The Opera - Year Zero and Postwar

The reconstruction

Following the fall of the Third Reich, 1945 was ‘Year Zero’ for Berlin, and so it was for the Staatsoper. The ancient Opera, renamed at that time as Deutsche Staatsoper Berlin, was one of the first historical buildings at the German capital secured against further decay and plunder, with Unter den Linden boulevard and an important part of Mitte district being assigned to the Soviet conquerors as a war trophy.

[Photo: still from film. CHRONOS Media.]

[This iconic view of the Oper den Linden, taken in June 1951 from the fence of the Humboldt Universität, where two cows graze in the grass. Notice at left the ancient statue of Wilhelm von Humboldt, made in 1883 by sculptor Reinhold Begas. It seems that the main entrance portico of the Neoclassical theatre survived barely intact to the Allies’ bombs.]

[Photo: Bundesarchiv /Bild 183-D0217-0002-007.]

An aerial view from a low flypast by an Allied airplane along the ruined Unter den Linden at the end of the war which allows us to see the burnt condition of the stage tower of the building (top left).
The auditorium burned out, but the altered spatial sequences, which had arisen under the abandonment of the old Apollo room, remained intact. Notice buildings without roof in the foreground.

[Photo: still from film. CHRONOS Media.]

A closer look taken seconds before from the same low flypast with Bebelplatz and the Staatsoper at left. Notice that King Friedrich’s statue has been covered to protect it from the destruction of war and air-bombings with a masonry shell (top centre). The main entrance of Humboldt University is seen at right.

[Photo: still from film. CHRONOS Media.]

[Year 1949: Destroyed north facade and eastern and western stage house of the Staatsoper after the Allied air bombing and Soviet assault. Notice shrapnel heavy damage on walls and at right the DDR East Germany slogan reading “Auf Sozialisten schließt die Reihen”, taken from the ‘Sozialistenmarsch’, a song written in 1892 for the Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands (SPD).]

[Photo: Tiedemann/ Landesdenkmalamt Berlin, Fotoarchiv.].

[Photo: Tiedemann/ Landesdenkmalamt Berlin, Fotoarchiv.].

Following a discussion by the new authorities of the city about conservation or demolition, reconstruction work at the Staatsoper started early after the end of the hostilities.

At the time, Soviet city commander Gen Nikolai Berzarin, the first town mayor of the Soviet occupying zone (as he was commander of Soviet 5th Shock Army -the first Stalin’s army to reached the eastern outskirts of Berlin on April 21, 1945) promised that a new grand Opera would be built elsewhere, so that the one at Unter den Linden could be restored to its original form.

[Commander of the conquered city, General Nikolai Berzarin talking with Trümmerfrauen clearing debris in May 1945.]

[Photo: MilitaryHistory.]

[The Oper den Linden just prior to the start of the restoration in June 1951, the destruction caused by the air bombing raids is evident.]

Photo: Deutsche Fotothek_0106342/SLUB.

[Photo by Illus Schmidtke / Bundesarchiv Bild 183-11116-0002.]

[Photo: Bundesarchiv Bild 183-11116-0001.]

[These are views of the works’ progress during 1951 taken from the adjacent Bebelplatz. The partly destroyed Dom can be seen behind in the first picture.]

[Photo: deutsche-digitale-bibliothek.de.]

[Photo:  : Staatsoper Unter den Linden.].

[The partly restored building of the Staatsoper with work on progress on the front facade.]

[Photo by Reich (E & O).]

In 1951, architect Richard Paulink (the son of a SPD official and also involved in the reconstruction of Dresden) was tasked with restoring the theatre to match the original 1742-version of the building. The beginning of the reconstruction of the Staatsoper started on June 12, 1952. The result was an unusually opulent building by socialist standards - they called it “socialist rococo”.

[As we can see in this image, the authorities of the newly born East Germany adorned the works with a pompous and patriotic act, knowing the potential power of the return of
such an important site in the musical world as was the
Unter den Linden Opernhaus.]

Photo: Stadtmuseum Berlin (SM 2017-10189).

During the close-down time (1945-1955), the Admiralpalast at Friedrichstraße hosted the Opera.

The newly rebuilt opera building was reopened in September 1955, with Wagner’s ‘Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg’, the same work that in 1942 did it after the first Allied bombing. Even Hitler would have enjoyed it.

[The new opera house was inaugurated in 1955 now in East Germany’s capital and renamed Deutsche Staatsoper Berlin.]

[Photo: DDR-postkarten-museum.]

Several reconstruction works were made during the DDR-period, including a total refurbishment in 1986-87 and one more after 1990 during the German reunification process, when it recovered again its name, Staatsoper Unter den Linden.

[The theatre under reconstructon work in June, 1986.]

[Photo: DDR-bildarchiv / Pressefoto 35737.]

Finally, during 2010-2017, when the original Opera building at Unter den Linden was closed to the public, while undergoing extensive renovations. Aside from occasional avant-garde performances in the construction site, the bulk of the season’s offerings over the reconstruction period have taken place at the Berliner Schillertheater (Bismarckstraße) in Charlottenburg, only a block away from its main competitor, the Deutsche Oper Berlin.

After 7 years of work, the reopening act was celebrated in December 2017, nearly celebrating its 275th birthday.

[The Opera building under the final renovation, this shot was taken in 2013.]

[Photo: Alexander Schippel.]

The current renovation included over 90 different companies attending to details such as the walls’ gilded ornamentation and the chandeliers, but work took much longer than expected and the renovation costs raised from an estimated 239 million euros to €400 million, half of which covered by federal funds.

[Photo: 2018 by the author.]

[Photo: 2018 by the author.]

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Source:

  • Aster, Misha. (2017). Staatsoper: Die bewegte Geschichte der Berliner Lindenoper im 20. Jahrhundert. Siedler Verlag.
  • Berlin: Staatsoper Unter den Linden. CARTHALIA - Theatres on Postcards. Andreas Praefcke’s postcard collection of theatres and concert halls worldwide
    <http://www.andreas-praefcke.de/carthalia/germany/berlin_staatsoper.htm>
  • Einhard, Luther. Oper in Berlin – Heiß umkämpft und stets unter Feuer. Pro Business. 2012.
  • Freydank, Ruth. Theater in Berlin: von den Anfängen bis 1945. Berlin. 1988.
  • Friedrich, Jörg. Der Brand: Deutschland im Bombenkrieg 1940-1945. Propylaen Verlag, Zweigniederlassung der Ullstein. 2002.
  • Kellerhoff Sven F. Berlin im Krieg: Eine Generation erinnert sich. BASTEIBBE. 2011.
  • Meffert, Erich. Das Haus der Staatsoper und seine neue Gestaltung. Dargebracht von der Generalintendanz der Preussischen Staatstheater. Generalintendanz der Preussischen Staatstheater. Leipzig, Max Beck Verlag. 1944.
  • Moorhouse, Roger. Berlin at war. Life and death in Hitler’s capital, 1939-45. Vintage Books, London. 2011.
  • SCHLOSSDEBATE. Wie wurde die Staatsoper in der DDR rekonstruiert? <http://schlossdebatte.de/?p=96>
  • Schmitz, Franz. Kleine Baugeschichte der Staatsoper Unter den Linden. STAATSOPER UNTER DEN LINDEN <https://www.staatsoper-berlin.de>
  • STAATSOPER UNTER DEN LINDEN <https://www.staatsoper-berlin.de>

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