The history of an architectural icon

The Haus des Lehrers (“the house of the teacher”) has had an eventful history – just like any Berlin building that has been around for a while. It is named after a former teachers’ association building, while it owes its distinctive architecture to the GDR. You can now take a look back at this history.

AN ARTWORK WRAPPED AROUND THE BUILDING

THE FRIEZE IN DETAIL

The famous “abdominal bandage” is wrapped right round the Haus des Lehrers. It features the mural Our Life, comprising approx. 800,000 mosaic tiles.

The north side

The north side of the frieze is dedicated to science and technology. Womacka represented the topic of science with a doctor and a chemist, and supplemented the image with additional elements such as a parabolic dish and a radio mast. Opposite, an engineer – who has sometimes been interpreted as an homage to the architect Hermann Henselmann – represents the world of technology, whose unshakeable faith in the future is manifested in the image of the rocket taking off in the background.

The south wall

The south wall is filled with a single scene. It shows three workers, including a young woman and a strong steelworker, talking to a painter, who is a few brushstrokes away from completing a large mural. Womacka’s image combines two apparently distinct spheres of life: art and work.

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The east side

One of the central themes of the eastern part of the frieze is friendship between peoples. To illustrate this theme, Womack designed a colourful array of scenes that bring together figures of different ethnicities. The humanist and anti-fascist ideals that the GDR was committed to are in clear evidence here.

The west frieze

The west frieze shows scenes that were supposed to represent everyday life in the GDR. At the centre of this section is a young couple. With outstretched arms, the man points out the connection between the blossoming tree to his left and the three overlapping micro- and macrocosmic models to his right. Meanwhile, the young woman has released a dove, an omnipresent symbol in the GDR that united the ideal of peace with that of social progress..

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A VISION OF THE FUTURE IN SIX IMAGES

The Haus des Lehrers was built on Alexanderplatz in the early 1960s: a dazzling vision of the future and a prominent symbol of a new age.

THE PRODUCT OF THREE CREATIVE MINDS

Herrmann Henselmann

Eine Portraitaufnahme von Herrmann Henselmann 1952.
© BArch, Bild 183-16383-0001/Zentralbild Gielow

“There are three Manns who matter in Germany: Thomas Mann, Heinrich Mann, Henselmann!” – Hermann Henselmann repeated this remark on numerous occasions. A sign that modesty was not exactly his dominant trait!

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Walter Womacka

Walter Womacka im Portrait.
© Jens Schulz, (c) WBM

His On the Beach was reproduced millions of times as a stamp, while Our Life is Europe’s largest artwork by area and has been prominently displayed over Alexanderplatz since 1964, so it’s little wonder that almost every East German was familiar with the painter Walter Womacka.

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Kerk-Oliver Dahm

Eine Portraitaufnahme von Kerk-Oliver Dahm.
© Klaus Baedicker, (c) WBM

Under the direction of the Berlin architect Kerk-Oliver Dahm, the Haus des Lehrers and bcc complex was lavishly renovated and modernised in 2002. The renovation aimed to meet both heritage and business requirements.

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RENOVATION TO A MODERN OFFICE BUILDING

In 2002, renovation work began on the Haus des Lehrers and bcc complex. The renovation aimed to meet both heritage and business requirements.

Process of construction work

For the interior renovation of the Haus des Lehrers, the first step was to remove two space-consuming cores so that the building could be used for offices in accordance with modern fire protection regulations. This means that 70% of the space is now usable – up from just 40%.

Installing a central building core with infrastructural and technical functionality enabled a complete restructuring of the individual floors, each with approx. 560 m² of floor space. Toilet facilities, which used to be positioned along the south wall, are now located in the passageway between the two separate leasing units on each floor. The floors, with a centre-to-centre distance of 2.10 metres and just two load-bearing supports, can be divided into units of different sizes. This allows for up to 21 offices per floor. Following the renovation, the two windowless levels behind the frieze are especially suited to archiving and storage.

The curtain wall facade with its sea-green balustrades and slender aluminium profiles has been restored to its original colours. During the renovation, architect Kerk-Oliver Dahm stringently followed Henselmann’s original plans. The brown, mirrored windowpanes, which were installed during the GDR era and deprived the building of its silvery look, were once again replaced with clear glass.

Restoring the frieze

The damaged Womacka frieze was restored at a specialist glazier’s workshop in Quedlinburg. Since the janitors who worked in the building had collected fallen mosaic tiles over the years and stored them in the cellar, a large portion of the frieze could be reconstructed using original parts.

After three years of construction, visitors could once again enjoy the building in its original splendour.

THE SOURCE OF THE NAME “HAUS DES LEHRERS”

At the start of the 20th century, the site where the Haus des Lehrers now stands used to be the location of a teachers’ association building. It was destroyed by bombing in 1944 and later demolished.

The old teachers’ association building

The teachers’ association building was built in 1908. The elaborate Art Nouveau structure, designed by Hans Toebelmann and Henry Groß, served as a communication centre for teachers. The building was commissioned by the Berlin Teachers’ Association, which at that time had grown to over 3,000 members. It comprised three buildings, separated by courtyards, with a total area of 3,195 m2. The ground floor contained restaurants, a cafe and a bakery. The 1,180 m² meeting centre was located in the middle of the complex. The largest hall had a capacity of 1,700, while the small ceremonial hall had a capacity of 700.

In 1910, the education library was transferred to the teachers’ association building. The association offered a reform-focused educational programme whose influence spread beyond the imperial capital (as it was then). The memorial ceremony for Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg took place here in February 1919. In 1933, the Berlin Teachers’ Association was absorbed into the National Socialist Teachers’ League.

Berlin Teachers’ Association

The Berlin Teachers’ Association (Berliner Lehrerverein) was founded at the Englischer Hof, Alexanderstraße 27 A, on 24 September 1880 from the merger of the Berliner Kommunallehrerverein (founded in 1849) and the Berliner Bezirksverband des Deutschen Lehrervereins (founded in 1871). The association’s mission was to help improve its members’ social status and to modernise public education.