Berlin Monument Authority  



Heilig-Geist-Kapelle (The Chapel of the Holy Spirit)

The Chapel of the Holy Spirit

The Chapel of the Holy Spirit with the vault of the Chapel of the Holy Spirit, Mitte (Old-Berlin), Spandauer Straße;
built from around 1250 to the beginning of the 14th century; Reconstruction drawing with the star-ribbed vault around 1520

The Chapel of the Holy Spirit is one of the few building testimonies from the middle ages in Berlin. It was built in the tradition of the brick stone church buildings of the town from the middle ages from 1250 to 1400 as it is the case with the parish church of St. Nikolai, the ruin of the former Franciscan-monastery church and the parish church of St. Marien. Originally built as the chapel of the hospital of the Holy Spirit, this building is not just a testimony of brick-stone-architecture of the middle ages, but also represents town- and social historic aspects. As a town-administrated hospital intra muros (within the walls), it was mainly responsible for caring for the poor. It shared its responsibility with the St. George leprosy hospital, which used to be situated outside the town walls at the former Oderberger Gate which is now part of "Alexanderplatz". In the 15th century, the St. Gertraud hospital complemented the social care and was also erected extra muros (outside town walls) in front of the Teltower Gate on the Cölln side of the double town, where Spittelmarkt is today.

In contrast to the previously mentioned hospitals situated outside the middle aged double town Berlin-Cölln, the Chapel of the Holy Spirit is the only one that still exists, and this mostly in its original building substance. The most powerful expression of the architectural past of the chapel lies without doubt in the delicately decorated East facade with its large gothic windows and its for that time modern brick stone fronton. Also, the inside represents history in its beautiful, rare forms and colours. Here, a star-ribbed vault has been conserved from the time around 1520 with remains of floral vault paintings. It stands on twelve formerly coloured semi-figure terracotta trusses, that represent the Holy Spirit, to whom the chapel is dedicated to, and also represent the Holy Trinity, Maria and some Apostles and some fathers of the church. The large collar joint roof framework dating from the middle of the 15th century is an absolute rarity. The conserved scanting markings in the wood prove the erection of the gable-ended roof dating back to the middle ages.

It is almost a miracle, that the chapel - and after all the roof framework- did withstand great catastrophes, town fires and the devastation of World War II, while the close surroundings turned to rubble and ashes. The chapel also survived the comprehensive redevelopment and town renewals of the 19th and 20th centuries, to which many buildings fell victim. The conservation of the chapel is owed to the engagement of citizens. At the beginning of the 20th century, the chapel was threatened to be pulled down to make space for a new building. In connection with an architectural competition in the spring of 1904, the middle age building at the Spandauer Strasse was supposed to give way for the trade high school, the recent economics faculty of the Berlin Humboldt-University, designed by the architects Cremer & Wolffenstein who were commissioned by the merchants of Berlin. It is thanks to the initiative and the protests of vigilant citizens, that the announced architectural competition for the erection of the trade high school was finally changed in its form and redesigned into a kind of symbiosis between middle aged and modern architecture, which is still today clearly visible result: The merchants changed the plans under the impetus of the monument discussion in favour of the conservation of the chapel and its further usage as an auditorium.

Also a second "salvation" of the chapel, which is now in the end phase of its restoration, is owed to the engagement of citizens. With the help of generous donors the preparations and the carrying out of the restoration of the Holy-Spirit-chapel could be started from 1995/96 onwards. Through the mediation of Prof. Dr. Wulff Plinke, deputy-chairman of the board of directors of the Wirtschaftswissenschaftlichen Gesellschaft (Society for Economic Sciences) at the Humboldt-University in Berlin, and the understanding support of the mayor of Berlin and the Senatskanzlei, the Deutsche Bank AG, the Cornelsen culture donation and the Stifterverband für die Deutsche Wissenschaft e. V., the married couple Dr. Pia and Klaus Krone and the Deutsche Stiftung Denkmalschutz (German Trust for Conservation), could be won to donate for the important measures generously. With further means of the Landesdenkmalamtes Berlin (Berlin Monument Authority) and under the guidance and involvement of the Humboldt-University in Berlin the comprehensive restoration, securing and reconstruction of the building has been carried through for the next decades. The Chapel of the Holy Spirit will regain some of its historic aura, to safe it from oblivion and give her back its particular status in the public conscience and memory of the city.

Apart from that, it is also due to the engagement of citizens in the widest sense, that 26 of the paintings once donated by citizens of Berlin have been conserved, which remained inside the chapel as gallery pictures until the end of the 19th century. Today, they are to be found in the village churches of Alt-Tempelhof, Alt-Mariendorf and in a home for the elderly in Berlin-Zehlendorf. The paintings are very important in the contexts with paintings from Berlin of the 16th and 17th century, since from this time only 30 other paintings are known to exist. The former gallery pictures of the Chapel of the Holy Spirit not only represents the donors of a hospital chapel, but enlighten the understanding for the cultural scene of Berlin in the 16th and the 17th century and the regional furbishing programme of Lutheran church rooms of that time. In october 2005, the restoration of the Chapel of the Holy Spirit was accomplished and the chapel is again re-opened to visitors.

New Publication 2005 (in German)

Die Heilig-Geist-Kapelle in Berlin-Mitte: Geschichte, Forschung, Restaurierung

Titel page of the book
  • publisher: Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin und Landesdenkmalamt Berlin
  • arranged by Jörg Breitenfeld, Norbert Heuler, Ursula Hüffer, Jenny Hüttenrauch
  • 221 pages, 431 mostly colored illustrations, 4 large-sized enclosures (Plans of construction research), hard cover
  • Michael Imhof Verlag, Petersberg 2005
  • ISBN: 3-86568-045-3; available in book shops
  • cost: 29,80 Euro