Restoration and Conservation of Architecture in Berlin

Berlin is a city dominated by its history; something that David from Blair Gratton Architects found on a recent trip to Germany.


Conservation of historic architecture can be appropriated in different ways. A pragmatic decision is made, depending on the extent of restoration and the desired effect and character of the building in question.

The city was heavily damaged during the course of WWII, especially towards the climax of war in 1945, as the allied forces approached victory. A famous image denotes the Soviets holding high the flag of the USSR atop the ruin of the ‘Reichstag‘ (German Parliament) – symbolic of the city being taken back from the National Socialists – a building which felt the after effects of the bombing efforts on the city.

Berlin was divided as a city in 1945 following the conclusion of the war, separated into 4 areas; the Soviet Union occupied the ‘east’, with French, British and American areas to the ‘west’. The Berlin wall further defined this separation, erected in 1961. The architecture developed adjacent to this; east Berlin feeling its communist influence, whilst western Berlin developing alongside the western world. Eventually the wall was torn down in 1989, and Berlin unified.

Much was made of what to do with the damage to the architecture of the city. Amongst a huge variety of architecture, four monumental buildings – the ‘Reichstag‘, ‘Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church‘, ‘Berliner Dom‘ (Berlin Cathedral), and the ‘Church of Reconciliation‘ – present varying methods towards restoration and conservation.


The ‘Reichstag‘ is one of the cities most recognisable landmarks; a symbol of both wartime and modern Berlin. No attempt at a full restoration was made until the reunification of Germany in 1990, when the building was restored by Foster and Partners and re-opened as the home of the German Parliament in 1999. The glass dome is a signature piece – replacing the old dome – offering views over the city. A modern element added to a building of great historical significance. It still bears the mark of bullet shells.


The ‘Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church‘ is known as ‘der holhe Zahn‘ (the hollow tooth), for its unusual appearance. Originally built in the 1890’s, it was heavily damaged during a bombing raid in 1943. What is left is the damaged spire, which has been conserved and re-purposed as a memorial hall. The state of the damage has been left, as a symbol of the war. A separate modernist belfry and attached chapel were added in the early 1960’s by Egon Eiermann, continuing the use of the church. The church has links with the cathedrals of both Coventry and Dresden, as a symbol of both peace and conflict.


Built in 1893, the Neo-Classical ‘Berliner Dom‘ similarly suffered significant damage during bombing raids of 1944, as the dome collapsed inwards. A new dome was built to protect the structure, before a full restoration in 1975. The results are impressive, and give the appearance of a building which felt no effects of the war. The interior is lavish and gold. The organ is beautiful and large.

At the Berlin Wall Memorial sits a church with a fascinating story – the ‘Church of Reconciliation.‘ It was constructed in 1999 on the site of the former Gothic Revival church of the same name -originally constructed in 1894. The original church encountered difficulties with the building of the Berlin Wall – it lay on the Soviet sector whilst many of the parishioners were in the French sector. This meant the church stood right in the middle of the ‘no man’s land,’ a space between the Western wall and the Eastern wall. The congregation found it increasingly difficult to hold services there. Its location eventually prevented access to all except border guards, who used the tower as a guard tower. The church was demolished in 1985, but the layout of the original church is laid out in the landscape of the new church.

Berlin is well worth a visit, with its great range of architecture and history.

All photos taken by David except historical images of Reichstag and Brandenburger Tor – both from postcards purchased in Berlin.