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German House

Hermann Gustav Louis Ende, Wilhelm Böckmann

history of the theatresupplementtechnical dataHistoric equipment

Important events

(detail)1887 | architectural competition

(detail)1888 | construction

(detail)17.5.1891 | opening

(detail)1928 | architectural competition

(detail)40. 's 20. century | organization

(detail)1945 | fire

People

Wilhelm Böckmann |main architect
Friedrich Schachner |architect - participant of the competition
Čestmír Šlapeta |architect - participant of the competition
Lubomír Šlapeta |architect - participant of the competition
Erich Boltenstern |architect - participant of the competition
Emil Tranquillini |architect - participant of the competition
Heinrich Fanta |architect - participant of the competition
Max Haas |architect - participant of the competition
August Hartel |architect - participant of the competition
Skjold Neckelmann |architect - participant of the competition
Theophil Edvard Hansen |jury member, interior designer
Germano Wanderley |interior designer
Friedrich Wannieck |contractor

History

 

In the second half of the 19th century, the city of Brno was becoming an important industrial centre lying on the railway line between Prague and Vienna.  With economic development, also the townspeople and their social life prospered.  Both of its communities, as the Czech and as the German one, invested into satisfying their cultural needs.  The Czech community built the Community House already in 1873 and the emergence of the German House was also an answer to the constitution of the Czech one apart of the cultural needs.   Also the German bourgeoisie felt the need of having a representative place  where national feasts, manifestations, festivities and cultural events would take place apart of lectures, exhibitions, concerts and last but not least theatre.  First proposal appeared already in 1869 and then around the year 1872 when a joint-stock company was established.  But the German business circles didn't show sufficient interest and the further development was stopped by an economic crisis.  The history of successfully concluded effort started being written on 17th December of 1884 when the association Deutsches Haus was founded, in which significant personalities from the German community met together.  The driving force behind the emergence of this building was factory owner Friedrich Wannieck who also became the chairman of this association.  The construction was funded from public collections, of which yield reached 145 791 Guldens in April of 1886. The selected construction site was located on the ring road around the city centre in Brno that was full of representative buildings, a minor parallel to Viennese Ringstrasse, in the location of the present day park at the Moravské Square where city fortification used to stand before.   

 

An architectural competition was announced on 9th March of 1887 only for participants of German nationality.  There came 22 design, two of which extra of the competition and other four were disqualified.  The jury consisted of Friedrich Wannieck, Gustav von Schoeller, Carl Reissig, Rudolf M. Rohrer and famous architects Friedrich von Schmidt, Carl von Hasenauer, August Prokop and Theophil von Hansen. These were evaluating the provided projects between 25th and 25th September of 1887. The first prize in the architectural competition was won by the design "German" by architects Hermann  Ende (1829–1907) and Wilhelm  Böckmann  (1832–1902) from Berlin.  The second prize was bestowed to the design "Air and Light" by architect Germano Wanderley (1845–1904) from Brno.  The third prize was gained by Neo-Renaissance design „Deutsches Haus“ by Max Haas from Innsbruck, which was also bought, the fourth was won by the design „1870“  by Friedrich Schachner and the design "Freshly into the work" by architects Hartel and Neckelmann. The association expected the construction costs to amount from 400 000 up to 430 000 Guldens but it had just roughly half of it at its disposal.  The members of the association decided on 17th December of 1887 as well that the two first winning designs would be combined.  The one by Berlin atelier Ende & Böckmann would be used for exterior and spatial layout and the second one by architect Germano Wanderley formed in an eclectic synthesis of Neo-Baroque and Neo-Renaissance would be applied in the interior.

The construction permit was granted on 10th May of 1888.  After the sufficient amount of finance had been acquired, excavation works begun in the summer of 1888. The shell construction was finished before the end of 1889. The construction works were finished by the ceremonial opening during a three day feast between 17th and 19th May of 1891 that was launched by the association meeting.  In it, its statutes were changed and its new purpose became to take care of this centre of German culture life.  After, it followed with a laying of the final stone and a concert, the next day with a ball and the last day with a ceremonial dinner party.

 

The house was an separately standing building in the style of eclectic north Neo-Renaissance in the middle of a park with orchards and flowerbeds, built from red bricks, predominantly with a Neo-Baroque interior and other elements of historicizing styles.  It appearance was distinctively influenced by the House of the German Booksellers by architects Henrich Kayser and Karl von Grossheim that was built between 1886 and 1888. To many people, the impression from the whole building made reference to Pan-German ideas.  Rough cast red bricks and high Gothic gables were understood by those who created the building as a sign with a reference to the architecture of  Hanseatic towns that were a site of memory (lieux de memoire) that manifested the culture and power of the middle age German Empire.    

 

The entire building has a symmetric thirteen bay elevation that was 80 metres long with distinctive avant-corps topped with volute gables.  The access to the main entrance was shielded by a terrace supported by two outer pillars and two compounded columns forming three entries with semicircular segmental arches.  Behind the main entrance, there was a monumentally conceived vestibule with spacious cloakrooms on its sides.  It was embellished with bronze statues of Germanic kings and queens by sculptor Karl Wollek.   The vestibule ceiling with a cross vault decorated by rosettes was supported in the middle by four marble columns.  A monumental staircase lead of it being divided in the mezzanine into two opposite staircase flights leading into the first floor.   

 

On the left side from the vestibule in the left side wing, there were rooms of the German Association and German library and Mährischer Gewerbeverein, which also had its own entrance from the side of the building.  On the right side, there were rooms of the restaurant and café where another entrance in the side of the building led into a terrace with a massive sandstone balustrade.  Separate staircases led from both the side entrances into the first floor, into a corridor, which led into a foyer on both its sides.  The entire width of the central avant-corps was occupied in the first floor by a large ceremonial hall for up to 2 000 guests, being 35 metres long and 20 metres wide in its central part and 18 metres on its sides.  It was lit by two large windows and glass doors into the terrace of the central  avant-corps and two others on its sides.  There was a gallery along the entire length of the hall on the other side above the entrance from the staircase being interrupted by girders, dividing the space into three section that corresponded to distribution of volumes of avant-corps in the exterior. In its each section, a gilded metal chandelier was hanged in the middle of a wooden coffered ceiling.  The hall was equipped with the largest organ in Moravia.

 

On the left from it, the rest of the width of the main elevation was occupied by another ceremonial hall, on the right, there were three study rooms and an archive and in the right rear wing, other society rooms with an entrance to the terrace above the restaurant.  Electric lighting was installed in the ceremonial halls from two gas engines and two generators as one of the few in Brno of that time.   The rooms in the attics contained exhibition halls and other society rooms, cloakroom, offices etc.  There were cellars in the building as well where a kitchen and other rooms were located.

 

As much as functionality concerns, it was a society house, in which balls, concerts, lectures, political gathering and so forth took place.   It was a seat of national associations and political parties and hosted a library as well  (Mährischen Gewerbevereins, Vereins Deutsche Lesehalle, men society Schlaraffia). Further it contained a dinning room, two smaller halls, beer house, smoking room and other.  The lighting was partially electric and partially on gas.  The German House was conceived as a centre of German cultural life and it became immediately so.

 

The theatre history started taking place here from 1919. With the emergence of Czechoslovakia, a new balance of power formed in Brno between Czech and German nationalities.  A city theatre committee was established in the structures of the new municipal authorities, in which the Czech had the majority and which decided on 2nd December of  12. 1918 that the municipal theatre On the Walls (the present day Mahen Theatre) would be handed over to Czechs for next three years and then returned but that didn't happen either.  Because of that, the professional German company had to search for a substitute place of operation and it found it partially in the Grand Hall of the German House that was provisionally adapted for theatre operation in the summer of 1919. The newly adapted hall to the design by Karl Reinhardt could accommodate up to 760 spectators and the German opera found its seat here.  An association (Deutsche Theaterverein) was established in June of 1919 that took over the organization of the theatre life from the city and three years later, its subsection Deutsche Theaterbaugemeinde came into existence, which purpose was to deal with the construction of a new theatre building.

 

The provisional measure got prolonged and the German community tried to solve it with two architectural competitions.  The first one took place in 1928 and its assignment was to create design for two theatre venues for opera and drama in the form of an annexe to the German House.   47 designs were submitted into an international competition, however, the jury didn't award any first prize to any of them.  Two second prizes were divided between the project  „Klasis“ by Erich Boltenstern and the project II.  59 by Emil Tranquillini in cooperation with Heinrich Fanta.  Both the designs were awarded by 17 500 Crowns. The third prize was bestowed to the entry „Drei Klänge“ by Heinrich Kettner in cooperation with ing. Girgensohn. Other three projects were bought each for 5 000 Crowns.  The second competition was held in 1935 and its assignment reckoned with other location.  The outcome of both the competitions hasn't been realized because of prolonged bad economic situation of the association, which eventually ceased to exist in the spring of 1938.  After the Czechoslovakia was occupied by Nazi Germany, the German House stopped serving to theatre and became a place where  rallies of NSDAP and where Hitlerjundend gathered before their marches through the city.   The German theatre moved back into the present day Mahen Theatre.

 

After six-year-long occupation by Nazi Germany, the German house was burdened for Czechs by connotations of fear and suffering.  However, it was perceived as a representation of being German long time before and after all, it was the intent of its builders.  Before the First World War, a statute of Joseph II. by Antonín Břenek loomed over in front of the entrance into the German House.  Joseph II. was conceived by the German speaking community as a historic representation of being German similarly as John Hus played the same role on the Czech side.  It was a gathering point where collective festivities, often with references to history, were celebrated.  The interpretation of history in these representations of the past helped to constitute the features of the interpretation of the present. In 1919, a wave of destruction of the emperor's monuments swept over Bohemia by Czechs and it didn't avoid this statue.  This substitutive aggression aimed into the heart of the symbolic centre of the German community being aware of its genius loci.  It was also an expression of marking the power over a territory, its symbolic colonization where flags, statues or commemorative plaques play a substitutive role instead of power relations.

 

The centre of the city was bombed on 25 April of 1945 during operations of the Red Army, during which the building suffered considerable damage and started being in flames.  No one of the victors took care of fighting the fire in the symbolic centre of the defeated.  The ruins were subsequently torn down on 19th August of 1945, to which some German from Brno were forced to help before they were expelled out of the country.  So it met the same fate as its counterpart in Moravská Ostrava, for which it used to be a model.  A park is located today in its place.

 

 

 

Sources and literature: 

 

 

ZATLOUKAL, Pavel. Brněnská okružní třída. Brno: Památkový ústav v Brně, 1997. 175 s. ISBN 80-85032-60-0. s. 385–386.

 

WANIEK, Friedrich. Brünn, Deutsches Haus mit Anlagen, ein Werk Friedrich Wanieks. Brünn: D. L. L. V. Fw. L., 1937. [I] list.

 

DUFKOVÁ, E. a kolektiv: Putování múzy Thálie. Sto let stálého českého divadla v Brně 1884 – 1984. Státní divadlo, Brno 1984. s. 9

 

Das deutsche Haus in Brünn. Bollwerk des Deutschtums in der Brünner Sprachinsel. Zum 70. Jährigen Gedenken anlässlich der Eröffnung am 17., 18. und 19. Mai 1891

 

NAVRÁTILOVÁ, Šárka. Německý dům v Brně: stavba bez historické paměti. V Topolanech: [Š. Navrátilová], 2010, 68, [8] s., [13] l. obr. příl.

 

WESSELY, Katharina. Theater der Identität: das Brünner deutsche Theater der Zwischenkriegszeit. Bielefeld: Transcript, c2011, 296 s. Theater. ISBN 978-3-8376-1649-1.

 

BONDI, Gustav. Geschichte des Brünner deutschen Theaters 1600-1925. Brünn: Verlag des Deutschen Theatervereines, 1924. 226 s.

 

TRAUTENBERGER, Gustav. Festschrift zur Eröffnung des Deutschen Hauses in Brünn am 17., 18. und 19. Mai 1891

 

 

Author: Jan Purkert

Translator: Jan Purkert

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