Haus am Kleistpark

The History of the
Haus am Kleistpark

Former Botanical Museum Schöneberg, 1901

The Wilhelminian-style building known today as the Haus am Kleistpark was originally established as the Royal Botanical Museum in 1880. The building is close to Heinrich-von-Kleistpark, known colloquially as ‘Kleistpark’, which not only lends the building its name but is closely related to the construction as well. Indeed, the building’s history is inextricably entwined with that of its nearby surroundings.

The History of a Garden

Map of the Botanical Garden Schöneberg, 1886

In 1506 the Elector of Brandenburg Joachim I acquired the village of Schöneberg, located southwest of Berlin. Later, both a kitchen and a hops garden were established here to supply the court.

In 1679 Elector Friedrich Wilhelm discontinued the cultivation of hops on the property of Schöneberg but kept the kitchen garden and established another one specifically for the court. On the one hand this served its needs and, on the other, taught the population about various plants and their cultivation techniques.

His successor, King Frederick I, had the previous kitchen garden transformed into a pleasure garden with greenhouses and rare plants. In 1718 his son, King Frederick William I, once again placed the garden under the control of the Prussian Academy of Sciences.

Over the years, the Royal Botanical Garden developed out of the Electoral Kitchen Garden, and by the end of the 19th century included 17,000 cultivated plants, 36 greenhouses, as well as teaching and research facilities.

Botanischer Garten Schöneberg, Kakteenhaus, 1903
Botanical Garden Schöneberg, Cactus house, 1903

Botanischer Garten Schöneberg, Gewächshäuser, 1901
Botanical Garden Schöneberg, Greenhouses, 1903

Adelbert von Chamisso:
Romantic Poet and Naturalist

Today Adelbert von Chamisso is known to us above all as a Romantic poet (The Wonderful History of Peter Schlemihl). He was, however, also active as a natural scientist and from 1819 onwards was employed as the Botanical Garden’s second, and later first, curator. Under his direction, the affiliated herbarium became a destination for numerous scientists and was one of the most renowned of its time. More than forty years after his death in 1838, this herbarium was moved to the upper rooms of the newly built Royal Botanical Museum. Today, a commemorative plaque at Haus am Kleistpark recalls the poet’s work in the field of natural science.

Herbarium of the Botanical Museum Schöneberg, today an exhibition hall on the 2nd floor

The Royal Botanical Museum

In 1880 the Royal Botanical Garden was enlarged by the construction of a museum: the present Haus am Kleistpark.

‘Near the south-west corner of the botanical garden, facing Wilmersdorfer Weg, […] rises the stately building of the botanical museum. […] The rooms belonging to the botanical museum in the narrower sense consist of an entrance hall, two study rooms, and finally two large halls with galleries. In these rooms, objects from the plant kingdom are exhibited which are of scientific interest as well as general interest due to their practical application. […]’ (German Gardeners Journal, 1882)

The Botanical Central Office for the German Colonies

During Germany’s colonial period, in 1891 then Royal Botanical Garden director Adolf Engler founded the Botanical Central Office for the German Colonies. From that point on, among other things the Schöneberg Garden served as a site of research and the cultivation of useful tropical plants that were then sent on to the colonies. In addition, gardeners were trained for their work abroad and exotic plants such as cocoa, coffee, and cotton were introduced to the greater population.

From Royal Garden to Public Park

Only 30 years after the completion of the museum, the Royal Botanical Garden was moved to Dahlem due to lack of space—the garden could not be enlarged. The State Office for the Preservation of Natural Monuments moved into the ‘stately building’ on Grunewaldstraße and was responsible for issuing the first regulations regarding nature conservation in Prussia. The garden was restructured into a park.

A Name for the New Park

On the 100th anniversary of the death of the poet Heinrich von Kleist in 1911, the park was renamed in his honour. To preserve its character, a regulation prohibiting the construction of factories and commercial facilities with any ‘annoying noise or foul odours’ was issued. This meant that the facades of the new buildings—but not their rear buildings or courtyards—were allowed to face the park.

Rose Garden in Kleistpark, 1928

Use during the Third Reich

After the National Socialists took power, the Office for the Preservation of Natural Monuments became the Reich Office for Nature Conservation. Like other areas, nature conservation was subjected to Nazi ideology. At the same time, the Reich Office for Education was housed in the building. During World War II, a bomb destroyed the northeast wing. Ever since, there have been efforts to have the wing rebuilt.

Former Botanical Museum Schöneberg, later bombed-out wing, seen from the house, 1901

From Botany to Culture

In 1967, under the direction of Georg Zeller, the Kunstamt moved to Grunewaldstraße. As today, the former rooms of the herbarium on the second floor were used. During this time, the municipal gallery established itself under the name Haus am Kleistpark. Together with the Leo Kestenberg Music School, which moved that same year, the building became a place of culture offering a range of exhibitions, readings, and concerts.

Zeller primarily exhibited the Berlin Realists and later promoted artists of ‘Heftige Malerei’ or fierce painting. In 1982 he handed management duties over to Katharina Kaiser, who focused on contemporary art while also devoting herself to social and cultural-historical issues. In addition, under her direction a number of significant photo exhibitions were held; for example, a retrospective on internationally known war photographer Robert Capa or an exhibition of American artist Martha Rosler’s conceptual and theoretical photographic work.

Exhibition “Robert Capa. Retrospektive 1932–54”, 1986

Exhibition “Martha Rosler. If not now, when?”, 2005

In Good Company: Großgörschen 35

Beginning in the mid-1960s, a lively artists’ scene began to settle into the factory buildings and backyards of northern Schöneberg, near Kleistpark. This included Galerie Großgörschen 35, founded by 14 artists (including Karl Horst Hödicke, Bernd Koberling, and Markus Lüpertz). At a time when new forms of art and cultural mediation were being experimented with and exhibition space was scarce, the young painters simply founded their own gallery. This formed the beginning of a series of artist-run galleries that would follow over the course of the following decades, such as Kulmerstrasse in 1978 and Garage in 1980. Fifty years later, in 2014, the Haus am Kleistpark commemorated the legendary gallery with an extensive exhibition.

Exhibition “Großgörschen 35. Aufbruch zur Kunststadt Berlin 1964”, 2014, photo © Gerhard Haug, Berlin

The Present

Since 2011 Barbara Esch Marowski has been the gallery director of the Haus am Kleistpark. She has shifted the focus onto artistic photography and played a key role in welcoming both national and international artists to the gallery. Throughout its history, the municipal gallery Haus am Kleistpark, together with its affiliated locations, has stood for cosmopolitanism, experimentation, and artistic discoveries at a high level. Here, local reference and intercultural exchange coalesce with the inclusion of global contexts. As non-commercial spaces providing opportunities for interaction through the mediation of contemporary art, communication, and critical discourse, the municipal galleries of Tempelhof-Schöneberg are open to any and all who are interested.

Exhibition Arwed Messner und Annett Gröschner “Mauer/Wall // Macht/Power”, 2016, photo © Gerhard Haug, Berlin

Exhibition “In Den Raum Zeichnen. umreißen, verdichten, spuren”, 2017, Cooperation with Galerie Nord and Galerie Parterre, photo © Gerhard Haug, Berlin