This article is part of the feature „The Berlin Palace 2.0. Concrete and Baroque

Cool Jazz meets Prussian Baroque

9 min. read

von Sarah Elsing

An airy cool-jazz melody wafts over the softly undulating sandstone wing. Punctuated by the hard, metallic blows of sculptor Peik Wünsche. Wielding a mallet and chisel, he chips excess material from the stone, working to shape it in the rough outlines of the adjacent plaster template and then proceeding to model each feather in all of its fine detail.

 

Introduced as “the creator of the Borussia statue” by his supervisor, Master Mason Bertold Just, Peik Wünsche was one of the first sculptors to join the Schlossbauhütte set up in 2011 by the foundation Stiftung Humboldt Forum im Berliner Schloss in a vehicle-repair hangar that the Allied forces had for monument conservators, restorers, plaster molders, masons, and 24 freelance sculptors are hard at work reconstructing the ornamentation by Schlüter that once adorned the façade of the Berlin Palace. Prussian baroque from the year 1701—how in the world does one go about creating something like that today?

The wing that Wünsche is currently working is meant for the still armless body of a guardian spirit to be installed near Portal III. The structural engineers working on the project took a long time to figure out how this colossal building element could be stabilized. “Schlüter tended to build more on feel, after all, while his sculptors relied on their practical experience. That was an approach we had to work out for ourselves,” explains Master Mason Bertold Just. And this can sometimes be a balancing act.

For example, when stones that have weathered three centuries suddenly no longer conform to mandatory DIN industrial standards. As technology has advanced, this has also resulted in stricter structural-engineering requirements. “In spite of all of our modern standards, we still have to think in terms of the system of measurement used in Schlüter’s day, i.e. in units of 31.385 cm, the length of the Prussian foot.”

Central to the reconstruction are the decorative architectural and sculptural elements. To facilitate this work the Stiftung Humboldt Forum im Berliner Schloss, in the summer of 2011, set up a “mason’s lodge” in Spandau, taking over a former vehicle repair shop that formerly belonged to the Allies.

The process of meticulously recreating the various artifacts is not simple either. While black and white photos of Wünsche’s wing survive, their enlargements have a low resolution and dark areas that leave only blurred outlines visible. Enough at least to derive the rough proportions and an initial, miniature clay model, the bozzetto. This then serves as the basis for a life-size plaster model that the sculptor can transpose to the sandstone medium using the traditional “pointing” method.

But when it comes to chiseling the feathers, Wünsche proceeds much like Schlüter: by feel and experience. Although he already had some experience with the Prussian baroque when he first applied for the job, the 55-year-old has become more and more expert over the years. “This is an intensive process of learning by immersion,” he explains. The figure of Borussia alone took Wünsche a year to complete, while working in every kind of weather in his open-ended wooden shed on the compound of the Schlossbauhütte.

 

I’m fond of the baroque style. It’s more fun than classicism—more billowing, voluminous, you could say exuberant
Sculptor Peik Wünsche

His eyes sparkle as he quietly savors his own words. Peik Wünsche’s artistic taste clearly isn’t limited to cool jazz. During the breaks, he reads “Blues für Blondinen” (Blues for Blondes), a collection of articles and essays by Jörg Fauser. While sitting under a photo of Klaus Kinski as Julius Caesar.

Inside, in the luminous hall, we see the original figures with their black patina and chipped mouths, and realize how useful modern technology has been in some cases. Hidden behind jungle-like plant tendrils, we spot Berlin Palace’s “Liebknecht Portal” rendered as a hollow plastic model. The original, surviving portal currently installed in the Staatsratsgebäude (State Council building) has been scanned in 3D and recreated with a 3D printer. Meanwhile, at other locations, the stone blocks to be finished by the sculptors were pre-shaped by natural stone suppliers using computer-controlled robots.

 

In 2002 the German Bundestag passed a resolution in support of the reconstruction of the three baroque exterior façades and cupola of the Schlüterhof, which are integral parts of the Berlin Palace. The rebuilding of the palace façades aims to highlight the extraordinary artistic skills of the master builder Andreas Schlüter.

“Our version of the Liebknecht Portal is actually more original than the original itself,” Bertold Just explains with pride. He explains that when the construction foremen of the German Democratic Republic had the portal mounted in the Staatsratsgebäude back in 1963, they not only left out the Prussian Eagle, but actually rebuilt some of the details incorrectly. “Thanks to the bundled art-historical expertise at our disposal, the Humboldt Forum will definitely incorporate the historically documented version,” Just assures us.

For Peik Wünsche, one of the final highlights of his work at the Schlossbauhütte could well be shaping the Apollo or one of the other stone colossi. Together with sixteen additional carved deities, the Greek god of music originally looked down on the ornate courtyard known as the Schlüterhof. Now he sits in Spandau as a three-meter high plaster model, awaiting his final re-incarnation in stone.
Assuming Wünsche wins the bidding and award process for the Apollo, the god’s classical lyre may well take shape to the sounds of cool jazz.