The Congress Hall at 50 - Do You Remember?

Stories and photos on fifty years of history

Over the past five decades, many Berliners and non-Berliners have memorable experiences of the Congress Hall, inside and out. They have attended concerts, exhibitions and lectures here, celebrated birthdays, or cast off from embankment with the steamer. Some saw Kennedy in front of the Hall or still remember hearing the resounding crash from afar as the roof caved in. Others visited the Hall with their school class, or cheered the Dalai Lama or Nelson Mandela when they visited the Haus der Kulturen der Welt. For regardless of whether it is of the Congress Hall, the “Pregnant Oyster” or the Haus der Kulturen der Welt, every story and every picture you sent helped to complete the kaleidoscope of a history spanning fifty years so far.

1956 | Sketch by Hugh A. Stubbins | © Hugh Stubbins and Associates

1956 | Sketch by Hugh A. Stubbins | © Hugh Stubbins and Associates

“I tried many schemes ...
... rectangular, round, square, etc. After weeks and weeks of work, I was sitting on my lawn reading the Sunday Times and all of a sudden it came to me. I made a small sketch on the back of the paper and it seemed worth developing. The idea simplified many things and gave a prominence to the central feature, The Hall.”
Hugh A. Stubbins, architect of the Congress Hall

Early sketches, the speech at the topping-out ceremony (Richtfest) May 1957 as a sound file, the speech at the opening ceremony 19 September 1957 and more provided by the Stubbins family here....

The architect Hugh Stubbins landed in the afternoon.
“I knew the Congress Hall before it was even built!
It was probably in 1956, when I (a thirteen-year-old) was sitting in a restaurant at Tempelhof Airport with my parents. A delegation of important people met Hugh Stubbins, the architect, on the runway that afternoon. The group came into the restaurant and sat down at the table next to us. Mr. Stubbins spread out his plans and explained his designs for the Congress Hall. We were able to get a pretty good look and catch some of what they said.” Elke Leonhardt

From the Hansa District to the Congress Hall
Being a keen photographer, Ms. Schimetzek documented not only the shell of the Congress Hall, but also, and above all, the development of the Hansa District. The Hansa District and the Congress Hall were both completed in time for the International Building Exhibition (Interbau) in 1957.
Ms. Schimetzek has opened her photo album for the Haus der Kulturen der Welt. Thank you very much!

The Congress Hall | Photographer: Gerhard Koch

The Congress Hall | Photographer: Gerhard Koch

The opening in September 1957
“… It was partly a stand-up reception. The speeches were held in the large foyer. There were lots of chairs there. You just sat down and listened as the architects talked about their ideas, what they had done, and what could still be done. And Hugh Stubbins, who is unfortunately no longer able to attend, because he died at the age of ninety… of course, he was also fifty years younger then. And everyone was full of ‘our city’! On the one hand, we still had all the rubble to deal with. And then this huge lawn suddenly took shape in the Tiergarten… so well cared for and beautifully formed. And, of course, people were thinking: ‘It can’t be true!!’ you know? And one day, the really big names arrived. And that gave us this incredible energy. And the all those other things were built, but that all happened later…” Wera Ostwaldt

1956/57 and again 2006/07 Wera Ostwaldt created the devices next to the Congress Hall's main entrance. Click here for her pictures of the Hall in 1957.

1980 After the collape of the roof | © Manfred Strauß

1980 After the collape of the roof | © Manfred Strauß

The Congress Hall Collapses!
“… We were busy working away on this mild summer’s day when we were startled by a pretty loud crash, while we were busy coming up with additional festival activities. It sounded as if something had exploded in the zoo. We ran to the windows on the posh side of the building and noticed a column of smoke rising quite some way off. We engaged in some pretty wild guessing about what had happened: ‘It’s in the East! Someone’s blown up the Wall...’ and that sort of thing. There was a radio in the foyer and so a few minutes later we knew that it must have come from the Congress Hall as it collapsed.” Bernd Krüger

Hagen Matuschek | Gilberto Gil concert 2006

Hagen Matuschek | Gilberto Gil concert 2006

Wole Soyinka, the Congress Hall and the Haus der Kulturen der Welt
Gerd Meuer writres about Wole Soyinka's visits to the Congress Hall in the 60s and 1990 at the newly founded Haus der Kulturen der Welt. 1990 the first African Nobel Prize for Literature winner together with the German play writer and director Heiner Müller took part in “A voyage around…” at the Haus. It was a memorable evening ... Read the whole article here ...

This gallery was published on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Congress Hall in 2007. Many thanks to all who sent us their contributions!