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Kalte Asche Theater

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Important events

(detail)1754 | opening of the theatre

(detail)1782 | Barbara Wäser became manager of the theatre; rebuilding - project: Carl G. Langhans

(detail)1798 | modernisation; project: Leyssler

People

(detail)Carl Gottard Langhans |architect
Representatives of the early classicism in the architecture of Prussia. He studied law and mathematics at Halle. His most famous work is the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin.More theatres

(detail)(?) Leysser |architect, builder
Building Inspector - rebuilding Kalte Asche Theatre in 1789.

History

‘Schuh’s actors had been performing in rented rooms for about ten years before he decided to erect an independent theatre building. In order to do so, he acquired a plot at the corner of Oławska street and Piotra Skargi street (Ohlauerstrafie and Taschenstrafie). In 1754, he opened a theatre in a former potassium warehouse, commonly called Kalte Asche, located there. The theatre was private owned. After the death of Franz Schuch the elder, the activity was continued by a theatre troupe run by his son, Franz Schuch the younger. Unfortunately, not much can be said about the appearance of the building itself. (…)

Essential changes to the building, which seems to us enigmatic in a way, were introduced when Barbara Wäser assumed management of the theatre (1782). She was well-known in Wrocław, mainly from gossip and scandal,[1] though she showed an unusual initiative. Not only did she decide to manage a theatrical enterprise, she was also determined to erect a theatre corresponding more or less to the current standards. She gained support for her plans from the city council, who waived the payment of taxes for a period of three years for her and supported her enterprise financially into the bargain: they pledged to supply free bricks for the foundations, as well as the necessary wood. In addition, they resold the bricks from which the whole building was to be erected for a value one third lower than the official price.[2]

The implementation of the project, and supervision over the whole undertaking, was entrusted to Carl G. Langhans. The employment of such an eminent architect seems to demonstrate that the initiator's activities exceeded the implementation of a typical theatre building, and had all the features of personal engagement in the creation of an abode of the arts. (...)

This seems to have been a significant period in the process of forming private theatre in Wrocław, starting with Schuch the elder, and ending with the death of Barbara Wäser (16 November 1797). Shortly after her death, the Association of Theatre Friends (Gesellschaft von Theaterfreunden) was created at the initiative of several people; the members were 85 shareholders. (…) Finally, a royal decree from 22 February 1798 sanctioned the activity of the Wrocław shareholders.[3] That same year, the shareholders decided to carry out a modernisation of the building according to the designs of building inspector Leysser, a student of Carl Gottfried Geisler. This fact, juxtaposed with the high valuation of Langhans’s  work by contemporaries, seems to be a paradox, as it is hard to presume that the building required thorough repairs after just 15 years of being used. (…)’

The genesis of the architectural form

‘The theatre, which no longer exists, was built according to Carl G. Langhans’s design on the same plot where Schuch’s theatre had been erected and then knocked down. (…) The building was designed on the projection of an elongated rectangle. The longer elevation heading up Piotra Skargi street was the entrance façade. It seems that in this way the architect optimally used natural conditions to give the compound a representative character through the vastness of the façade. (…)

The location of the building influenced not only the arrangement of the interior, but also the way in which the façade was shaped. A very steep gable roof gave a monumental character to the one and a half-storey building (ground floor and mezzanino) with nine axes and with a flat five-axis projection in the central part. The rusticated façade was articulated with flat, rhythmically placed arcaded recesses, whose semicircles were drawn over the line of small, rectangular windows in the mezzanino. The projection included a kind of portico with monumental Tuscan columns, characteristic of Langhans the elder’s monumental works. (…) Two entrances were placed symmetrically and interacted with three semicircular recesses. (…)

The interior of the auditorium was as carefully elaborate as the façade. Thanks to the use of the projection, Langhans managed to slightly enlarge the main part of the building: the stage and the auditorium. (…) The ceremonial character of the interior was emphasised by the coffered ceiling, with roses in the coffers. The interior of the auditorium was homogenous in its character and was given a sense of dynamism by the bellied parapets of the boxes, as opposed to the static scenic frame, flanked by pairs of enormous columns. Between the columns there were statues sculpted by Peter Echtler, depicting the muses of tragedy and comedy.

Although there was not enough room in the theatre building to install a foyer and cloakrooms, and in spite of corridors and staircases being cramped and uncomfortable, the Kalte Asche Theatre gained considerable recognition from audiences from Wrocław and beyond. (…)’

Bożena Grzegorczyk, Architektura i budownictwo teatralne we Wrocławiu od około 1770 roku do schyłku XIX wieku [Theatre Architecture and Building Engineering in Wrocław from about 1770 to the End of the 19th Century], published by: Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Wrocławskiego, Wrocław 2000.



[1] K. Weber, Geschichte des Teaterwesens in Schlesien. Daten und Fakten – Von Anfängen bis zum Jahre 1944, Dortmund 1980, pp. 43  et seq.

[2] M. Schlesinger, Geschichte der Breslauer Theaters, Bd. 1, 1522-1841, Breslau 1898, p.70

[3] Ibidem, p. 87.

 

Literature:

  1. Hinrichs W. Th., Carl Gotthard Langhans. Ein schlesischer Baumeister 1733-1808, Strassburg 1909.
  2. Jagiełło-Wenzel M., 'Przewodnik po teatrach Wrocławia', [w:] Notatnik Teatralny 1993.
  3. Litteratur- und Theater-Zeitung, 1783, Bd. 6, p. 23.
  4. Matthes I., Der algemeinen Vereinigung gewidmet. Öffentlicher Teaterbau in Deutschland zwischen Aufklärung und Vormärz, Tübingen 1995.
  5. Schlesinger M., Geschichte der Breslauer Theaters, Bd. 1, 1522-1841, Breslau 1898, p.70.
  6. Weber K., Geschichte des Teaterwesens in Schlesien. Daten und Fakten – Von Anfängen bis zum Jahre 1944, Dortmund 1980, p. 43.
  7. Zielske H., Deutsche Teaterbauten bis zum Weltkrieg. Typologisch-historische Dokumentation einer Baugattung, Berlin 1971.

 

 

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