Reichskanzlei

The Reich Chancellery (Reichskanzlei) was the name of the office of the Chancellor of Germany (then called Reichskanzler) in the period of the German Reich from 1878 to 1945.
The Chancellery’s seat, selected and prepared since 1875, was the former city palace of Prince Antoni Radziwiłł (1775–1833) on Wilhelmstraße in Berlin. Both the palace and a new Reich Chancellery building (completed in early 1939) were seriously damaged during World War II and subsequently demolished.

Today the office of the German chancellor is usually called Kanzleramt (Chancellor’s Office), or more formally Bundeskanzleramt (Federal Chancellor’s Office). The latter is also the name of the new seat of the Chancellor’s Office, completed in 2001.

Palais Radziwiłł

Palais Radziwiłł/Palais Schulenburg
For almost twenty years the Palais Radziwiłł/Palais Schulenburg played host to regular visits from well-known personalities, artists and academics.
These included such famous people as Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Frederic Chopin, Wilhelm, and Alexander von Humboldt, Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy and Karl Friedrich Schinkel. Indeed the “Salons” held by the Radziwiłłs was so popular that they became a symbol of “Polish Berlin”. Later too the Palais Radziwiłł was a meeting point for Polish politicians in the Prussian Parliament where they could exchange ideas and opinions on how to solve the long-standing question of what to do about Poland.

Built between 1738/39 by Carl Friedrich Richter
Palais Schulenburg 1739 – 1795
Palais Radziwiłł 1795 – 1871
Rebuilt 1827-1828 (according to plans by Karl Friedrich Schinkel)
Reich Chancellery 1871 – 1945
Rebuilt inside 1875-1878
Address: Wilhelmstraße 77 (present-day 93)

Palais Radziwiłł

On Thursday 17th March 1796 very few of the invited wedding guests could have guessed that the great love between a young bridal couple would not only bring two people closer together but also two nations. Furthermore, their joint house in Berlin was not only to become an international meeting point for major personalities from the worlds of art and society, but also the office of an Imperial German Chancellor.

 

It was the wedding of Anton Radziwiłł and Luise Friederike of Prussia. Tough bargaining was necessary in order to permit the wedding. The bridegroom was in no way socially equal to the bride. Luise was a Prussian princess and the daughter of the youngest brother of Friedrich the Great. Anton, by contrast, came from a respected and influential Polish aristocratic family, but he was a Pole and in addition still a Catholic. That the wedding took place nonetheless is, on the one hand, thanks to the stubborn and energetic princess; on the other hand, it could also be put down to Prussian political calculations. For the Prussian king, the wedding signified an indirect recognition of the Prussian annexation of parts of Poland. For Luise of Prussia, it was the fulfilment of her love.

After the wedding, the young Polish-Prussian family remained in Berlin. Only a year previously Anton Radziwiłł had ensured that they would move into a residence worthy of their status, a palace in the centre of Berlin at Wilhelmstraße 77, that from now on was to be known as the “Palais Radziwiłł“. The marriage was indeed harmonious and happy. Anton and Luise had four children. Both daughters were brought up in the evangelical faith; both sons were baptised and brought up as Roman Catholics.

Reichskanzlei 1945

The harmonious atmosphere in the Palace offered many opportunities for social life. For almost twenty years the Palais Radziwiłł played hosts to regular visits from well-known personalities, artists and academics.
These included such famous people as Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Frederic Chopin, Wilhelm, and Alexander von Humboldt, Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy and Karl Friedrich Schinkel. Indeed the “Salons” held by the Radziwiłłs was so popular that they became a symbol of “Polish Berlin”. Later too the Palais Radziwiłł was a meeting point for Polish politicians in the Prussian Parliament where they could exchange ideas and opinions on how to solve the long-standing question of what to do about Poland.

The Radziwiłł family lived in their palace for a further three generations until it became too small. In 1875 the residence was sold to the German Reich. From now on Wilhelmstrasse 77 would be the new home of the Reich Chancellor. It was not long before Otto von Bismarck moved into the freshly renovated rooms. The Chancellor of the German Reich was not exactly an open friend of Poland.
Even today it is not completely clear whether he was aware of the heavy symbolism of the address from which he now ruled, or whether he chose this address deliberately. Whatever the case the Palais Radziwill and the Radziwill family played a major role in promoting Prussian-Polish relationships in Berlin.

In 1933 the National Socialists moved into the Palace. The final destiny of the building was sealed by its last tenant, Adolf Hitler, who used the Palace as a private residence after the new Reich Chancellery was completed in Voßstrasse. When the Red Army marched into Berlin in 1945 the palace was so heavily damaged that it had to be demolished in 1949.


 

Old Reich Chancellery (Alten Reichskanzlei)

Alten Reichskanzlei

When the military alliance of the North German Confederation was reorganised as a federal state with effect from July 1, 1867, the office of a Federal Chancellor (Bundeskanzler) was implemented at Berlin and staffed with the Prussian Prime Minister Otto von Bismarck.
After the unification of Germany on January 18, 1871, by the accession of the South German states, Bismarck became Reich Chancellor of the new German Empire.

In 1869 the Prussian state government had acquired the Rococo city palace of late Prince Radziwiłł on Wilhelmstraße No. 77 (former “Palais Schulenburg”), which from 1875 was refurbished as the official building of the Chancellery. It was inaugurated with the meetings of the Berlin Congress in July 1878, followed by the Congo Conference in 1884.

In the days of the Weimar Republic, the Chancellery was significantly enlarged by the construction of a Modern southern annexe finished in 1930.
In 1932/33, while his nearby office on Wilhelmstraße No. 73 was renovated, the building also served as the residence of Reich President Paul von Hindenburg, where he appointed Adolf Hitler chancellor on 30 January 1933.
The Hitler Cabinet held a few meetings here. In 1935 the architects Paul Troost and Leonhard Gall redesigned the interior as Hitler’s domicile.
They also added a large reception hall/ballroom and conservatory, officially known as the Festsaal mit Wintergarten in the garden area.
The latter addition was unique because of the large cellar that led further one-and-a-half meters down to an air-raid shelter known as the Vorbunker.
Once completed in 1936, it was officially called the “Reich Chancellery Air-Raid Shelter” until 1943, with the construction to expand the bunker complex with the addition of the Führerbunker, located one level below. The two bunkers were connected by a stairway set at right angles which could be closed off from each other.
Devastated by air raids and the Battle of Berlin, the ruins of the Old Reich Chancellery were not cleared until 1950.


 

New Reich Chancellery (Neue Reichskanzlei)

Neue Reichskanzlei, Voßstraße

In late January 1938, Adolf Hitler officially assigned his favourite architect Albert Speer to build the New Reich Chancellery around the corner on Voßstraße, a western branch-off of Wilhelmstraße, requesting that the building be completed within a year.
The concept behind the building was the architectural display of power and glory of the Führer and the German Reich.

Hitler commented that Bismarck’s Old Chancellery was “fit for a soap company” but not suitable as headquarters of a Greater German Reich.
It nevertheless remained his official residence with its recently refurbished representation rooms on the ground floor and private rooms on the upper floor where Hitler lived in the so-called Führerwohnung (“Leader apartment”).
The Old and New Chancellery shared the large garden area with the underground Führerbunker, where Hitler committed suicide at the end of April 1945.

Speer claimed in his autobiography that he completed the task of clearing the site, designing, constructing, and furnishing the building in less than a year. In fact, preliminary planning and versions of the designs were already being worked on as early as 1935. To clear the space for the New Reich Chancellery, the buildings on the northern side of Voßstraße No. 2–10 had already been demolished in 1937.

Construction of the New Reich Chancellery

Hitler placed the entire northern side of the Voßstraße at Speer’s disposal assigning him the work of creating grand halls and salons which “will make an impression on people”. Speer was given a blank cheque — Hitler stated that the cost of the project was immaterial — and was instructed that the building is of solid construction and that it be finished by the following January in time for the next New Year diplomatic reception to be held in the new building.

Over 4,000 workers toiled in shifts, so the work could be accomplished round-the-clock. The immense construction was finished 48 hours ahead of schedule, and the project earned Speer a reputation as a good organiser, which, combined with Hitler’s fondness for Speer played a part in the architect becoming Armaments Minister and a director of forced labour during the war.
Speer recalls that the whole workforce — masons, carpenters, plumbers, etc. were invited to inspect the finished building. Hitler then addressed the workers in the Sportpalast. However, interior fittings were not finished until the early 1940s.

In the end, it cost over 90 million Reichsmarks (equivalent to 339 million 2009 €) and hosted the various ministries of the Reich.

In his memoirs, Speer described the impression of the Reichskanzlei on a visitor:

Floor Plan, click to enlarge

From Wilhelmsplatz an arriving diplomat drove through great gates into a court of honour. By way of an outside staircase, he first entered a medium-sized reception room from which double doors almost seventeen feet high opened into a large hall clad in mosaic.
He then ascended several steps, passed through a round room with domed ceiling, and saw before him a gallery 480 feet (150 m) long. Hitler was particularly impressed by my gallery because it was twice as long as the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles.

Hitler was delighted: “On the long walk from the entrance to the reception hall they’ll get a taste of the power and grandeur of the German Reich!” During the next several months he asked to see the plans again and again but interfered remarkably little in this building, even though it was designed for him personally. He let me work freely.

Reichskabinettssitzungsaal

The series of rooms comprising the approach to Hitler’s reception gallery were decorated with a rich variety of materials and colours and totalled 220 m (725 ft) in length. The gallery itself was 145 m (480 ft) long. Hitler’s own office was 400 square meters in size. From the outside, the chancellery had a stern, authoritarian appearance.
From the Wilhelmplatz, guests would enter the Chancellery through the Court of Honour (Ehrenhof). The building’s main entrance was flanked by two bronze statues by sculptor Arno Breker: “Wehrmacht” and “Partei” (“Armed Forces” and “Party”).
Hitler is said to have been greatly impressed by the building and was uncharacteristically free in his praise for Speer, lauding the architect as a “genius”. The chancellor’s great study was a particular favourite of the dictator.
The big marble-topped table served as an important part of the Nazi leader’s military headquarters, the study being used for military conferences from 1944 on. On the other hand, the Cabinet room was never used for its intended purpose.

Runder Saal

The New Reich Chancellery suffered severe damage during the Battle of Berlin between April to May 1945 (in comparison, the Old Reich Chancellery was not as badly destroyed). Andrei Gromyko, who would later become the Soviet foreign minister, visited the partially-destroyed grand structure a few weeks after the fighting in the city had completely ceased.
He recalls, “We reached it not without difficulties. Ruined edifices, formless heaps of metal and ferroconcrete encumbered the way.
To the very entrance of the Chancellery, the car could not approach. We had to reach it on foot…” He noted the New Reich Chancellery “…was almost destroyed… Only the walls remained, riddled by countless shrapnel, yawning by big shot-holes from shells. Ceilings survived only partly. Windows loomed black by emptiness.”

The last stage of defence by defending German troops took place inside the Reich Chancellery, as mentioned by Gromyko, who stated the following:

Doors, windows, and chandeliers testified on them the big imprint of the battle, most of them being broken. The lowest floors of the Reich Chancellery represented chaos. Obviously, the garrison of the Citadel fiercely resisted here… All around lie heaps of crossbeams and overhead covers, both metal and wood and huge pieces of ferroconcrete. On both sides of a narrow corridor, there were certain disposed of cells, all eroded by explosions… All this produced a grim and distressing impression. If photography of this underground citadel of Hitler existed, they would become a proper illustration to Dante’s Hell; just select which circle.

Speisesaal

After World War II in Europe ended, the remains in what was then East Berlin (the Soviet-occupied sector of a divided Berlin) were demolished by the order of the Soviet occupation forces. Parts of the building’s marble walls were rumoured to be used in the building of the Soviet war memorial located in Treptower Park (also in East Berlin then) or to renovate and repair the nearby war-damaged Mohrenstraße U-Bahn subway station.
Some of the so-called “red marble” (actually granite) obtained from the demolition of the New Reich Chancellery was also supposedly used in the construction of the Moscow Metro’s palatial-style subway stations after the war.
Also, it is alleged that a heater from one of Hitler’s rooms was placed in a Protestant hospital located not too far away from the Reich Chancellery.

While the western half of the premises were taken over by the East German government for the establishment of the so-called “Death-Strip” of the Berlin Wall in 1961 (when the barrier was being constructed), a Plattenbau apartment block, together with a kindergarten, was built on the eastern half (along Wilhelmstraße) during the 1980s.

Ehrenhof (Court of Honour)

Ehrenhof

The Ehrenhof (Court of Honour) was the or main courtyard of the New Reich Chancellery, this is where diplomats and other important guests would be received.
The whole Chancellery had an elongated and grand design to intimidate incoming diplomats.

There were two sculptures on either side, created by Arno Breker who was known as “Hitler’s Michelangelo” The two sculptures are called “Partei” and “Wehrmacht”.
The statue on the left, holding a torch in its hand, was “Die Partei” (The Party) and on the right, holding a sword, was “Die Wehrmacht” (The Armed Forces).
The statues were removed from the Ehrenhof due to heavy Allied bombing, they survived the war and are currently displayed at the Breker Museum in Germany.

Mosakaiksaal (Mosaic Hall)

Mosakaiksaal

Behind the Ehrenhof (Court of Honour), after a foyer, was the first reception room, the Mosakaiksaal (Mosaic Hall), a completely windowless hall, illuminated exclusively by a coffered and quadruple recessed skylight, the walls and floor were completely covered with Saalburg marble. The walls were adorned with mosaics by the artist Hermann Kaspar, representing paired eagles and various other motifs, some of them were allegorical.
The floor was covered with panels of Saalburg marble in the format of 1.80 x 1.80 m, which were framed by ornamental gold-grey mosaic bands. The Mosakaiksaal was used after the completion of the new building until 1945 for numerous events, such as speeches, meetings, honours and memorial services (the memorial service for Reinhard Heydrich) and was the most important event hall in the New Reich Chancellery.

Vorhalle (Long Hallway)

The Vorhalle (Long Hallway), was 146 meters long and 12 meters wide connecting the entire middle part of the building.  The windows were 9,5 meters high and look out over the Voßstrasse.

Runder Saal (Circular Hall)

The Runder Saal (Circular Hall) cleverly solved the problem of the “bend” necessary to align the main axis of the sequence of rooms with the Voßstraße. From the Runder Saal, which was also illuminated by a  circular, skylight, the juncture led on into the Marmorgalerie.

Marmorgalerie (Marble Gallery)

Marmorgalerie

The Marmorgalerie (Marble Gallery) served as a passageway and stretched across the entire middle section of the building. At 146 meters long, 12 meters wide and 9.50 meters high, this gallery was the largest room in the New Reich Chancellery and ended in the Great Reception Hall, which had not yet been completed at the opening of the building.

On the walls between the doors that led to the various rooms, large tapestries from various German museums and galleries hung as an interim solution. The planned tapestries of the painter Werner Peiner, each 5.40 meters high and 10 meters wide, which were to represent important battles of German history (including the Battle of Hungary on the Lechfeld and the Battle of Kunersdorf) were never completed due to the war and Germanys subsequent defeat in 1945. The pale walls were stucco marble, the large sconces were gilded bronze.

Halfway along Marble gallery, a door led into the office of Adolf Hitler (Arbeitszimmer). This door to the Chancellor’s study was six meters high and, like the rest of the gallery doors, made of mahogany wood.

Arbeitszimmer des Führers (Hitler’s Study/Office)

Arbeitszimmer des Führers

The Führers study was 27 meters long and nearly 15 meters wide. The room was almost ten meters high and was the centre of the Reich Chancellery. The walls were made of dark red, East Marble, the wall panels of dark brown ebony.

The floor was also marble, though was largely covered by a single very large carpet, the coffered ceiling was made of rosewood. 6-meter-high French windows led left to the porch on the garden side.

Opposite the desk hung a painting by Franz von Lenbach, depicting the founder of the German Empire, Otto von Bismarck. The Führer used the new Reich Chancellery for political, military and social purposes only. His official residence remained in the Old Reich Chancellery, which was connected to the new building by a connecting wing.

Other Rooms

Other important rooms in the New Reich Chancellery included the Reichskabinettssitzungsaal (Cabinet Room), where the Cabinet never actually held any meetings. It had wooden panelling on the walls and parquet floors to create particularly good acoustics. The Speisesaal (Dining Room), in the garden was a large greenhouse.

From 1943, the chancellery bunker was also constructed in the garden of the New Reich Chancellery. This bunker, which is also unofficially called the “Führerbunker”, is not identical to the bunker under the New Reich Chancellery though it is often confused with it. The latter was built as part of the construction of the New Reich Chancellery, the former only during the war.

Adolf Hitler planned to use the New Reich Chancellery for only a few years, the final official residence of the Führer was to be the of the Greater German Reich was the Führerpalais to be constructed on the Großen Platz, which was also designed by Albert Speer, though it was never started due to the outbreak of World War 2.

Schreitendes Pferd (Striding Horses)

Schreitendes Pferd (Striding Horses)

For several years, Thorak worked on the monumental sculpture ‘Bekrönung des Marzfeldes’. The two bronze horses (Schreitendes Pferd) from Bekrönung des Märzfeldes were finally placed in the garden-terrace of the Neue Reichskanzlei in Berlin, in front of the Arbeitzimmer (study) of Adolf Hitler.

After a series of Allied air raids over Berlin during November of 1943, the two life-size horses were transferred from the Neue Reichskanzlei to Arno Breker’s atelier in the City of Wriezen, 20 kilometres outside Berlin. After 1945 the Russians placed the two horses at a sportsfield of a military barrack in Eberswalde, East Germany.
On the sports field, they also placed two Arno Breker Sculptures (‘Künder’, GDK 1940, and ‘Berufung’) and two bronzes by Fritz Klimsch (‘Olympia’, GDK 1938, and ‘Galathea’, GDK 1939).
The sculpture Olympia stood, like the Thorak horses, originally in the garden of the New Reichschancellery.
Shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989 all the sculptures in Eberswalde disappeared. According to a Russian Press Officer at that time, the works had been taken away by an unidentified person.

The horses in 2015

On 20 May 2015, two of Thorak’s sculptures, a pair of colossal “striding horses” that had once stood outside the Reich Chancellery built by Albert Speer in Berlin, turned up during a police raid on a storehouse in Bad Dürkheim, along with other Nazi art.

The Third Thorak Horse was Displayed in 1939 in room 2, the “Skulpturensaal” of the Haus der Deutschen Kunst in Munich. In August 2015, this sculpture was rediscovered at the schoolyard of the boarding school “Landschulheim Schloss Ising” in Ising on Chiemsee, Bavaria. In 1961, Thorak’s widow used the sculpture to pay tuition fees for her son’s education at the school.

Reception and significance in the National Socialist state

As the “First House of the Greater German Reich,” the New Reich Chancellery was of paramount importance in the international image of the National Socialist state, as evidenced by the massive use of the building in the propaganda of the time.
Thus, the New Reich Chancellery was shown not only in the Nazi cultural film “The Word of Stone”, but appeared in bookstores magnificent volumes on the building in which the building was described in detail and explained. Even in the newsreels, the building was shown as often as possible, so that after a short time it became a symbol of National Socialist Germany – a role that was eventually to seal the fate of the building.

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