstrasse government precinct. After the Second World War, the headquarters of the East German government was located here – in the state’s most important building.

The Federal Ministry of Finance, formerly the House of Ministries, pictured in 2019. The building’s eventful story continues: It has been the headquarters of the Federal Ministry of Finance since 1990 and was renamed Detlev Rohwedder House in 1992 in honour of the head of the Treuhandanstalt trust agency assassinated by the Red Army Faction (RAF). The Federal Ministry of Building considered demolishing the large building towards the end of 1992.
Photo: Thomas Spier, apollovision
The Federal Council building on Leipziger Strasse, near Wilhelmstrasse, pictured in 2019. Built in 1904, it served as the seat of the first chamber of the Prussian parliament until 1918 and was the headquarters of the Prussian State Council during the Weimar Republic. The building was assigned to the Ministry of Aviation during the Nazi era. The Federal Council moved in in 2000.
Photo: Thomas Spier, apollovision

Berlin Palace

Berlin Palace ceased to serve as a seat of power at the end of the war and the empire in 1918. It has primarily served as a museum since the 1920s. The ruins of the palace were demolished in 1950 during the German Democratic Republic (GDR) and a state forum was built in its place. The palace is currently being resurrected as the Humboldt Forum, which has proven to be extremely controversial.

The Ministry for Foreign Affairs of the German Democratic Republic was built according to plans designed by Josef Kaiser and others between 1964 and 1967. It was demolished in 1995 / 1996.
Photo: Jacob Stefane;Berlin State Archive, F Rep. 290 no. 377231
The Humboldt Forum in 2020. Scaffolding still surrounds the main entrance and cupola. The forum is set to open in stages beginning in September 2020, but it was announced in May 2020 that the opening would be postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Photo: Thomas Spier, apollovision
The Federal Foreign Office building, pictured here in 2020, was designed by Thomas Müller Ivan Reimann Architects and built between 1996 and 1999. The new building was built onto the front of the prominent old building, extending the former Reichsbank building, which was designed by Heinrich Wolff and built between 1934 and 1940. This early example of Nazi architecture became the seat of the Central Committee of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany in 1958, making it the centre of power of the East German state.
Photo: Thomas Spier, apollovision

Gifts for All: Cultural Buildings

The state built the capital both for itself and to enrich our culture in general. Among the gifts from the federal government are the new Building Academy, the Museum of Design for the Bauhaus Archive, the Monument to Freedom and Unity, the Humboldt Forum and, of course, the Museum of the Twentieth Century at the Kulturforum. These gifts have not always been welcomed and many are controversial, but all in all, they enrich the city.

Museumsinsel in 2020. The James Simon Gallery became the final component of the UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2018. The new building acts as a link between the five museums on the island. It was designed by David Chipperfield Architects, which was also responsible for restoring and renovating the New Museum.
Photo: Thomas Spier, apollovision
The Museum of Design for the Bauhaus Archive is planned to be completed in 2022. Staab Architekten won a competition in 2015 with a design composed of a striking tower, a series of underground museum and event rooms that connect the old and new buildings, and a sunken garden.
Staab Architekten
The reconstructed corner of the new Building Academy, pictured in January 2020. The academy suffered only minor damage during the Second World War, but was demolished in 1961 ⁄ 1962 for the benefit of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of the German Democratic Republic. The original building was designed by Karl Friedrich Schinkel and built between 1832 and 1836. It was a forerunner of the Technical University of Berlin. There has been a long debate about the design and use of a new building and as a result, it will be ‘as much Schinkel as possible’.
Photo: Thomas Spier, apollovision