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The 300-year-old Zeughaus is the most important extant Baroque building in Berlin and the oldest building on Unter den Linden. Four architects were responsible for developing the Zeughaus from 1695 until its final utilisation in 1729: Johann Arnold Nering (1659-1695), Martin Grünberg (1655-1706), Andreas Schlüter (1659-1714) and Jean de Bodt (1670-1745). The Zeughaus owes it special place in art history not least of all to the outstanding quality of its sculptural works. The most famous ones are the 22 keystones that Andreas Schlüter created as masks of the giants for the inner courtyard.

The exhibition hall of I.M. Pei, called Pei building can be reached by passing through the inner courtyard. Transparency, light and movement are the architectonic programme of this urban masterpiece with its impressive perspectives and spatial interconnections. By constructing sight lines from one building to the other, I.M. Pei has created an architectonic correspondence between past and present.

The Zeughaus

The foundation stone of the Zeughaus was laid in 1695 under the aegis of Elector Friedrich III. From 1730 the building served as an arsenal. After the German Empire was founded in 1871, the house was rebuilt as the Pantheon of the Brandenburg-Prussian Army. Used by the National Socialists as the Army Museum, the edifice was severely damaged by bombs in the last months of World War II. It reopened in 1952 as the Museum für Deutsche Geschichte of the German Democratic Republic. In 1990, after the Peaceful Revolution, the Deutsches Historisches Museum moved into the eminent Baroque structure, which has survived as the oldest building on the boulevard Unter den Linden.

Building history

The Berlin Zeughaus is one of the most important Baroque buildings in northern Germany. Johann Arnold Nering (1659–1695) created the original design, which was further developed by the architects Martin Grünberg (1655–1706), Andreas Schlüter (1659–1714) and Jean de Bodt (1670–1745).

The building was already greatly admired in the 18th century. In his description of Berlin from 1786 Friedrich Nicolai (1733–1811), the Berlin writer of the Enlightenment, claimed that the Zeughaus was among the "most beautiful buildings in Europe".

Elector Friedrich Wilhelm of Brandenburg (1620–1688), the Great Elector, planned to build an armoury in Berlin, the capital city. In addition to its functional uses it was to stand out as a building of representative quality.

His son, Elector Friedrich III (1657–1713), was able to realise his father’s idea: on 28 May 1695 he laid the foundation stone for the arsenal. The building was designed to demonstrate the aspiring electorate’s claim to sovereignty. In 1701 Friedrich succeeded in having himself crowned "King in Prussia". As King Friedrich I in Prussia, he achieved a major step forward in the political advancement of his state.

Zeughaushof – The central courtyard of the Zeughaus

The Zeughaushof originally served as a parade yard for the presentation of ordnance. The sculptor and architect Andreas Schlüter 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 Zeughaushof 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.

Reconstruction

While making the new plans for restructuring the Zeughaus and constructing the Pei building, it was decided to cover the Zeughaushof 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 Zeughaushof, 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.

The Pei building

Ieoh Ming Pei (1917–2019) is one of the foremost contemporary architects. As a student of Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer, he took over the austere objectivity of the Bauhaus architecture in his works, while further developing it in his own aesthetic style. His museum buildings in particular have achieved world renown, including the pyramid and the new entranceway to the Louvre in Paris.  

The Pei building for the German Historical Museum was opened in 2003 and is Pei’s first work in Germany. Transparency, light and movement are the architectonic programme for this building. A building-high, glassed-in foyer unites the triangular structure architectonically with the Zeughaus.  

Designed to house temporary exhibitions, the building has four different levels and is connected with the Zeughaus by an underground passageway. The levels offer visitors new and surprising views. Sight lines provide an architectonic correspondence between past and present.

An illuminated attraction when it’s dark, by day the glass wall reflects the historical façades of the surrounding buildings and reveals a view of the visitors as they make their way through the house.