Berliner Dom – Berlin’s Cathedral

This post is about the ways to visit the Berliner Dom (Berlin Cathedral).  Right next to the “Lustgarten”, the open space on the Museum Island you see this enormous church building with its green cupola, crowned by a gilded cross. This is the Berlin Cathedral or “Berliner Dom”. It is the largest church building in Berlin and one of the largest Protestant churches in Germany.

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Visit the Berliner Dom

The Dome is open to the public every day from 9 am through 8 pm. There is an admission fee of EUR 7.00, there are guided tours and you can rent an audio-guide.  Entry is free with the purchase of the Berlin Pass.

The Dome has a regular parish and services (in German) are free of charge. The Berlin Dome is also a venue for concerts and has its own choir and brass ensemble and, of course, the Sauer-Organ.

Visit their website for more information on visiting the Berlin Cathedral.

Berliner Dom+++The Berlin Dome is a short walk away from famous Berlin sights such as the TV tower, the Bebelplatz and the Gendarmenmarkt. You might also find our self-guided Berlin Mitte tour interesting.+++

An Example of Prussian Architecture

The Berlin Dome was constructed between 1894 and 1905, the high time of Historicism. This architectural style is also known as “Beaux Arts Style” in the United States. The buzzword here is “neo”. Architects of that time designed Neo-Gothic, Neo-Renaissance or Neo-Baroque buildings. In the case of the Berlin Dome, the architect Julius Raschdorff used the style of the Italian High Renaissance with some baroque elements. The huge cupola with its height of 225 feet (75 meters) and diameter of 100 feet (33 meters) makes you think of the Dome in Florence or even St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. And that’s the basic idea.

Rich interior

Enter the main space, the so-called “Sermon Church” (Predigtkirche) and you will be overwhelmed. Remember, it’s a Protestant church, but there is no such thing as iconoclasm. Corinthian columns and pilasters, marble, gilded ornaments and statues await the humble visitor. Raise your eyes to the cupola and you’ll see the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove with the sunlight shining through. The colorful mosaics in the cupola show Christ’s beatifications of the Sermon of the Mount. The church has the form of an octagon and on the eight columns, you’ll find eight statues, not of saints, but of the four most important reformers of the Protestant faith: Luther, Melanchton, Calvin and Zwingli and of four Prussian monarchs.

The Organ

The Organ is a so-called “Sauer-Organ”, created by the Sauer Company in Frankfurt/Oder. In Germany’s churches, you’ll always find the organs categorized by the names of the company or the artist that created them. The organ in the Dome has 7,269 pipes and 113 register on four manuals – again, one of the largest organs in the country. At the time of its dedication, the Sauer-Organ in the Dome was technically and artistically the most modern organ to be found.

The Sarcophagi and the Crypt

The Berlin Dome is also the burial place of the Hohenzollern dynasty. The house of the Hohenzollern ruled Prussia since the Middle Ages and the German Empire from 1871 through 1918. The most important kings and emperors though are not buried here but near their favorite castles in Berlin, Potsdam or in the Dutch exile (William II).  The burial place is older than the Dome itself: Already in 1848, King Frederick William IV of Prussia had the so-called “Campo Santo” (Italian for “Holy Field, an old word for cemetery) built next to the church that stood on the site of the contemporary Dome.

The Predecessor Dome

The Dome we know today is actually the 2nd Dome on this site. The predecessor building was baroque, commissioned by King Frederick II (“The Great”) of Prussia in the 1740s. Karl Friedrich Schinkel, one of the most important architects of Berlin, redesigned the building between 1816 and 1821 in the then fashionable neoclassical style.  After the founding of the German Empire, the Dome seemed too small for the new country, but it took over 20 years and Emperor William II to tear down the old Dome and build the new one.

Berlin domeThe Prussian Monarch as the Head of the Church

But why did all these kings and emperors decide about the dome, its size and architects? Why not the parish or the higher bodies of the Protestant church? Because the highest body of the Protestant church in Prussia was the monarch itself. This is a strange concept for Americans and can only be understood in the light of German (religious) history.

As the reformer Martin Luther would not have survived the persecution by the Catholic Church back in the 16th century without the Elector (=monarch) of Saxony hiding him in the Wartburg, the castle of Eisenach, there has been close relationship between the Protestant Church in Germany and the respective head of state. So, the Prussian monarch has always been the head of the Protestant Church in Prussia.  William II, the 3rd German emperor saw himself as the head of the German Protestant Church. That didn’t make much sense, as the Protestant church is not as centralized as the Roman Catholic Church , but why would an emperor care? More so, his wife Auguste Viktoria was the head of an association to promote the construction of Protestant churches in Germany.

Official Use Today

Neither the German chancellor (Angela Merkel is a reverend’s daughter), nor the German President (Joachim Gauck is a former Protestant pastor) claim to be the head of the Protestant Church in Germany today. But the Berlin Dome is used for official services, similar to the Washington National Cathedral, or Westminster Abbey in London.

Check out our self-guided Berlin Mitte East tour.

On our Berlin-in a day-Walking Tour we’ll stop by the Berlin Dome.

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