The Bun­desrat Build­ing

Foto: Bundesrat building

© Bundesrat | Christian v. Steffelin

The history of the Bundesrat building in Berlin’s Leipziger Straße spans over a hundred years: it was completed in 1904 under the aegis of architect Friedrich Schulze-Kolbitz for the Preußisches Herrenhaus, the upper chamber of the Prussian parliament.

Bundesrat building

© Bundesrat

The three-wing ensemble was partially destroyed during the Second World War. In the post-war period, the building was used by various GDR institutions prior to German unification. Architects Schweger & Partner oversaw conversion work on the building from 1997 on to prepare the premises for the Bundesrat, which moved here in September 2000.

Interview with Peter Schweger, architect for the Bundesrat building (in German):

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Nowadays the building is a modern parliamentary seat and an architectonic highlight.

Outdoor areas and facades

Foto: Relief with figures on the Bundesrat building

Relief with figures on the Bundesrat building

© Bundesrat

Entering the Bundesrat grounds from Leipziger Straße, the striking central section of the building catches your eye at once. The imposing main portal boasts the monumental proportions typical of Neo-Classicism.

A weighty tympanum rests on six mighty pillars. Otto Lessing, a descendant of the poet Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, created the figures in the tympanum. A depiction of Borussia, symbol of the supreme executive power in Prussia, forms the central focus of the relief. Around her are figures that symbolise the various branches of the state administration in erstwhile Prussia.

Foto: View of the cour d’ honneur and the fountain

View of the cour d’ honneur and the fountain

© Bundesrat | Wilke

The cour d’honneur with its sumptuous gardens faces onto Leipziger Straße. It was remodelled to plans drawn up by landscape architect Prof. Gustav Lange as part of the conversion scheme before the Bundesrat moved into the building. He set particular store by maintaining elements of the original layout in his redesign.

Visitors are greeted by Japanese azaleas, framed by a pattern of box hedges; in summer, pink and blue hortensias are the main floral element. Magnolia trees and roses dotted about the garden break up the strict geometrical order. The highlight of the cour d’honneur is the sandstone fountain in front of the main portal. Its design is modelled on a fountain that graced this spot in the past.

Foto: A yew towards the rear of the garden

A yew towards the rear of the garden

© Bundesrat | Wilke

Prior to redevelopment, the courtyard had been neglected for decades. However the original layout of the paths and planted sections was rediscovered beneath the weeds and rubble. This made it possible to recreate the original path design. Even the mosaic pattern of small black and white stones on the footway parallel to Leipziger Straße was reconstructed with painstaking attention to detail.

A pair of yews in the southern section of the garden recall an interesting story: in 1851, when the building was to be converted for the purposes of the Preußisches Herrenhaus, Frederick William IV. in person insisted that the two ancient yews in the garden should be preserved. He had climbed those trees back in the days when he was Crown Prince.

The Prussian King’s wish was respected, even though this involved altering the building plans. Although the original trees have long vanished, yews planted where they once stood remind us of this anecdote.

Foyer and plenary chamber

Foto: Foyer and Plenary Chamber

Foyer and Plenary Chamber

© Bundesrat | Bräuer

After entering through the main portal, visitors come first of all to the imposing entrance hall, the opening act in a striking architectural sequence that concludes with the foyer and the plenary chamber. The walls, pillars and terrazzo mosaic floor in the foyer bear witness to the sumptuous ornamentation formerly found throughout the building.

Both the past and the present find expression in the foyer. In the three cloister vaults, with natural light entering through their central openings, visitors can admire original stucco ornamentation and remnants of the historical ceiling fresco. These were intentionally left fragmentary during renovation in 1997.

Foto: Foyer of the Bundesrat Building

Foyer of the Bundesrat Building

© Bundesrat | Bräuer

The idea underlying this stems from the architect’s desire to integrate these historical vestiges into the modern design for the foyer. The wall cladding in red and white stucco lustro has been preserved virtually intact. In conjunction with the contemporary seating and lighting, Rebecca Horn’s art installation offers intriguing contrasts with the various historical elements.

Foto: Plenary Chamber

Plenary Chamber

© Bundesrat

The plenary chamber, the very heart of the building, was almost entirely destroyed after the Second World War. Architects Schweger & Partner have created a light-hued room with modern fittings. The glass ceiling allows natural light to enter the space, giving the chamber an impressive sense of height.

Large glazed apertures in the walls link the plenary chamber with the adjacent areas. The smoked-oak parquetry flooring, the wall panelling in verneered birch and the modern interior design conjure up a calm, matter-of-fact mood.

The coats of arms of the 16 federal states feature on the wall above the Presidium’s seating area.

Art in the Bundesrat

In October 1997 the Bundesrat’s Art Advisory Council voted to hold a restricted competition to select artworks for the Bundesrat’s new premises. Ten famous international artists were invited to make proposals for particular sites in and around the building. The prize jury agreed that sculptures by Danish artist Per Kirkeby should be placed in the parapet area. They also gave the go-ahead for the foyer artwork by Berlin-based artist Rebecca Horn.

Foto: Per Kirkeby’s bronze sculptures

Per Kirkeby’s bronze sculptures

© Bundesrat | Wilke

Before the Second World War, classicist sculptures adorned the roof of the building on Leipziger Straße. The figures created by Otto Lessing, symbolising farming, the military, art, science and economics, formed an allegorical ensemble together with the tympanum relief.

A conscious decision was taken not to recreate the parapet sculptures destroyed in the war. This meant that the vacant slots on the roof offered scope for a new mode of artistic expression.

Per Kirkeby’s idea for the parapet area convinced the jury appraising the Bundesrat’s restricted competition – even although the artist had not submitted any models. Instead, Kirkeby explained in three letters to the Bundesrat that he was counting on the client’s confidence in his artistic skills. He proposed developing the figures in a dialogue with the users and the architect, a concept that appealed to the Art Advisory Council.

Kirkeby created eight abstract sculptures in bronze with a black patina coating. Set in an eye-catching position above the main façade, enlivening the roof area, six bronze blocks allude to human faces. Flanking the gable are two massive bronze panels, each weighing 2.5 tons. They evoke outlines of human figures and tree trunks.

Per Kirkeby believes that viewers looking at these abstract art works should find their own personal interpretations of the pieces. The sculptures, symbolising modernity, contrast with the historical architecture of the Bundesrat building.

Foto: "The Three Graces" by Rebecca Horn

"The Three Graces" by Rebecca Horn

© Bundesrat

Visitors entering the foyer encounter a graceful dance performance. "The Three Graces", an installation by German artist Rebecca Horn, breathes a sense of lightness and life into this space. Spear-like forms with a matt gold finish are suspended from three openings in the vaults, and calmly trace out circular pathways, triggered by motion sensors.

Like Kirkeby’s sculptures, this piece seeks to build a bridge between the past and the modern world through an interaction with the building, drawing the gaze up into the glass cupola. A mirror over the cupola opening and a corresponding mirror in the centre of the foyer floor bounce light back and forth in an infinite series of reflections.

Photo galleries of the Bundesrat building

Bundesrat building – views of the interior

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Bundesrat building – views of the exterior

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Glossary