The Schlüterhof originally served as a parade yard for the presentation of ordnance. The courtyard is named after the sculptor and architect Andreas Schlüter, who participated in the construction of the Baroque Zeughaus and also contributed the "Masks" – heads of the giants above the arched windows. Between 1877 and 1880 a flight of stairs was added to the building and the courtyard was covered over by a roof. The latter addition – largely destroyed in the Second World War – was replaced by new roofing in 2003 according to plans by the architect I.M. Pei. Pei also designed the new special exhibition building, which is connected with the Schlüterhof by means of an underground passageway.
The masks by Andreas Schlüter
The famous 22 reliefs with the heads of dying giants that Andreas Schlüter (1659-1714) created for the courtyard of the Zeughaus survived the destruction of the Second World War. They can still be seen in their original location.
In classical mythology the race of giants – sons of the earth goddess Gaia from whom all gods descended – waged war against the gods in order to drive them from Olympus. With the help of Heracles, however, it was possible to withstand the onslaught of the giants, who hurled rocks and mountain peaks. The giants were beheaded – they were the last of the mortal gods. The victory of the Olympic gods was seen as the triumph of law and order over the elementary powers of Chaos. The motif of the giants was frequently used in art as a symbol of the "good sovereign".
It was originally planned to erect a large statue of the Elector Friedrich III (1657-1713) in the courtyard. The masks with the heads of the dying giants, representing the triumph of the sovereign against his adversaries, were to surround the statue and thus stand in direct reference to the Elector.
However, this never came to pass: in 1698 the statue was cast, but in 1701 it was already out of date, because it showed the sovereign as "victorious" Elector and not as King, to which Friedrich had been elevated in 1701.
While making the new plans for restructuring the Zeughaus and constructing the Exhibition Hall, it was decided to cover the Schlüterhof with a roof again. With his glass and steel structure the architect Pei reverted to the historical situation of the building, for a glass roof had already covered the Baroque courtyard from 1880 to 1945.
The Schlüterhof, measuring 40 x 40 metres, is not only a unique size for Berlin. For visitors to the museum it offers an ideal meeting point and extensive space in which to relax. From here one can reach the Exhibition Hall of I.M. Pei by way of an escalator leading to the basement floor.