From armoury to museum

18th century until 1945

In the 18th century the Zeughaus was the most important arms depot in Brandenburg-Prussia. Prussia had meanwhile developed into the greatest military power among the German states.

From the very beginning the building had a dual function. Besides its purpose as a storehouse for weapons it served as a place to present historical parade arms and trophies. The Latin dedication above the main portal formulates this impressively: "To recognize the military feats, to instil fear in the enemies, to protect friends and allies, Friedrich I, the noble and unvanquished King of the Prussians, has had this arsenal built from the ground up in the year 1706 in order to house all of the instruments as well as the spoils and trophies of war." The interior architecture, without being hindered by permanent installations, offered the ideal prerequisite for storing weapons effectively and showing them to their greatest advantage.

A decisive step on the way to a "museum in the arsenal" in the 1820s was the installation of an art and armour chamber as well as a weapons and model collection.

During the Napoleonic Wars of Liberation in 1813/15 a wealth of trophies came to the Zeughaus, thus reopening the question of the use the arsenal. In 1815 the architect Karl Friedrich Schinkel (1781-1841) developed various plans on how to present the collections, which, however, did not meet with approval. It was only until a few years later, at the suggestion of Prince Friedrich Wilhelm of Prussia (1795-1841), that the idea of turning the Zeughaus into a site for Prussian military fame was revived and finally realised.

An immediate result of the victory over France in 1871 was the founding of the German Empire. King Wilhelm I was named Kaiser of the confederation of German states. He put Georg Friedrich Hitzig (1811-1881) in charge of the reconstruction of the Zeughaus, which took from 1877 to 1880. Throughout his life Wilhelm felt more closely associated with the kingship of Prussia than with the title of German Emperor: the display of testimonia in the new "Pantheon of the Brandenburg-Prussian army" was supposed to pay tribute to the Prussian army and its history.

The most important architectonic changes were the installation of a roof covering the courtyard and an elaborately decorated dome hall on the upper floor. A curving, double flight of stairs led upwards from the inner courtyard.

With this reconstruction the original purpose of the Zeughaus as an armoury came to an end. Until it was largely destroyed in 1944/45, the Zeughaus had developed into one of the most important army museums in Europe.