The Humboldt Forum

December 17 2020 0comment

The Humboldt Forum

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Those of you following the latest architectural developments might have noticed the digital opening of Germany's newest project: the Humboldt Forum in Berlin. This is an ambitious and fascinating new building situated on the grounds of a historic royal palace, and while it has been delayed due to Covid and other factors, it shall no doubt turn out to be a beautiful new attraction for the capital city. In this week's article we shall discuss the background of the project and the details of its construction.

The Berlin Palace

The Humboldt Forum's construction site is already full of history. Before construction began, the site belonged to the historic Berlin Palace, the seat of the Prussian monarchy for hundreds of years until its abolition following Germany's loss in the First World War. The palace was then converted into a museum by the new Weimar Republic, but then fell into disuse when the Nazi Party took control of the nation. The Nazis did not find the Berlin Palace to be particularly interesting and considered it to be part of the country's reactionary monarchist history and mostly ignored it. During the Second World War, the Palace was unfortunately damaged in Allied bombing raids on Berlin, leading the post-war East German government to demolish it and build a new Palace of the Republic in a modernist style. In a further part of a long series of misfortunes for the building, the building was found to be contaminated with asbestos and was ultimately demolished after German reunification. The new Federal government of modern Germany recently decided to reconstruct the Berlin Palace, which they renamed the "Humboldtforum" after the Humboldt brothers, a pair of 18th-century German artists and philosophers.


The Forum itself is inspired by the Ancient Prussian Art Chamber, which was a part of the former Berlin Palace built in the mid-1500s. The Forum contains much historic German and international art which was brought to Germany either through its colonial empire or through trade, and incorporates the old Ethnological Museum of Berlin and Museum of Asian Art, both of which were created during the glory days of the German Empire in the early 20th century. The Humboldt Forum has been compared to the German equivalent of the British Museum as it contains a huge variety of cultural artifacts from all across the world, and is intended to be admission-free when it is properly opened to the public. Neil MacGregor, former director of the British Museum, is one of the Forum's founding directors, and he has been working with archaeologist Hermann Parzinger and art historian Horst Bredekamp, who together form the three-man directorate of the Forum.


Construction of the Forum turned out to be a difficult affair. To begin with, there was much debate over whether the Berlin Palace should be rebuilt at all, as it reminded many of Germany's imperial past and the wars associated with it. Secondly, many considered the East German Palace of the Republic to be equally as important as the Berlin Palace, and advocated that that be rebuilt instead. Some architects argued that rebuilding the interior of the palace would be impossible, as nobody has the plans for the interior and very few have the craft skill needed for such artifices. However, these arguments were all rejected on their own merits, and construction began in 2013 after much consideration and delay. The foundation stone was laid by the President of Germany himself, Joachim Gauck, beginning a construction project which ultimately cost 590 million euros. After much debate over whether the Humbolt Forum should reflect Germany's modern secularism or stay true to its authentic Christian past, a cross was installed atop the dome in May 2020. The domed roof of the Palace required much wind-resistant demarcation as otherwise work at height would be unsafe. The public opening of the Forum has at time of writing been delayed for the foreseeable future due to the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, but the Forum did host a digital opening ceremony for viewers to watch at home. Once travel and public spaces open up again, the Humboldt Forum will no doubt be worth a visit for appreciators of culture around the world.

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