Braunschweig Now and Then:
The Gewandhaus in
One of the present-day tourist attractions of Braunschweig is the Altstadtmarkt with its historic buildings: the Altstadtrathaus (town hall), St Martin’s Church, the Altstadtbrunnen (fountain) and the Gewandhaus. Altstadt (old town) refers to one of the five medieval parts of Braunschweig, the others being the Neustadt (new town), Hagen, Altewiek and Sack. Each had its own market, church and town hall. The two most important parts, Altstadt and Hagen, also had their own Gewandhaus (cloth merchants’ hall). Only the one in the Altstadt has survived, so this is the one which is referred to as the Gewandhaus today.
The Gewandhaus served as the guild hall of the cloth merchants, as well as their warehouse and shop. It thus reflects Braunschweig’s history as a prominent Hanse city. The city was located at the intersection of several long distance trade routes. It had an unobstructed water connection to Bremen on the North Sea via the river Oker, though the economic significance of this is debated.[i] It is known that merchants from Braunschweig were active all over the Hanse trading areas from the 13th century onwards. For instance, there are records of them trading in England in 1225/26, and in Smolensk in 1284. The cloth trade with Flanders (Ghent, Maastricht etc.) is documented since approx. 1300.
Short History of the Gewandhaus
With Braunschweig’s role as an intersection came the need for warehouses and other storage and trading facilities. A storage facility on the site of the present Gewandhaus was first recorded in 1307 (the city records only began in 1268) but had probably existed earlier. It was then simply called a kophus (shop, store). In the early days, the Hanse merchants traded in a wide variety of goods. The specialisation, for instance on cloth, only developed over time. From its beginning, the building included a wine and beer cellar. The privilege to sell drinks to the public was granted in 1352. It still holds this right today, making it the oldest pub in the state of Lower Saxony.
In the late 16th century the building was in need of renovation. It was extensively remodelled and the eastern and western facades were added. This is the building that can be seen today. The western façade is dated to 1589, the eastern to 1590.
Until the 19th century, the building continued to be used as a warehouse, as well as a sales venue during trade fairs. In 1858, it became the property of the state and restoration work was carried out. It was sold in 1908 to the city of Braunschweig. Since then it has been used by the Chamber of Commerce.
Unlike the Till Eulenspiegel Fountain, which survived the war intact, the Gewandhaus was severely damaged during repeated bombing raids in 1944. The eastern façade was the only part to survive this, only to collapse as well during a severe storm in 1946. The building was restored as part of the Altstadtmarkt “tradition island” from 1948 to 1950. In charge of the rebuilding were Friedrich Wilhelm Kraemer, Jakob Hofmann, Kurt Edzard and (Karl) Paul Egon Schiffers. In 1976, restoration work was carried out on the eastern façade.
The men who built the Gewandhaus in the late 16th century
The most important of these was Hans Lampe.[ii] He joined the town council of the Altstadt in 1572. In 1589 he was appointed general master mason of the city Braunschweig. This means he was in charge of all public building works, including the city fortifications. A position he held until 1593. Thus he was the man in charge of the remodelling of the Gewandhaus in the late 16th century and also its architect. He is the man who brought us the impressive eastern façade. Hans Lampe died in Braunschweig in 1604.
Another important master mason involved in the Gewandhaus was Balthasar Kircher,[iii] who was born in Baden-Baden in southern Germany. By 1584, he was in Braunschweig, where he seems to have been apprenticed to Wolter Hasemann.[iv] It is known that Hasemann built at least three buildings with magnificent renaissance entrances. One of these was the pharmacy at the Hagenmarkt, the entrance of which is now part of the Gewandhaus (see below). Kircher is considered to be the main sculptors of the ornaments on the eastern façade. The records show that Kircher had a large number of assistants – up to 27 – working for him. For his work, he was awarded citizenship of Braunschweig for free (normally you had to apply and pay a fee) in 1591. Kircher made a will in 1597, including bequests to an illegitimate son, but only died in or after 1601.
Another master mason mentioned in the records is Magnus Klinge, about nothing seems to be known. Both his and Balthasar Kircher’s initials were included in a no longer existing inscription on the eastern gable.
Another sculptor was Jürgen (or Georg) Röttger,[v] who made the relief work on the eastern gable. Röttger was born 1550 or 1551 in Silesia. He is first recorded in Braunschweig in 1583 as a new citizen of the Neustadt (another one of the five medieval parts). He married the widow of another sculptor, Hans Seeck, and took over his workshop. Many of Röttger’s works, pulpits, epitaphs and other church monuments as well as gravestones, can still be found in Braunschweig. The large number of these works indicates that he must have had a flourishing workshop with very capable people working for him. In 1616, he was elected to the council of the Neustadt. He died on 14 October 1623 and was buried in St Andreas Church (the church of the Neustadt). An epitaph for him in that church was made by his son Hans, who together with his brother Jürgen took over the workshop. Unfortunately, the epitaph was destroyed during the war.
The above masons/sculptors are all remembered for their work on the eastern façade of the Gewandhaus. The western façade, which is slightly older, is the work of a mason named Wolter, who is remembered on an information plaque. He came originally from Hildesheim, approx. 50km west of Braunschweig. The style of the western facade is very similar to that of the House of the Golden Rose[vi]. This townhouse on the Kohlmarkt was originally built in 1268, in 1590 it had a façade added, which is considered to be Wolter’s work.
Some Remarks on the Architecture of the Gewandhaus
As mentioned above, the eastern and western facades were added during the late 16th century to the much older four storey Gewandhaus built of blocks of stone.
The renaissance style eastern facade is clearly designed to impress – and continues to do so. It is considered to be the most remarkable example of renaissance architecture in the city.
It has a geometric structure consisting of a square (the building) with a triangle with two even sides on top (the gable). At ground level, there is an open hall accessible through three arches. Each of the three floors above has an arched window in the middle framed by two rectangular windows each to the right and left. The gable has four levels, separated by friezes. The two lower levels have the same arrangement as the floors below: an arched window in the middle with two rectangular windows on either side. In the middle of the third level, in place of the arches below, is the lion, Braunschweig’s coat of arms, making it the central point of the gable. Just above the lion is the inscription “PES 1949” commemorating its recreation by the sculptor Paul Egon Schiffers.
On the lowest level of the gable, there are inscriptions on each side next to the windows. The one of the right gives the year “Anno 1590”, the left one says “QVOD TIBI HOC ALTERI” (what is (right) for you, is also (right) for others). In the frieze above the third level, there is an inscription commemorating Hans Lampe as the builder. There is also an inscription reminding us of the destruction of the Gewandhaus during WWII and its subsequent rebuilding.
Five statues decorate the gable: at each side of the second level, there is a male guard holding a halberd. On the left side of the fourth level stands Hope with an anchor, and on the right Fortitude with a broken pillar. At the top of the gable stands Justitia with golden wings. While usually Justitia is depicted with a sword, scales, and a blindfold, this one has the sword and the scales, but no blindfold. There is a story explaining why. When the statue was first created, the rich guild members said: “Why should Justitia not be able to see? She will never be needed! In Braunschweig we don’t have court cases between merchant and customer – our trade is characterised by clarity and honesty!”[vii] Well said, only this Justitia does not look to the trade in the market square below, where Braunschweig’s merchants would have operated. Instead, she gazes into the far distance, along the old trade route to Königsberg (Kaliningrad).
Compared to the magnificence of the eastern side of the Gewandhaus, its western side is comparatively plain. In its lower levels, it retains some of the older gothic architecture. The reason might be that it is facing the former graveyard of St Martin’s Church. It also has an inscription, dating it to 1589. As mentioned before, it shows many similarities with the House of the Golden Rose on the Kohlmarkt.
While the eastern and western facades were built to impress, the long southern and northern sides of the Gewandhaus are very plain. The southern wall, now open to the Altstadtmarkt, just shows blocks of stone. The reason is that originally these walls could not be seen or accessed. From its beginning, right up to WWII, there were other buildings on either side obstructing the view, so no ornaments were necessary. The only access to the building had been through the two gabled ends. Initially, there were market stalls on both sides, which were replaced in the mid-15th century with half-timbered houses.
Those to the south were rather small and low, separated by a narrow yard from the Gewandhaus. In some of these building were fast food shops selling hot meals mainly to those who did not have their own cooking facilities, which is still reflected in the name of the street Garküche (cook shop). One house had an inscription dating it to 1451 and was used as the bailiff’s house. By 1900 many craftsmen lived here. In 1907, once the Gewandhaus came to be used by the Chamber of Commerce, these buildings were replaced with a stone building in renaissance style, reminiscent of the Gewandhaus next to it. This building connects directly to the Gewandhaus, the southern wall of which is therefore still not open to view.
On the northern side, the early market stalls were replaced by a row of half-timbered buildings. These were three story houses and larger than those on the south side. Their uniform style indicates that they were probably planned as a unit. They had inscriptions dating them to 1470-76, so were built long before the east and west facades of the Gewandhaus. Along with most of the half-timbered buildings in Braunschweig they were destroyed during the war. They were not replaced, leaving the rather plain outside wall open to being seen from the Altstadtmarkt. In the post-war years, when the Gewandhaus was reconstructed, this regarded as a symbol of those hard and austere years.[viii]
Changes after WWII
Optically the absence of the half-timbered buildings along the northern wall left an ugly gap between the Gewandhaus and St Martin’s Church. Fortunately, there was a surviving half-timbered building in Rüningen (now a suburb of Braunschweig) looking for a good home.
The village of Rüningen lies south of Braunschweig. It was first mentioned around 800 AD. As it was situated on the main road to Frankfurt/Main, it was a convenient location for the collection of customs. In 1643, a half-timbered renaissance style customs building was erected. However, as time went by, its original purpose became obsolete. Since 1824, the building was privately owned and used as an inn. By the mid-20th century, it had fallen into disrepair and was in the way of modern road construction.
This building would stylistically fit into the Altstadtmarkt and what it used to look like in the past. The building was taken apart and then re-assembled next to the Gewandhaus. Originally, the building only had had two floors, but in order to be able to fit it as closely as possible onto the outside wall of the Gewandhaus, it got an additional bottom floor made of stone. It bears an inscription crediting the publican of the Gewandhaus at that time, Peter Borel, with its recreation. [ix]
Right next to the former customs building, is a new set of steps leading up a grand entrance. Originally, this entrance used to decorate the pedestrian access to the pharmacy on the Hagenmarkt [x] , the market of the part of the city called Hagen. While the pharmacy building, dating from c. 1590, was destroyed during the war, its Renaissance entrance survived and was moved here. It bears the inscription “VERBUM DOMINE MANET IN AETERNUM” (the word of the Lord endures forever), with the city’s coat of arms above. As mentioned earlier, the original pharmacy building had been the work of Wolter Hasemann, the former master of Balthasar Kircher, the sculptor of the statues on the eastern gable of the Gewandhaus.
These two features were added to soften the loss of the half-timbered houses along the northern wall of the Gewandhaus. It could be said that they were necessary. However, the east gable also had a little addition to its pre-war façade, which is more for fun than necessity. On the lowest frieze of the gable are three heads, the long-haired head on the left portrays Salvador Dalí, the head on the left Pablo Picasso and the head in the middle, underneath the arched window, is the sculptor himself. As was to be expected, at the time when they were created not everyone was happy about this modernisation. The heads of two lions with golden rings in the mouths which separate the heads were probably less controversial.
The Gewandhaus continues to impress locals and tourists alike. The city is definitely worth a visit if you get the chance. The Gewandhaus is only one of Braunschweig’s highlights.
Sources and Further Reading:
Doering, O., Braunschweig. Mit 118 Abbildungen. Leipzig, 1905, pp.32-5. Available at URL: https://archive.org/details/braunschweigmit100doer_0
Kotyrba, S. and Arnhold, E., Stadtbild im Wandel – Braunschweig – Band II. Arnhold & Kotyrba Architekturführer, Kotyrba Verlag, Braunschweig, 2016, pp.44-7
MacNeille, A., ‘Braunschweig: Altstadtmarkt‘, Zwischen Tradition und Innovation – Historische Plätze in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland nach 1945, PhD Thesis, Universität zu Köln (2004), pp. 57-59
Ostwald, T., ‘Picasso und Dali am Gewandhaus’, Der Löwe (15 April 2016). URL: http://www.der-loewe.info/picasso-und-dali-am-gewandhaus/ [last accessed 17 Aug. 2016]
Pingel,N.-M., ‘Gewandhaus’, in: Luitgard Camerer; Manfred R.W. Garzmann & Wolf-Dieter Schuegraf (eds.), Braunschweiger Stadtlexikon. Johann Heinrich Meyer Verlag, Braunschweig, 4th edition 1996 (first published 1992), p.88
Wehking, S., ‚DI 56, Stadt Braunschweig II, Nr. 620‘, Deutsche Inschriften Online (2001). URL: http://www.inschriften.net/braunschweig/inschrift/nr/di056-0620.html [last accessed 24 Aug. 2016]
[i] Meibeyer, W., ‘Gab es wirklich eine “bedeutende” Fracht-Schifffahrt auf der unteren Oker im hohen Mittelalter?‘, Braunschweigisches Jahrbuch für Landesgeschichte, Vol.83 (2002), pp.205-210
[ii] Münch, I., ‘Lampe, Hans’, in: Horst-Rüdiger Jarck (ed.), Braunschweigisches Biographisches Lexikon: 8. bis 18. Jahrhundert. Appelhans Verlag, Braunschweig, 2006, p.425
[iii] Jünke, A.W., ‘Kircher, Balthasar (auch Baltzer)‘, in: Braunschweigisches Biographisches Lexikon, pp.395-396
[iv] Wiesner, J., ‚Hasemann, Wolter‘, in Braunschweigisches Biographisches Lexikon, p.304
[v] Zahlten, J., ‚Röttger, Jürgen‘, in: Braunschweigisches Biographisches Lexikon, p.593; Diestelmann, J., ‚Röttger, Jürgen‘, in: Luitgard Camerer; Manfred R.W. Garzmann & Wolf-Dieter Schuegraf (eds.), Braunschweiger Stadtlexikon. Johann Heinrich Meyer Verlag, Braunschweig, 4th edition 1996 (first published 1992), p.196
[vi] Giesau, P., ‘Haus zur Rose’, in: Braunschweiger Stadtlexikon, p.100
[vii] Quoted in Ostwald, T., ‘Picasso und Dali am Gewandhaus’, Der Löwe (15 April 2016). URL: http://www.der-loewe.info/picasso-und-dali-am-gewandhaus/ [last accessed 17 Aug. 2016], translation by the present author.
[viii] Stelzer, O., ‘Der Wiederaufbau des Gewandhauses in Braunschweig’, Baumeister (1953), p.727, quoted in MacNeille, p.58
[ix] Jericho, B., ‚Rüningen‘, in: Braunschweiger Stadtlexikon, pp 197-8; Paul Jonas Meier, Die Bau- und Kunstdenkmäler des Kreises Braunschweig mit Ausschluss der Stadt Braunschweig. Wolfenbüttel, 1900, p.182
[x] Pingel, N.-M., ‘Hagenmarkt-Apotheke’, in: Manfred R.W. Garzmann & Wolf-Dieter Schuegraf, Braunschweiger Stadtlexikon – Ergänzungsband. Johann Heinrich Meyer Verlag, Braunschweig, 1996, p.59;