The harmonious balance of Berlin’s Gendarmenmarkt proffers a measured and architectural magnificence considered by many as unparalleled. Two stately domed twin structures, known as the French and German Doms, rise above the city center flanking either end of the square. The cupolas were erected in 1780-85 under the German architect Carl von Gontard, serving to complete two church buildings built some 80 years before. The original churches, one belonging to the Lutheran community and one to the Huguenots, were constructed subsequent to the Edict of Potsdam, offering religious freedom and civil rights. Between these two eloquent cathedrals, lies a concert house designed by the renowned Karl Friederich Schinkel, which masterfully serves as the counterweight to the two vaulted towers.
The square was originally conceived under King Frederich I of Prussia as part of a grander vision predicated on idealistic intent. Subjected to the vagaries of history and fortune it has often served purposes that have veered significantly from its founding premise. By the mid-1800s the square had played a role in a series of revolutions and the ensuing human losses from these were laid along the German Cathedral’s steps. In the 1930’s the Nazi regime used the massive quadrangle as parade grounds for propaganda rallies. The advent of the Second World War saw the square itself numbered among the casualties. Obliterated by bombings, it lay desecrated smoldering in ruin. At the war’s end and subsequent division of Berlin, Gendarmenmarkt fell under communist regime as part of East Germany. The beauty and import of the square was not lost even on that resource-challenged, centrally planned economy and a painstakingly accurate renovation was initiated. The concert hall was reopened in 1984 and the French Dom three years later. Among the final acts undertaken by the East German government on the eve of German Reunification, was ordering a rendition of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 which took place at the square. This symphony often interpreted as referencing brotherhood and equality, as a gateway to human salvation, offered a return to the symbolic foundations of the two domes.