Date of Graduation
Bachelor of Architecture
At the end of World War II, Germany faced some of the greatest levels of destruction of any country in Europe, leaving their historic cities and iconic architecture in ruin. Across the country, some monuments were restored with the upmost attention to detail, while others were maintained in a state of rubble for decades. Following the 1949 division of the state into West Germany (a democratic republic) and East Germany (a socialist autocracy), most of the rebuilding took place against the backdrop of strong ideological differences. But the two new nations shared a centuries-long history, and, after rehabilitating basic infrastructure and housing, both were facing the questions of what they wanted their new cultural identity to be, and how existing buildings from a formerly united German architectural heritage fit into that vision.
High esteem for the Gothic style should have been part of their shared artistic patrimony. By the end of the thirteenth century, when the Gothic had migrated from France, the style was ubiquitous throughout Germany, reaching from Lübeck in the north to Freiburg in the south, and Cologne in the west to Magdeburg in the east. But, churches, particularly those designed in the Gothic style, became a source of great debate among post-war preservation officials, as their religious symbolism was viewed differently on either side of the inner German border. After the formal separation of West and East Germany, attitudes towards Gothic cathedrals diverged even more dramatically to the point that some were abandoned as empty shells or even dynamited into near oblivion. So why was it that some churches got repaired while others were left in ruin? Were they not, despite different theological foundations (i.e., Roman Catholic and Reformed churches), on the same level of cultural or at least spiritual significance as one another?
This thesis explores the motivation behind the varying levels of restoration, or lack there of, of Gothic churches in the post-war Germanys. The study begins with a theoretical, historical and ethnographic analysis of the state of preservation theory and aesthetic attitudes toward the Gothic in both the pre-war united Germany and the post-war divided Germanys. While comprehensive analysis of all Gothic restorations in Germany is beyond the scope of this research, a close and careful analysis of a select group of churches can yield fruitful and even surprising insights. This essay places special emphasis on two great churches, one in West Germany and the other in East Germany, namely, Cologne Cathedral and the Dresden Sophienkirche, as representative of underlying German attitudes towards restoration practices as a whole. Because their respective post-war fates are so strikingly opposite – full restoration for the Cologne Cathedral (a typical outcome in West Germany) and complete demolition for the Sophienkirche (sadly, not uncommon in East Germany) – the two buildings serve as symbols of clear distinction between the two new political ideologies that emerged in the mid-twentieth century. By balancing the focus of this study between East and West Germany, governmental action—or the lack thereof—highlights the role of political difference in post-war restoration decisions, especially considering the two nations came from the same pre-war theoretical and architectural background.
Gothic architecture, historic preservation, Germany, medieval cathedrals
Walton, Haley, "Restoring the Gothic: The Fate of Medieval Cathedrals in a Divided Germany, 1945 - Present" (2017). Architecture Undergraduate Honors Theses. 18.