Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Hamburg Stadttheater 1900

The Hamburg Stadttheater in 1900.

The Stadttheater served as home of Hamburg Opera from 1827 until the building’s destruction in the 1943 air raids. (Hamburg Opera became Hamburg Staatsoper only in 1937, at the insistence of the National Socialist government in Berlin.)

The 1827 building was designed by Karl Friedrich Schinkel, but all evidence of Schinkel’s design was obliterated in 1873, when a new overlay was applied to the building’s exterior. The 1873 overlay was a grotesque attempt to make the building more “grand” and more in keeping with Hamburg’s status as Germany’s center of trade, a status the city acquired after the 1870 German unification. From 1870 until 1900, the city of Hamburg grew by leaps and bounds—its population swelled tenfold and its wealth multiplied many times over to the extent that Hamburg became one of the most important cities on the European continent—and the new exterior of the Stadttheater was intended to reflect the city’s mounting significance.

The 1873 overlay, part Neo-Classical and part Neo-Renaissance, was very much a horror—and the new features pasted onto the original façade were wrongly scaled to boot.

This was a building that deserved to be destroyed—and, after the war, Hamburg city fathers never contemplated rebuilding the original structure. This was so despite the fact that a reconstruction was very much possible: the exterior walls had remained standing, and only the auditorium and public promenades had been destroyed by bombs and fires (the stage and backstage and administrative areas had been saved from destruction by the iron fire curtain).

Josh has already written about the strange fate of the building during and after the war.

The Hamburg Staatsoper of today is only one-third post-war, something few persons realize. Two-thirds of the building is the 1827 structure, extensively modernized in 1926.

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