November 28: the great Great Theatre

2012/11/28 § 2 Comments

On this day in 1919 the Grosses Schauspielhaus opened in Berlin.

The utilitarian shell of the building was already there, and had served a number of purposes: a market, a circus.  It was then purchased by a theatre operator who hired German designer Hans Poelzig (1869-1936) to work up the theatre to accommodate some 3500 people in an appropriately contemporary setting.  Poelzig was a strange choice, indeed he is a weird architect: given to extremes, his work varied between the most drab manner of the New Objectivism (seriously: this is his A-Game) and the best of Expressionism.  The Grosses Schauspielhaus is certainly in the latter category, as you can see here and here.  (In fact, Poelzig maybe should have just stuck with theatrical works: another of his achievements was for a project even more divorced from reality, the sets for the 1920 movie The Golem.)

The theatre had a sadly short history: in 1933 it was taken over by the Nazis who dubbed it “degenerate” and masked its offensive elements from the good party members who came to shows.  After World War II it changed hands again, falling deeper into disrepair, finally demolished in 1988–an age that  you’d think would have greater value for trippy architecture.

Although now known only through black and white photographs, the theatre still suggests tremendous drama through its great scale, sublime cascade of rings that make up its cavernous dome, and all those little drippy stalactite elements that make it look as though the building is bearing down on the audience, rather than having a big roof held up by some sort of structural supports.  To top it off, it was all painted red and lights shone on the ceiling in stellar patterns, a constellation in the theatre’s crimson sky.  It must have been an amazing sight; one wonders if the stage presentations were able to live up to their surroundings.

Image: the interior (from this source)

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