Return of cross to rebuilt Prussian palace vexes some Berliners

Symbolic addition to dome of Humboldt Forum proves ideologically controversial

A  golden cross is placed on top of the Humboldt Forum in Berlin. Photograph: Clemens Bilan

A golden cross is placed on top of the Humboldt Forum in Berlin. Photograph: Clemens Bilan


Berlin’s newest sight of interest is a golden cross – four metres high, weighing 310kg – and it has made many locals very cross indeed.

On Friday, the cross was hoisted on to the dome of Berlin’s reconstructed Prussian palace, but this symbolic final step in the seven-year museum construction has proven the most controversial.

The Humboldt Forum replaces the former East German parliamentary complex, demolished a decade ago, which itself stood on the site of the former kaiser residence, dynamited in 1950.

With a mix of historic sandstone and modern facades, the €600 million building was financed largely by the taxpayer.

The replica of the historic dome, meanwhile, was financed by private donors, and among its historic features are the golden cross and an inscription added in 1834 by Friedrich Wilhelm IV.

In gold lettering, it paraphrases a passage from the New Testament that “all . . . will fall on their knees, and all will openly proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord”.

‘Wrong signal’

Criticism of the cross and inscription has been led by Berlin’s culture minister Klaus Lederer of the Left Party, political heirs to East Germany’s former SED ruling party. 

He said the cross, clearly a religious symbol, sends “the wrong signal” atop a building named after Alexander von Humboldt, an enlightened humanist.  

“It contradicts everything we want to show in the Humboldt Forum: how plural, diverse, intertwined, broad and deep our roots really are,” he said.

Defenders of the cross include Berlin historian Christoph Markschies, who suggested that excluding the cross would be a falsification of architectural and cultural history.

“The Humboldt Forum is about presenting indigenous cultures and the confrontation with our own history,” said Prof Markschies, professor for antique Christianity at Berlin’s Humboldt University. He suggested Berliners should view the cross as an ideal opportunity to “discuss our relationship to the past and to religion”.

Other faiths

Those who suggested the cross was offensive to those of other faiths hadn’t reckoned with Aiman Mazyek. The president of the leading Muslim organisation said the cross belonged on the dome as part of Germany’s “cultural and historic inheritance”. He felt less offended by the cross than attempts to “obscure or get rid of it in an obsessive-compulsive way”.

The cross has divided public opinion in Berlin. The Tagesspiegel newspaper said the cross had “crept in . . . there was no talk of it originally”.

Meanwhile, the BZ tabloid said it would be “absurd” to exclude these Christian symbols, as “nothing has shaped our culture more than Christianity”. The cross is unlikely to spark a Christian revival in Berlin, Germany’s atheist capital. The dome beneath the cross, which originally housed the kaiser’s chapel, will now contain a Buddhist museum exhibit.