Located on Museum Island in the Mitte district and constructed between 1894 and 1905 by order German Emperor William II, the Berlin Cathedral or Berliner Dom is the largest and most important Protestant church in the city as well as the crypt of the Prussian Hohenzollern dynasty. While its magnificent dome is one of the main landmarks in Berlin’s cityscape, its interior is equally attractive with elaborate decorations and ornamental designs. However, although the word ‘cathedral’ is attached to its name, it is actually a parish church that serves the Protestant community in Berlin and the surrounding areas.
The history of the Berlin Cathedral dates back to 1451 when it started as a Catholic Chapel and was a part of the newly erected City Palace of Prince-Elector Frederick II Iron tooth of Brandenburg, located in Colin, the twin city of Old Berlin from the 13th century to the 18th century. After having returned from his pilgrimage from Jerusalem in 1454, he elevated the chapel to a parish church, endowing it with relics and altars.
Later, after Colin was united with Berlin with effect from the 1st day of January 1710 under the latter name, the Supreme Parish Church was completely demolished in 1747, to make space for the baroque extension of Berlin Palace. Covering a space in the north of the palace and built by Johann Bouman the Elder, the new baroque Calvinist Supreme Parish Church was inaugurated on 6 September 1750, and the electoral tombs were transferred to the new building. Between 1820 and 1822 the Bouman’s church was remodeled in the neoclassical style by Prussia’s leading architect Karl Friedrich Schinkel.
However, by the time Friedrich Wilhelm II came to the throne as Emperor of Germany in 1888, tastes had changed, and several designs had been submitted for a new church, though none had been accepted. Finally, after demolishing the old building in 1893, the foundation stone for the new church was laid in 1894. Constructed between 1894 and 1905, the new church was consecrated on 27 May 1905. Designed by the German architect Julius Carl Raschdorff, the 374 feet (114 m) long, 240 feet wide (73 m) and 381 feet (116 m) tall massive building of the new church was much larger than any of the previous buildings and was considered a Protestant counterweight to St Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City and Saint Paul’s Cathedral in London.
Inspired by the Italian High Renaissance and the more florid baroque style, the Berlin Cathedral is dominated by a monumental dome crowned by a lantern with a golden cross and flanked by four towers. With its height of 225 feet (75 m) and a diameter of 100 feet (33 m), the magnificent dome is one of the iconic landmarks in the cityscape of Berlin and marks the spot of the impressive basilica housing the city’s most prestigious Protestant church.
However, enriched with tall Corinthian columns and pilasters, marble, and gilded ornaments, along with the smooth and lifelike statues, the interior of the church is no less attractive. While the inside of the cupola is adorned with the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove with the sunlight shining through, the colourful mosaics in the cupola meticulously portrayed Christ’s beatification of the Sermon of the Mount.
Among the eight statues, four represent the most important reformers of the Protestant faith: Luther, Melanchthon, Calvin, and Zwingli. The other four are of the Prussian monarchs. Apart from the beautiful marble and onyx altar, designed by Friedrich August Stuller, another notable work of art is the white marble baptismal font, created by Christian Daniel Rauch.
The Sauer-Organ in the Dome, built by Wilhelm Sauer with 7,269 pipes and 113 registers on four manuals, is one of the largest organs in the country and was fully restored during reconstruction.
The Berlin Dome is also the burial place of the Hohenzollern dynasty that ruled Prussia since the middle ages and the German Empire from 1871 through 1918. It is the most important dynastic sepulcher in Germany, containing nearly 100 sarcophagi and burial monuments from five centuries. Carved by Andreas Schluter, the sarcophagi for Friedrich I and Queen Sophie Charlotte, located under the galleries in the upper church room, are simply masterpieces of baroque sculpture.
The Berlin Cathedral was damaged during World War II. In 1940, many windows just blew away by the blast waves of Allied bombing. Later, on 24 May 1944, a bomb of combustible liquids entered the roof lantern of the dome, and the lantern burnt out, collapsing on the main floor.
After the end of the Great War, when Berlin was under communist rule, lack of proper maintenance and timely restoration of the over-one-hundred-year-old building gradually started disintegrating and crumbling everywhere. But the superficial work of restoration of the church, which began in 1975, was of little help. Finally, the full restoration was completed in 1993, four years after the fall of the Berlin Wall. After that, a new golden cross replaced the dome cross, as it needed renovation, which was later rehabilitated on one of the cemeteries of the cathedral cemeteries.