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Arts

Glass dome could give German Baroque palace a futuristic flair

Historical buildings are protected by law in Germany and typically cannot be altered. A new scheme to crown a Baroque palace in Bonn with a glass roof could break the mold and give the old some forward-thinking flair.

Ralph Schweitzer's aesthetic vision is clearly visible in his first design for the intricate glass dome that's to grace the top of Bonn's Baroque palace, Poppelsdorfer Schloss. It's not the architect's first project for visionary Frank Asbeck, who foresaw a transparent, 1,000-seat concert and event hall beneath the dome, embedded in the inner courtyard and surrounded by the palace's arcade.

Anyone who's been to Berlin, which replaced Bonn as the German capital after reunification, will quickly associate the planned glass dome with the one atop the Reichstag. Nevertheless: "This project is entirely different," insists Schweitzer. "The Reichstag dome is a huge symbol that is meant to be visible from all sides. What we want to make here is a glass roof that is not visible from the outside, so that we don't disturb the palace as a historic monument."

A new concert or learning experience

The idea for the glass dome came from Frank Asbeck, founder and CEO of the Bonn-based photovoltaic manufacturer Solarworld. "I came up with the idea after seeing Poppelsdorfer Schloss from an aerial perspective," he said. As a student at the University of Bonn 30 years ago, he used to visit the inner courtyard of the Baroque palace, which now houses some of the university's science departments.

Reichstag in Berlin, Copyright: picture-alliance/dpa

The Reichstag dome serves a symbolic purpose and is meant to be seen from all sides

Asbeck is prepared to invest 2.4 million euros in the design and building of the "future dome," as he called it.

Currently, the inner courtyard of the palace is used for parking. "That's very unfortunate," said architect Ralph Schweitzer. "I see the opportunity to build a cellar beneath the rotunda, which could centrally house the university's collections - a kind of university museum in Bonn."

The glass-covered hall could also be used as an XXL auditorium for university lectures - or as a concert hall for Bonn's annual Beethovenfest music festival. Beethovenfest director Nike Wagner said she has also envisioned a kind of blow-up chamber music hall in the inner courtyard of the Poppelsdorfer Schloss.

Historical monuments typically cannot be altered

Though the plans for the glass dome have been presented, they have not yet been approved by the city of Bonn. Since the palace is listed as a historical monument, strict laws stipulate the extent to which it can be architecturally altered. The dome design still has to be evaluated in this context.

Originally built in 1715, the Baroque palace was severely damaged by bombs during World War II. Reconstruction took 20 years.

Ashok Sridharan, Bonn's newly elected mayor, will make the final decision as to whether the glass dome will become reality or not. Sketches of the addition were presented to him on Thursday (12.11.2015).

He said he sees the discussion as a test of the extent to which Bonn is willing to reshape its cultural landscape with forward-thinking projects.

Poppelsdorfer Schloss Bonn, Copyright: DW/H. Mund

Now the courtyard is used as a parking lot

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