Cast & Credits

The Kronprinzenpalais

The Kronprinzenpalais (Crown Prince Palace) close to the Spree on the fine boulevard Unter den Linden has seen the most varied history. In its present form it is a reconstruction of 1968-69 after it had burned down in the war and been cleared away later.

Originally built from 1663-69 as the private house of a court secretary, it was converted by Philipp Gerlach in 1733 as a town palace for Crown Prince Friedrich. It was then greatly altered by Heinrich Strack in 1856-57 for the later Emperor Friedrich III. Strack replaced the original mansard roof by a third storey and decorated the facade, which still has the original basic structure of colossal pilasters, a column portico and thick entablature, with classical ornaments.

In the East German era, the building was used to receive visiting foreign dignitaries as Indira Gandhi. The Kronenprinzen-Palais has also played a pivotal role in recent history: The German reunification agreement was signed here on 31st August 1990.

In 1919, the Kronenprinzen-Palais became the first museum of contemporary art in the world, and housed, from 1919 to 1937, the modern department of the Nationalgalerie (National Gallery).

Following the collapse of the German monarchy in 1918, Ludwig Justi, director of the Nationalgalerie since 1909, seized the chance to convert the Kronprinzenpalais into Germany’s first museum of contemporary art. Private rooms were gradually transformed into public rooms. Having become a branch of the Nationalgalerie on the Museum Island, Wilhelm II's birthplace provided now a home for the Nationalgaleries New Department and the Collection of Drawings.

LudwigJusti (right) on the balcony of the Kronprinzenpalais

Justi opened the Kronprinzenpalais on August 5, 1919 with French and German Impressionists on display on the middle floor; on the floor above the Expressionists could be seen for the first time. The north facing, wallpapered rooms, with their wooden floors and painted dados, were kept plain.

The french impressionists in the ground floor
Wilhelm Lehmbruck

When the Kronprinzenpalais opened, paintings by Lyonel Feininger, Franz Marc, Paul Signac, Oskar Kokoschka, and Ferdinand Hodler hung side by side in the vestibule. Prompted by the galleries with the works of Cezanne, Edvard Munch, and Vincent van Gogh that he had seen at the 1912 Sonderbund exhibition in Cologne, Justi did the same in Berlin, but not until the 1920s. Rooms were given over to the work of a single artist whose pictures were changed regularly.

Franz Marc

Complementing these artists' galleries, the Kronprinzenpalais was also the first museum to follow the guiding principle of bringing together the work of any one artist in temporary exhibitions of the highest standard and as comprehensively as possible. In each of these rooms, the artists' name was in big letters above their paintings.

Now and again, Justi showed sculpture in the artists' galleries, for instance Wilhelm Lehmbruck alongside Marc, Rudolf Belling alongside Feininger, and Philipp Harth alongside Ernst Ludwig Kirchner. In this "experimental gallery," rooms less frequently showed the work of artists' groups and trends from Expressionism to Neue Sachlichkeit.

Lovis Corinth
The room for Erich Heckel,
with the "Ostender Madonna"

Justi had a sound intuition for major works when buying new acquisitions that were severely limited in number because of his budget of only a few thousand Reichsmark each year. This is why he kept in close touch with collectors such as Bernhard Koehler in Berlin (Marc, Kandinsky) and Hermann Lange in Krefeld (Georges Braque, Juan Gris, Kirchner) whose best paintings he borrowed at regular intervals. With the help of his curators Walter Kaesbach, Ludwig Thormaehlen, Alfred Hentzen, Paul Ortwin Rave, Anni Paul-Pescatore, and Alois J. Schardt, the circle of artists shown to new and unconventional advantage in the Kronprinzenpalais grew steadily and in return they generously loaned work from their studios.

Justi's program of artists' rooms that focused on the work of one artist was accompanied by over fifty temporary exhibitions that were largely devoted to the work of contemporary artists. The series started in 1919 with a small exhibition of Otto Mueller's work and culminated in 1931 with a major Lyonel Feininger retrospective. The Association of the Friends of the Nationalgalerie (Verein der Freunde der Nationalgalerie) was formed in 1929 and above all had a positive influence on the acquisition of international, contemporary art.

Besides the Armory, the Kronprinzenpalais was the most visited museum in Berlin and became a model for other art galleries including the Museum of Modern Art in New York that Alfred H. Barr Jr. helped to found in 1929. The artists' galleries displaying the work of Erich Heckel, Marc, Nolde, Kirchner and Beckmann could still be seen in all their glory in the Kronprinzenpalais in July 1933. The monumental Beckmann gallery was the last one that Justi and his colleagues were able to dedicate to one artist. Despite his German National sympathies during the Weimar Republic, Justi's dedication to Modernism often came under heavy fire both from the conservative circle around Max Liebermann as well as left and right wing "parties."

After Adolf Hitler's rise to power, Justi was immediately suspended from his duties as director in March 1933 and was moved to the Kunstbibliothek (art library). The new director, Eberhard Hanfstaengl, tried to save the avant-garde collection by removing the offending Expressionist paintings from public display and putting them in storage. The toned down exhibition could still be seen up until the 1936 Olympics, but was closed for the time being on October 30, 1936 by arts and education minister Bernhard Rust. In 1937, Justi's new type of museum was destroyed in the "degenerate" art campaign in the course of which 148 paintings, 27 sculptures and 319 drawings were confiscated. On July 5, 1937, Modernism ceded its position in the Kronprinzenpalais to make way for the Academy of Arts. This marked the dissolution of the Nationalgaleries contemporary art collection. Having defied the Nazis' iconoclasm against so-called "degenerate" art, Hanfstaengl was dismissed. The expulsion of the avant-garde, the burning of artworks and war-time destruction followed.

View from the Schloßbrücke,
left the Kronprinzenpalais.
Destruction after the war.

The works by the precursors of modernism in the early 20th century then embarked on a fateful odyssey, with only a few of them returning after 1945 to the collection of the Nationalgalerie that itself was not reunited until 1990. Like hardly any other museum, the Nationalgalerie in Berlin became a museum that was looted by its own state authorities.

Justi's dream of being able to show the art of classical modernism within an architectural setting in keeping with the spirit of the age was not fulfilled until 1968 with the construction of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe's Neue Nationalgalerie at the Kulturforum at Potsdamer Platz. The new museum offered the Nationalgaleries collection a home for the creation of a new Kronprinzenpalais.

Courtesy Peter-Klaus Schuster (Director General of the State Museums of Berlin)

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