German Pavilion

GERMAN PAVILION 1909, 1938–39




Imbued with a message from the past, the historic monuments of generations of people remain to the present day as living witnesses of their age-old traditions … It is essential that the principles guiding the preservation and restoration of ancient buildings should be agreed and be laid down on an international basis, with each country being responsible for applying the plan within the framework of its own culture and traditions.

International Charter for the Conservation and Restauration of Monuments and Sites
(The Venice Charter, 1964)

The pavilion thus no longer corresponds to our democratic understanding of the state. It is time to bid farewell to the current building with its decidedly Nationalist Socialist monumentality. Even if the building is protected as a historical monument under Italian law, that should not be an insurmountable hurdle. The historical value of this pavilion does not justify its preservation.

Press Release No. 5 of 10 from the Bundesarchitektenkammer on the Twelfth Biennale of Architecture in 2010 (June 24, 2010)

Everything is growing old, even the architecture of the pavilions at the Biennale. The exhibition buildings are no longer avant-garde sources of inspiration whose innovativeness would justify even classic tourists of art and cities seeking the Giardini for their promise to provide, as it were, a welcome contemporary contrast to the Serenissima’s promise of eternity. The series of illustrious names of the intellectual authors responsible for the designs of the national pavilions represents history. That is true even of the postwar contributions, with which the modern era has sometimes reacted programmatically and provocatively to the existing architectural fabric and the past. The radically new approaches of Zeev Rechter for Israel and Bruno Giacometti’s subtle solution for Switzerland, both from the 1950s, are examples of this, as is Sverre Fehn’s inimitable yet unpretentious integration of exterior space into the Padiglione nordico from the 1960s. Even James Stirling’s bookstore pavilion, inaugurated for the Fifth Biennale of Architecture in 1991, offered groups of students of architecture and art or art historical seminars an occasion and additional motivation to visit the World Heritage City again and again. And finally a path through Venice and the landscape of the pavilions to the Giardini always offers an opportunity to reflect on Carlo Scarpa and his delicate sense of context, of place and history, for any design brief in contemporary architecture.

Compared with the potential for inspiration of the postwar modernism of the Biennale buildings, the appeal of the German Pavilion can probably be judged as rather limited, and is no doubt owed primarily to the critical sculptural installations and interventions, several of which, after all, react explicitly to the spatial and historical dimension of the exhibition building. Several contributions to the Biennale, such as Günther Uecker’s “Nagelung” (Nailing) on a pillar of the portico in 1970, Joseph Beuys’s Straßenbahnhaltestelle (Streetcar stop) of 1976, and Hans Haacke’s Germania for the Biennale in 1993 or Gregor Schneider’s Totes Haus u r (Dead house) of 2001, were developed in no small measure from the knowledge of the Nazi past of the pavilion and their integration of an unprecedented presence and historically critical explosiveness into the artistic debate.


The pavilion building is not exactly considered an advertisement of the cultural and architectural foreign policy of the Federal Republic of Germany, but it seems equally uncertain whether its removal and replacement by a twenty-first-century building could do more for Germany’s reputation abroad and in the arts than the long-standing artistic debates over Germany’s past that have taken place at, in, and with the Padiglione tedesco. Indeed, Padiglione Germania at the Venice Biennale is not the most famous or the most significant exhibition pavilion that can help represent Germany abroad and at the same time invite comparison and competition with the architectural culture of other countries and nations. But because for decades now it has repeatedly been discussed and debated, it is, perhaps, one of the most stimulating of the exhibition buildings with which and in which the Federal Republic of Germany can present itself and must be seen as a successor to the Germany States that have preceded it.

The Barcelona Pavilion, with which Mies van der Rohe offered the Weimar Republic a sensational opportunity to present itself at the World’s Fair in 1929, quickly became famous internationally and spread as an icon of modernist architecture. And the exhibition building known as the Deutsches Haus (German House), whose design by Albert Speer enabled the Nazi regime to make an impressive appearance at the World’s Fair in Paris in 1937— especially thanks to the comparison with Mies’ fluid floor plan and open transitions of interior and exterior space just a few years earlier—and even received the distinction of a gold medal, cannot be ignored in any architectural history of the twentieth century. Mies’ German Pavilion, which was dismantled the same year it was built for the exhibition, did not fail to serve as a role model even during the decades of its long absence before a replica was built in the 1980s according to the original plans and in its historical location. The tower-like monumental building of the “Third Reich,” which subsequently disappeared just as quickly as, say, the wooden Finnish Pavilion by Alvar Aalto, has nonetheless become part of the collective memory of the architectural world as a photograph and a model, if only because the stupendous juxtaposition and double motif with the no less dominant exhibition building of the Soviets by Boris Iofan illustrates the triumph of antimodernism on the eve of the Second World War and still has an effect today as a kind of built version of the doctrine of totalitarianism.

Whereas the national pavilions of World’s Fairs have a certain ephemeral character, and can even seem to be “built for demolition,” in the words of Thomas Schriefer’s provocative question, because as a rule they cease to exist after the fair season and the fair travels to new locations or revisits old ones, since 1895 the Biennale di Venezia has gradually established itself as a find of stationary world’s fair of contemporary art. The Giardini Pubblici form the historical and urban-planning point of departure and even today represent the ideal point of reference in the biannual rhythm of the exhibition. The concept adopted at the beginning of the twentieth century of national pavilions grouped loosely around the Palazzo dell’Esposizione in the green spaces of the Giardini was clearly inspired by the model of the World’s Fairs that had grown popular since the mid-nineteenth century. The fascinating presentation of the latest achievements of industry and technology as well as the applied arts was, after all, also conceived as an international industrial exhibition united under one roof—one need only think of Joseph Paxton’s legendary Crystal Palace of iron and glass in London in 1851—until the Exposition Universelle in Paris set off on new paths when it introduced additional national exhibition buildings in 1867 and thus opened up new spaces and opportunities for comparison that contributed to the successful “infotainment” of World’s Fairs and were set up very much in the spirit of the nation-state thinking of the nineteenth century.

With the concept of national pavilions, the exhibiting countries at the Exposition Mondiale were granted an incomparable opportunity and probably also felt considerable pressure to legitimize and portray themselves, presenting their competing national achievements in industry and technology in distinctive ways and benchmarking with neighboring pavilions. The exhibition architecture of the temporary national pavilions did not, however, function simply as an attractive “display window” or promising “packaging” of the products of industry, technology, and crafts that were on display but was itself one of the demonstrations of achievements and proof of the technological and cultural superiority of the exhibition nation. The exhibition pavilions served as reference buildings, intended to illustrate and at the same time foster the current state of national economies and cultures. At times, therefore, the architecture for World’s Fairs has something of the character of temporary international architecture exhibitions. Some of the national architectural showpieces can therefore be said to have qualities of monuments, some can even be spoken of as temporary national monuments, whose reputation resulted in a second use elsewhere that extended their life. For example, the “Moorish kiosk” with which the Kingdom of Prussia presented itself in Paris in 1867 made its way via Bohemia to Bavaria, where for generations it has adorned the park of Schloss Linderhof.


The Kingdom of Belgium built the first national pavilion in the Giardini in 1907. By the First World War, six other European states followed suit, including the national pavilions of the superpowers of the era: the United Kingdom (1909), France (1912), and Russia (1914), among which the Padiglione dell’arte bavarese, built in 1909, which would evolve into the German Pavilion, can also be counted. Removed from the central exhibition palace that would later become the Italian Pavilion, but along the axis of the pedestrian path leading through the public park, the group of buildings for the European superpowers reflected, as it were, the political constellation on the eve of the First World War: the British Pavilion is located as a point de vue on a slight elevation resulting from the debris of the Campanile of Saint Mark’s Basilica, which collapsed in 1903 and was rebuilt by 1912; juxtaposed with it, and to the left and right sides of the French Pavilion were the Bavarian-German Pavilion and immediately adjacent to it, at the foot of the hill formed by the rubble, the pavilion of the empire of the Russian czar.

Along with the Hungarian and British Pavilion, the Padiglione Bavarese opened for the Eighth Biennale in 1909; it was a symmetrical, neo-Renaissance building with a portico with Ionic columns and a pediment in the center, leading into a tall exhibition hall with three side rooms on either side. It had been designed by the Venetian architect Daniele Donghi. Just a few years later, when the Munich Secession began to part ways with the Biennale, the building was rededicated as the exhibition pavilion of the German empire. The existing exposed-brick side buildings were given a bright plaster coating to unite them with the main building, and the pediment above the portico and the entire volume of the building was given a classical figurative frieze with an accompanying ornamental band. Largely unaltered, the pavilion in this form also served both the Weimar Republic when it resumed exhibition activity for the Thirteenth Biennale in 1922 and the Nazi regime in 1934 and 1936.

It was probably Adolf Ziegler—professor at the Kunstakademie in Munich since 1933 and president of the Reichskammer der Bildenden Künste (Reich Chamber of the Fine Arts) within the Reichskulturkammer (Reich Chamber of Culture) and the man responsible for the Entartete Kunst (Degenerate Art) exhibition—who was able to persuade the Nazi regime to renovate and expand the pavilion extensively. The design for the pavilion, conceived as a branch of the Haus der Deutschen Kunst (House of German Art) in Munich, was provided by Ernst Haiger (1874–1952), who in the 1930s and 1940s would also be responsible for the planning of large Nazi architectural projects in Munich, including the interior design of the Haus der Deutschen Kunst—and also submitted designs in 1938–39 for the redesign of the German Pavilion at the Biennale on the occasion of the Second German Architectural Exhibition in Munich. He expanded the pavilion by adding three rooms in the back, with the central one forming a kind of apse that extends the main hall, and increased the height of the building as a whole, so that all the rooms received light from above (on the sides) and the exterior structure as a whole had more volume. He replaced the historical portico by an enormous central pillared hall with an inscription on its architrave dedicated to “Germania.” The architecture of the colonnade recalls the corner pillars of the Haus der Deutschen Kunst in Munich by Paul Ludwig Troost; the row of square pillars is perhaps even more reminiscent of the Ehrentempel (Honor Temples) honoring the “blood martyrs of the movement” on Königsplatz in Munich, which were blown up in 1947.

The “De-Nazification” of the building begun after 1945 was initially limited to removing the Nazi national emblem with a swastika above the entry portal. Later, Eduard Trier had the wall between the main hall and the apse removed—an enlargement that can be understood as a “subtle break” with the intended design and effect of the Nazi period. More extensive interventions—such as Arnold Bode’s proposal in 1957, typical of its era, to extend the axial main access on the sides and thus create a rigorously asymmetrical redesign of the building with a fluid floor plan between freely adjustable exhibition walls—fizzled out. A renovation proposal by Brandt und Böttcher architects in the 1990s, once again in the spirit of a post-modern realism , that would have added windows in the apse also came to nothing, as did later thought games and improvised designs to replace the German Pavilion in Venice completely.

As was bound to happen, the Soprintendenza per i Beni Architettonici e Paesaggistici di Venezia e Laguna declared the German Pavilion in the Giardini to be a historical monument—under “Italian law,” as the Bundesarchitektenkammer emphasized in 2010—just as buildings from the “Third Reich” in Berlin, Munich, and Nuremberg have since been protected under German regulations for landmark buildings. Many a landmark building in Germany dating from the Nazi period has been transformed into a seat of one of the constitutional bodies of our free and democratic fundamental order. Those responsible have not employed demolition or new construction to counter or avoid the possible misunderstanding of an unbroken historical continuity from the Federal Republic to the Nazi era. Rather, they have placed value on a critical debate with German history and its architectural traces. That approach will work only and to the extent that historical and architectural monuments of an undesirable past are not eluded in the present and the future but remain available for society’s reassessment. Those who do not wish those abroad to suspect that there is a German mentality that would prefer to regard the matter as closed will thus want to see the German Pavilion in the Giardini Pubblici preserved and used as a temporary exhibition space for art and architecture biennials. It has repeatedly proved to be productive for artists and architects as a stone, occasionally even an admonishing memorial stone, that can and should serve as an impetus.


Prof. Dr. Jörg Haspel, born 1953 in Balingen, studied architecture and town-planning at Stuttgart University (1972– 80) and history of art and empirical cultural science at Tübingen University (1975– 81). Between 1981 and 1982 he was scholarship holder of the Robert Bosch Foundation for science journalism. Jörg Haspel worked as a preservationist at the Senate Department of Cultural Affairs / Heritage Protection Authority of the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg between 1982 and 1991. During this time he became a member of the ICOMOS German National Committee and also gave lectures on history of art and on folklore at Hamburg University.

In 1992 Haspel moved to Berlin to fill the position of the State Curator at the Heritage Conservation Branch of the Senate Department for Urban Development and Environment Protection in Berlin. Since 1995 he has been head of the Berlin Heritage Conservation Authority (Landesdenkmalamt Berlin). He is currently the president of the Georg Dehio Association for editing the manual of German monuments of art (Dehio-Vereinigung) and chair of the expert group Urban Heritage Conservation of the German Federal Ministry for Traffic, Building and Urban Planning. He is a founding member of the ICOMOS International Scientific Committee on 20th Century Heritage.

Jörg Haspel also lectures at Berlin Technical University and has been involved in numerous research projects, studies and publications on the history of art and architecture in the nineteenth and twentieth century and on heritage conservation.