More from the archive: the Berliner Dom

I briefly mentioned back in November 2009 how the Berliner Dom - originally designed by Julius Raschdorff and opened in 1905 - had been rebuilt in slightly altered form after World War II. Seeing as I'm currently in the mood for delving into my archive of Günter Bittner's pictures, now would seem to be a good time to show you what I mean.


The Berliner Dom at night, 1930s


This picture is, as far as I can tell, from the 1930s, judging mainly by the apparent age of other pictures in the collection which appear to have been taken on the same camera and at around the same time. I don't see anything in the picture which dates it any more precisely than that (though equally, it's clear that it's a pre-war picture).

It was taken on 6x6cm rollfilm, though the negative has been cut to a single frame. It's sadly not in terribly good condition either, riddled with scratches and other marks, though the version you see here is one which I've digitally restored. I've also cropped it from the original square format, as the negative included the out of focus top of one of the posts which hold up the railings by the river in the foreground, which didn't seem to really belong in the picture. I know from some of the prints he made that he often printed the negatives to ordinary rectangular paper sizes, so I'd hazard a guess that he may have had this in mind all along and just found that the spot with the post in foreground was a convenient place to put the camera. I can only guess at what camera he used for this - the only camera his daughter could tell me anything about was a 35mm Contaflex from the 1950s which she'd recently sold. The two main possibilities that spring to mind are either a folding camera like a Zeiss Super Ikonta B or a Twin Lens Reflex (TLR) camera like an early Rolleiflex. There would have been all manner of cameras on the market that would have fit the bill, though.

The building silhouetted on the left of the picture is the back of the Berliner Stadtschloß. This older side of the building is not nearly as celebrated as the baroque façade of the western side and, when the Schloß is 'rebuilt' it will be replaced by a modern façade.

Of course, the building I'm here to focus on is the Dom (or rather, the Oberpfarr- und Domkirche!). Dom is often translated as 'cathedral' but in fact, there's no bishop at the Berliner Dom, so it's technically just a large church - in fact the word Dom can be applied to any large and important church (it comes from the Latin 'domus Dei' - house of God).

You'll be able to get an idea of some of the post war alterations made to the Dom by looking at the picture closely. The domes are far more ornate than their modern replacements.

Here's another view of it, taken after the war from the Mühlendammbrücke. It's hard to date precisely, though the temporary roof, which covers the dome in the picture, was built in the winter of 1952 - 1953, so it's sometime after that and before 1975, when work on rebuilding the Dom began.


The Berliner Dom, with the Marstall in foreground


For comparison, here's one I took in June 2009:


The Berliner Dom, with the Marstall in foreground, June 2009


At the time I took this, I was stood on the bridge looking at the grey clouds gathering, thinking how the light wasn't right for an attempt at taking a modern equivalent of Günter Bittner's picture. Then the boat came along and, seeing as his picture has a barge in it, how could I resist firing the shutter anyway? I still prefer the soft, late afternoon sunlight of his picture, but if I'd waited for the perfect moment, I'd not have a picture to use for comparison now!
There's a bit of a story behind my picture too (I like stories), as it's one I took on the mid-50s Rolleicord V TLR that I bought in a rather eccentric camera shop in Hannover while I was living in Germany. It's been the length and breadth of Germany with me and still works perfectly, despite its advanced age.

The amount of building work that's been done on the Nikolaiviertel - on the river bank to the right of the picture - is worth noting. It was built in 1987 for the celebrations of Berlin's 750th birthday, using more old fashioned proportions than was usual for East German developments - though it does incorporate some older buildings, like the surviving ones which are there in Günter Bittner's picture, much of it is new. That's a subject for another time, though!

S-Bahn: 
Hackescher Markt (S5, S7, S75, S9)
Location: 
The Berliner Dom
Am Lustgarten 1
10178 Berlin

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