Despite its location in the very heart of the city – and even though it was designed by Berlin’s most celebrated architect, Karl Friedrich Schinkel – the Friedrichswerdersche Kirche, or Friedrichswerder Church, is often overlooked. The church, which houses the Prussian State Museums’ splendid collection of 19th century Berlin sculpture and just reopened last year, deserves more attention.
Completed in 1831, it was the city’s first representative building to be constructed out of exposed red brick since the middle ages. All across northern Germany, stone quarries are scarce, and so builders turned to red brick for important public buildings like churches. Even after the middle ages, red brick remained an important – and relatively cheap – building material. But the brick would be covered with plaster. Today, Berlin (and indeed all of northern Germany) is dotted with 19th century red brick churches and town halls. They’re evoking the middle ages, but – more immediately – they’re evoking Schinkel’s neo-Gothic church.
Schinkel had wanted to build in the neoclassical style, but the king insisted the church look “medieval.” Schinkel, however, managed to sneak in some acanthus leaves and Corinthian columns – although, thanks to the king’s notorious parsimony, ornament is scarce. The church was to serve both the local Lutheran community and the Calvinist descendants of the French Huguenots, who had fled France and been encouraged to settle in the area. Badly damaged in World War II, the church was restored in the 1980s and became a museum.
The star of the sculpture collection is perhaps Johann Gottfried Schadow’s Princesses Group, completed in 1795, depicting the Prussian crown princess Luise and her sister Friederike. Not at all royally aloof, the two princesses are characterized by their sisterly affection. Luise, who became an exceedingly popular queen, is shown wearing the neckerchief that, thanks to her, became all the fashion.
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