It is a symbol of East German architecture, and is as important to Dresden’s post-war history as the Palace of the Republic for East Berlin: in 1969, the Dresden Palace of Culture was opened in the heart of the historic centre, diagonally across from the ruins of the Frauenkirche. The building with a large glass facade stands out boldly in Neumarkt, at an angle from the original development of the Baroque quarter – which at that time existed only in the memories of the citizens of Dresden.
The location of the Kulturpalast is based on the multi-lane Wilsdruffer Straße, that is, on the axis separating the old city core and the reconstruction area, complexes in the style of Soviet sweets, behind which are the tall buildings of the Prager Straße Tower. The extent to which the architects were conscious of positioning the Kulturpalast as a monolithic platform in urban space can only be felt again now that the original street grid of Neumarkt has been largely restored. Around the reconstruction of the Frauenkirche, which opened ten years ago, new buildings with stuccoed theater facades were built, and the last free construction site is currently being developed next to the Kulturpalast.
From the very beginning it should have been a temple to the intellects of all, dedicated to the aesthetic education of the new man. In 1952, Walter Ulbricht proposed a “House of Socialist Culture”, and in 1959 a competition was held in which Leopold Weil’s design based on Bauhaus aesthetics won first prize. But the foundation stone was not laid until 1967, after long ideological debates. After two and a half years of construction under the direction of Wolfgang Hänsch, the house has opened its doors. With 2,415 seats, it was to remain the largest multifunctional hall in the GDR for seven years – until the Capital Palace was completed in 1976.
No expense was spared when furnishing the Dresden house; Granite, marble and fine ebony wood were used in the entrance hall. The foyer will continue to look like this when the opening ceremony of the new Kulturpalast takes place in the spring of 2017. Because unlike in Berlin, where decision-makers sacrificed the “Erich’s Lamp Shop” to rebuild the city palace, the tradition-loving Dresdeners of all times decided to keep their palace. As a teacher and witness to its eventful history.
At the same time that the decision was made to modernize the interior of the building, it was included in the list of monuments of the Free State of Saxony. Which means that the architectural structure remains true to the original, while the hall, which has always been an acoustic problem, is replaced by a new ballroom. With 1,800 seats, it is slightly smaller than its predecessor, but with intricate staggered surfaces and a vineyard-style seating arrangement based on the style of the Berlin Philharmonic, it aims to facilitate optimal sound distribution in the room.
In 2009, the global office of von Gerkan and Marg and Partners won the tender. While cultural prestige projects elsewhere are the talk of the town, mainly due to explosive costs and construction delays, Dresden residents can proudly declare that they are on the move so far in terms of time and money. Approximately €90 million is available for the three areas of activity, namely the auditorium built in the current building from above, the renovation of the foyer including the frieze of the “Our Socialist Life” wall in line with the conservation order, and the furnishing of the complex which in the future will also house the Central Library and Visitor Center Frauenkirche and its cabaret “Die Herkuleskeule”.
As in times of the GDR, the program of events should be diverse. However, the biggest beneficiary of the new hall would be the Dresden Philharmonic – an orchestra known to little outside of Saxony. This is also due to the fact that the public perception of the musical city of Dresden has always been dominated by Semperoper. Which in turn belongs to the Saxony State Orchestra as a House Orchestra, which can give 1548 year of birth.
On the other hand, the Philharmonie was only established in 1871 as a “commercial house chapel”, but it can boast some illustrious names. For example, Kurt Masur was the main conductor from 1967 to 1972. Among his successors are Jörg Peter Weigl (1986-1994), Marek Janowski (2000-2004) and Rafael Frobec de Burgos.
Since the 2011 season, one of the sons of the legendary Kurt Sanderling, who began his career as an orchestra musician, became lead cellist at the Leipzig Gewandhaus at the age of twenty and later also played in this position with the Radio Berlin Symphony Orchestra, she directed the Dresden Orchestra. Sanderling started just 16 years ago, and in 2006 took his first management position at Potsdam Chamber Academy.
Their longtime manager, Frauke Roth, has been the Dresden Philharmonic’s manager for a year now. In parallel with planning the first season in the new hall, she had to organize the orchestra’s shuttle movements between the seven alternate venues. From the theater and the German Hygiene Museum to the Frauenkirche, Kreuzkirche, Residenzschloss and Albrechtsberg Castle to the lobby in the Albertinum on the Brühlsche Terrasse, musicians are currently playing in every acoustically appropriate room even halfway to classical music. So the turn to Berlin on March 2 should seem like a real boon: they’ll then perform at Sharon’s Philharmonie with their conductor and blind pianist Nobuyuki Tsuji.