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  • Writer's pictureAnna Dorothea Ker, MA

A Brief History of Schinkel Pavillon in Berlin

What is Schinkel Pavillon?

Schinkel Pavillon is a Cold War era octagonal pavilion in the garden of the Kronprinzenpalais (Crown Prince’s Palace) that was built as a guest house for socialist dignitaries, and is now a home for avant-garde contemporary art.

Schinkel Pavillon

Marek Śliwecki, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Schinkel Pavillon History

Tucked away amongst the monumental buildings lining the grand Unter den Linden boulevard stands this intriguing octagonal pavilion in the garden of the Kronprinzenpalais (or Crown Prince’s Palace). In the palace’s turbulent history, art and politics have combined in many ways, sometimes at odds with each other, sometimes doing each other’s work. The pavilion itself is a Cold War era relic that differs considerably from the building to which its name alludes – a summer house constructed in the 1820s by Karl Friedrich Schinkel for King Frederick William III of Prussia, in the gardens of Charlottenburg Palace.

After the fall of the German monarchy in 1918, the Kronprinzenpalais, a former royal Prussian residence, became a satellite site for the Berlin National Gallery. The following year, the respected art historian Ludwig Justi decided to showcase the works he had hand-picked from his favourite ateliers, including paintings by Wilhelm Trübner, Édouard Manet and Paul Cézanne. Thanks to his prescient taste, Justi established what is said to be the world’s inaugural contemporary art institution. The so-called ‘Gallery of Living Artists’ exhibited mainly Expressionist paintings, including works by artists from the Dresden-based Die Brücke, or ‘The Bridge’ – the movement that would eventually come to be known as German Expressionism. After the Nazis came to power in 1933, the gallery’s collection was branded as ‘degenerate art’ and partially destroyed before the gallery was shut down in 1937. The palace itself met the same sad fate of destruction during the Second World War.

In the late 1960s, East German authorities in East Berlin commissioned prominent architect Richard Paulick, best known for having overseen the East German revitalisation of Karl-Marx-Allee, to reconstruct the palace. In addition, the architect included a garden pavilion that would serve as the city’s flagship diplomatic premises, intended as a reception hall where the regime’s leader, Erich Honecker, would host cocktail parties for socialist luminaries. Resplendent floor-to-ceiling windows offered guests an impressive 180-degree view of the Mitte district’s iconic skyline, spanning from the Friedrichswerder Church out to Museum Island.

Since 2002, the vantage point that once flaunted the city to distinguished visitors has taken on a different role. Carrying on the tradition of the Kronprinzenpalais, the space now showcases cutting-edge contemporary art, created or exhibited in Berlin, for which the city after reunification has become famous. Under the Schinkel Pavillon banner, the space is today a platform for a non-profit art initiative led by curator Nina Pohl, who manages an exceptional host of artists and a curatorial program encompassing contemporary sculpture, installations and time-based art by German and international artists – from Isa Genzken and Mike Kelley through to Louise Bourgeois.

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