A floral wall relief, two ice-cream cups from the milk bar, an illuminated guidance system and the glass ballot box used for voting in the first and only freely elected people’s chamber of east Germany – when they go on display in the Humboldt Forum, these objects and others will ensure East Germany’s most prestigious construction project will not be forgotten.
Over the last 800 years, the site of the Schlossplatz has witnessed more social, urban, political and cultural developments than virtually any other location in Berlin. This means the History of the Site is crucial to understanding the architecture and concept of the Humboldt Forum. Of key importance here is the Forum’s predecessor, the Palace of the Republic.
Many people still have vivid memories of the Palace of the Republic. The multifunctional building was completed in 1976 after only three years’ construction. Intended as a “house of the people”, it offered an attractive programme of events and culinary delights. More recently, public debate erupted in 2006 over whether it should be retained, its interim use for cultural purposes, and its demolition. From 2020 onwards, twelve key objects from the Palace of the Republic are to be be displayed in the Humboldt Forum. They are just part of a grand total of thirty-six Traces which in the future will recall historic events at the site.
The glass ballot box, which was used for voting in the first and only freely elected East German people’s chamber, symbolizes the transparency of political decisions following the peaceful revolution in autumn 1989. The political significance of the Palace of the Republic was such that the East German Ministry for State Security deemed it worthy of exceptional security precautions. A monitor from the former control centre as well as video recordings bear witness to the virtually comprehensive surveillance of visitors and staff inside and outside the building. The floral wall relief made for the Palace restaurant by the Meißen porcelain factory gives an impression of the opulent and magnificent décor. The commitment to quality is seen too in the design of the backlit guidance system, which lived up to contemporary design standards in every respect.
Works of art with very different contents and styles will provide an opportunity for discussing the significance of commissioned works of art in 1970s East Germany – for instance, a small section of Jo Jastram’s Lob des Kommunismus (In Praise of Communism), a bronze relief created for the foyer of the Volkskammer, will be on display in the Humboldt Forum, along with Wolfgang Mattheuer’s painting Guten Tag (Good Day) from the Palace gallery. A plate from the Palace restaurant, two ice-cream cups from the milk bar, and a collage of programmes, posters and film excerpts all refer to the fact that the general public viewed the Palace of the Republic above all as a venue for a wide range of culinary delights and an attractive programme of cultural events with stars from East and West. Finally, a photo of the peaceful revolution in autumn 1989 juxtaposed with an image of the March Revolution of 1848 and a photo of the November Revolution of 1918 emphasise that this place has for centuries been marked by people exercising and flaunting power, and has repeatedly offered a hotly disputed setting for political strife.
On 19 September 1990, staff protests concerning asbestos levels led to the Palace of the Republic being closed. Before clean-up work began in May 1998, large parts of the décor were salvaged and carefully documented. Since then, chairs from the Volkskammersaal (plenary hall), desks from the political parties’ offices, elements from the signage system, spherical lamps, pieces of carpet, coat stands, marble slabs from the main foyer, furniture from the youth club, and many other interior design items have been held in storage by the Institute for Federal Real Estate (BImA) in the Spandau district of Berlin.
The BImA has now transferred large parts of these holdings – a total of 750 objects – to the collection of the Stiftung Humboldt Forum im Berliner Schloss. Instead of spectacular and largely well-known objects such as the pictures from the Palace gallery, which are currently being looked after by the Deutsches Historisches Museum, these items are mainly pieces of furniture and décor, which nonethless exert a powerful effect at a symbolic or emotional level. This now means the Stiftung Humboldt Forum im Berliner Schloss has at its disposal a solid foundation of objects which – in addition to the twelve Traces –will be used for temporary exhibitions in the Humboldt Forum and encourage scholarly exploration of the history of the Palace of the Republic.