Illuminating Example of a Period in History: The Chancellor’s Bungalow in Bonn
In 2009, the former residence and reception building of Germany’s chancellors started opening its doors to the public. The renovated chancellor’s bungalow in what was once Bonn’s government district impresses visitors with its architecture, while at the same time shocking some people with its reflection of the tastes of the different eras and its inhabitants.Sie benötigen den Flashplayer , um dieses Video zu sehen watch video in high resolution
Concept/Editing: Andreas Christoph Schmidt, Camera: Holger Schüppel, Schmidt & Paetzel Fernsehfilme GmbH im Auftrag des Goethe-Instituts, 2010
Photo Breschnew/Brandt: Barbara Klemm
Kurt Georg Kiesinger made no bones in 1966 about the fact that the official chancellor’s residence was not to his personal taste. His successor Willy Brandt did not want to leave the foreign minister’s spacious official residence. The first thing he did with the chancellor’s bungalow, however, was to respectfully revoke the changes made to the representative rooms by Federal Chancellor Kiesinger, and then used the building for state and social occasions. Helmut and Loki Schmidt liked the architecture, brought the furnishings more or less back to their original state in 1974 and took up residence in the bungalow for eight years. Helmut Kohl, who lived in the chancellor’s bungalow for 16 years from 1982, used at times harsh words to describe the house, claiming that the glass reception building lacked “any kind of comfort” and that the private quarters were “absurd”.
An uncompromisingly modern building
A sense of harmony between architecture and occupant and a meeting of minds of architect and client existed above all in the early days. German chancellor Ludwig Erhard and architect Sep Ruf had already been friends for some time. They were neighbours at Tegernsee lake, where Erhard lived in a house designed by Ruf. Together they came up with the idea for the chancellor’s residence, to be built in the Park am Rhein next to Palais Schaumburg, the chancellor’s official place of work. The deliberately uncompromisingly modern building was erected from 1963 to 1964 and was designed to be fundamentally different from the imperial residences of heads of government in countries like France, Italy or the USA. Its open, transparent design, liberated from any historical trappings of power and representation, was meant to be a clear departure from national socialist architecture. Architects welcomed the pavilion as a signal and viewed it as an inspiration, yet the press lambasted it right from the start because it was not in keeping with the highly traditional notions of a home still prevalent among Germans at the time.
The bungalow comprises two square atrium-style houses positioned opposite one another, the larger of them being used for official receptions and, with its floor-to-ceiling windows on all sides, incorporating the park and views of the Rhine into the architectural concept. The smaller faces inwards, towards the inner courtyard, half of which – the pinnacle of luxury – is taken up by a small swimming pool.
Ruf had fitted the house out with modern furniture by Charles Eames and modern art. Ludwig Erhard felt completely at one with the house and admitted: “You will learn more about me by looking at this house than by watching me give a political speech, for example”. Later, such harmony between the bungalow and its occupant never existed again.
This was how Germany was in the 1980sHelmut and Hannelore Kohl were of quite a different persuasion, and had the house done up in a cosy, rather bourgeois style. The furniture was put into storage, brick walls were covered by silk wall hangings; bronze light switches and bathrooms with beige tiling were more to their taste (and the taste of the time). The Kohls lived for a short time in the private part of the bungalow, while Schröder, Kohl’s successor, held official meetings there from time to time. The building stood empty from 1999.
When the Wüstenrot Foundation included the house in its programme of flagship renovations, the question, as is so often the case, was which historical state should be used as the basis for the restoration and reconstruction. Which era is worthy of preservation? The choice was between the 1964 Erhard-style or Kohl’s 1984 look; the sensitive, timeless modernity of Sep Ruf on the one hand, or the middle-class and bourgeois trends of the eighties with their brown, beige and eggshell tones. It was pretty much a reversal of the usual “before and after” pictures.
Middle path for renovationThe Braunschweig-based architect Professor Berthold Burkhardt, who is in charge of the project on behalf of the Wüstenrot Foundation, managed to agree on a compromise with those wishing to preserve the bungalow as a historical monument. The representative part of the house was restored to its original 1964 state, including furniture and lighting, and now once again boasts the spaciousness and elegance exemplified by Mies van der Rohe.
The dining room, which links the official part of the building to the private quarters, has been recreated in Kohl’s style with silk rugs and baroque furniture. The chancellor’s residence itself, which boasts 142 square metres of floor space and is more or less unfurnished at present, yet feels cramped and without any sense of space due to its introverted orientation towards the inner courtyard, leaves visitors thoughtful and speechless. Did the Kohls really live here, in these poky rooms facing the small atrium? Did they really have these ghastly bathrooms installed for themselves? The attitudes of an entire era suddenly become almost tangible – this was how Germany was in the 1980s.
For a permanent exhibition and visitsThere is no doubt that the chancellor’s bungalow serves as an illuminating example of a period in history. The pictures of visiting dignitaries being received in the bungalow were broadcast all over the world and represented the official political Germany. For this reason, the neighbouring Haus der Geschichte der Bundesrepublik Deutschland (i.e. House of the History of the Federal Republic of Germany) set itself the task of opening the building’s doors to visitors and events. The Wüstenrot Foundation spent 1.7 million euros on the renovation, plus a further 500,000 on a permanent exhibition in the foyer and the restoration of the somewhat older tea pavilion down on the banks of the Rhine (called “Konradsruh”, or Konrad’s resting place, after Chancellor Adenauer). The Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, as the agent of the owner – i.e. the Federal Republic of Germany – has been provided with a maintenance manual to ensure that the bungalow will be properly preserved and maintained in the future.
Without the Wüstenrot Foundation the building, which had slipped quietly into oblivion, would never have been woken from its reveries – and without the Foundation’s strict doctrine of monument preservation the house would no doubt have continued merely to survive rather than thrive.
is an architectural historian and critic in Berlin.
Translation: Chris Cave
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Online-Redaktion
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