Who left which mark for what reason on the Berlin Palace?

3 min read

Eagles, crowns, coats of arms, angels, inscriptions, a cross – on the historically accurate reconstruction of the baroque facade of the Berlin Palace, there are historical elements as well as symbols and verses that clearly have monarchic or religious connotations. Who left which mark for what reason on the Berlin Palace? And how do we, as a cosmopolitan venue for culture and science, debate and diversity, deal with these symbols of rule today?

In 2017, particularly the announcement that a cross will be installed on the cupola above the portal on the western side of the building triggered a passionate, controversial discussion about the multilayered meaning of the cross and the consequences with regard to the Humboldt Forum’s view of itself. Whilst some viewed the cross as a symbol of a European culture that was responsible for many wrongs, not only during colonial times, others saw it as a symbol of reconciliation. Theologists emphasised the veiled element of hope behind the cross; those who work in the cultural sector often focused on its restrictiveness in positioning terms.

We have collected all of these different perspectives in this dossier. We have not only recompiled and included the controversial press reports from 2017 but also added numerous new perspectives and extensive background information about the cross and further symbols on the outside and the inside of the Humboldt Forum. For example, in his contribution, Alfred Hagemann, who heads the Humboldt Forum’s “Site History” department, delves into the long gone past and examines the story behind the palace cupola’s creation. The initiator of the reconstruction, Wilhelm von Boddien, explains what the refashioned cross means to him, personally. The directors or curators from the Ethnologisches Museum (Ethnological Museum) and the Museum für Asiatische Kunst (Museum for Asian Art, Berlin), the Stadtmuseum Berlin Foundation and the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin reflect on the question of what reconstruction can generally signify for a contemporary presentation of collections, and General Director Hartmut Dorgerloh briefly outlines the position of the Humboldt Forum with regard to the absolutely necessary debate about the cross. Not least, we are inviting you, the readers, to contribute to the continuation of the discussion with a virtual forum.

The point is: a vertical line meets a horizontal one to form a cross, on the image level, but when such a cross is formed by roads, it is also a place where travellers from many different directions and positions converge. And that is precisely how the Humboldt Forum views itself.