The Gendarmenmarkt is one of Berlin’s most famous places. Located in Berlin Mitte and close to the popular boulevard ‘Unter den Linden’, this market square is a popular destination for many tourists. It is surrounded by small restaurants and locates historical buildings such as the Konzerthaus and the French and German Cathedrals. During the winter, the Gendarmenmarkt hosts one of Berlin’s most popular Christmas markets.
The Gendarmenmarket is a part of the old Friedrichstadt, a suburb created in 1688 outside of Berlin’s city walls. Friedrichstadt was named after its architect and founder: the Elector Friedrich I of Prussia (1657-1713). That also explains the name of today’s famous street Friedrichstrasse, the main North-South axis running through Friedrichstadt. In honour of his second wife, the first Prussian queen, Sophie Charlotte, the street parallel to Friedrichstrasse, which marks the boundary to the Gendarmenmarkt in the West, was named Charlottenstrasse. Today, this former Friedrichstadt actually lies in the centre of historical Berlin.
In 1709, Friedrichstadt was incorporated into Berlin. It evolved into a popular residential area for the French refugees and became a veritable ‘quartier français’. Many Huguenots (French Calvinists) fled to Berlin from France after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685. Crown Prince Friedrich William encouraged the refugees to settle here because most were skilled workers or useful to the kingdom in other ways. It is no coincidence that the Gendarmenmarkt’s northern boundary and the parallel road to “Unter den Linden” is called ‘Französische Strasse’ or ‘French Street’.
The square has been popularly known as the ‘Gendarmenmarkt’ since the 18th century, although officially only since 1991. Initially, it bore the name ‘Friedrichstädtischer Markt’ or simply the ‘New Markt’. Under the former German Democratic Republic the square was called the “Platz der Akademie” (Academy square).
The expression of ‘Gerndarmenmarkt’ goes back to the “Regiment Gens d’Armes”, a cuirassier regiment of the Soldier King Friedrich Wilhelm I (1688-1740). Many of the regiment’s officers and nobles had been among the Huguenots refugees. And its stables, barracks and main guard were located at the square from 1736 to 1773.
Quite a lot has changed since then. During the Second World War, most of the buildings were badly damaged or destroyed. Today all the buildings have been restored to their former state. What remains at the Gendarmenmarkt are the three large buildings on the square: the Französischer Dom on the north and the Deutscher Dom on the south side of the square and the Konzerthaus in the middle.
The French Cathedral is the oldest out of the two cathedrals and was built by the Huguenot community between 1701 and 1705. The cathedral was modelled after the destroyed Huguenot church in Charenton-Saint-Maurice in France. The tower and porticoes, designed by Carl von Gontard, were added to the building in 1785. The French cathedral has a viewing platform, a restaurant and a Huguenot museum, which documents the Huguenots’ influence on Berlin.
The German Cathedral is located in the south of the Gendarmenmarkt. It was designed by Martin Grünberg and has a pentagonal structure. It was built in 1708 by Giovanni Simonetti. Carl von Gontard, who built the domed tower, also modified the German Cathedral in 1785. The cathedral was completely destroyed by fire during the Second World War in 1945. After German reunification it was rebuilt, finished in 1993 and re-opened in 1996 as a museum of German history.
The Konzerthaus Berlin is the newest building on the Gendarmenmarkt. It was built by Karl Friedrich Schinkel in 1821 as the ‘Schauspielhaus’. It was founded on the ruins of the National Theatre, which was destroyed by fire in 1817. Parts of today’s building contain columns and some outside walls from the former destroyed building. Like the other buildings on the Gendarmenmarkt, it was also badly damaged during the Second World War. The reconstruction, finished in 1984, turned the theatre into a concert hall. Today, it is the home of the Konzerthausorchester Berlin.