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An architect and builder with fine taste and a fondness for Jugendstil: from 1905, Kurt Berndt constructed the biggest maze of courtyards in Germany and the loveliest entrance in Berlin here at Hackescher Markt

The facade in courtyard 1 with white and blue tiles and several windows.

KURT BERNDT

A special courtyard strategy

Kurt Berndt both designed and commissioned the complex. He had already gained quite a reputation as a builder and architect: the Wittler bread factory in Wedding, Victoriahof on Köpenicker Strasse and Kurt-Berndt-Höfe on Schönhauser Strasse are all surviving examples of his work.

But the Hackesche Höfe are special. The underlying strategy is interesting in itself, because Berndt proposed a functional mix for the 9,200 square metres of land by locating commercial and residential sections side by side. These days it is normal practice again to combine different uses in order to make urban districts more sustainable, but back then the principal motive was to reduce the economic risk by diversifying the rent structure, with a combination of housing tenants, light industry and retail outlets.

Hackesche Höfe aerial view

As the Hackesche Höfe had to compete from the outset with other commercial courtyards built in Berlin in the prosperous years after Germany was first unified, they offered several advantages to companies and tenants. One was the location with direct access to Spandauer Vorstadt. Another was the high quality of the residential and commercial units, which lent the entire complex a prestigious character. And finally, the infrastructure provided central heating and on-site power generation, and so the working and production conditions were state-of-the-art.

Eight courtyards in all were constructed to Berndt’s designs. About 16,000 square metres of commercial space and another 8,000 square metres for eighty homes with two to five rooms made these courtyards what is now the largest residential and commercial ensemble of its kind in Germany.

Ballroom in the Hackesche Höfe

AUGUST ENDELL

A special design style

But the size of the interlinking courtyards at Hackescher Markt was not enough to make this complex stand out in Berlin’s post-unification boom. The façade on Rosenthaler Strasse displayed the opulent stucco decoration typical of architecture at the time. But the first courtyard – and the grandest in the complex – was to boast a very special design.

This was where August Endell came in: Kurt Berndt, who developed the Hackesche Höfe, was passionate about the art nouveau style known in Germany as Jugendstil. In the self-made architect, philosopher and aesthete August Endell he found the right designer to create a striking modern façade for the front courtyard.

Corner image of Hackesche Höfe facade

Endell was a talented all-rounder. He took commissions in Munich, Berlin and Breslau (now Wroclaw), designed not only homes and buildings but also furniture, and had made a name for himself with theoretical writings too. His spectacular vision for a photography studio in Munich had attracted plenty of attention: the strange, dragon-like ornamentation on its façade is still an icon symbolising the revolution in art around the turn of the century.

For the Hackesche Höfe, Endell designed the façades in the front courtyard and the two ballrooms in the transverse wing at the back – where the variety theatre and cinema are today – as well as the staircases. Other contributions by Endell in the front courtyard are the small ballroom on the ground floor of the side wing on the right, the wine restaurant between the entrance and the side wing on the left (now the restaurant Hackescher Hof and the restaurant in the rear wing (now the lounge café Oxymoron).

Staircase in Hackesche Höfe
Historisches Bild von Neumanns Festsälen in Hof 1 Historisches Bild von Neumanns Festsälen in Hof 1
Neumanns Festsäle in Hof 1
Historisches Bild einer Stuckdecke Historisches Bild einer Stuckdecke
Deckendekoration von August Endell in Neumanns Festsälen
Historisches Detailbild einer Stuckdecke mit floralem Muster Historisches Detailbild einer Stuckdecke mit floralem Muster
Deckendekoration von August Endell in Neumanns Festsälen
Historisches Detailbild einer Stuckdecke in den Hackeschen Höfen Historisches Detailbild einer Stuckdecke in den Hackeschen Höfen
Deckendekoration von August Endell in Neumanns Festsälen

Even today, the effect is impressive. The glazed bricks in different colours are immediate eye-catchers. Their rhythmical wave forms offer respite from the clear outlines of the structure, simulating plasticity and movement to transform the courtyard into a unique spatial experience.

This distinctive dynamic form and the use of colour to accentuate tiny details transform the place into a unique architectural backdrop for dance, music, readings and celebrations. Endell’s style still defines the location’s image today. And he also benefited from the project, becoming one of the most interesting architects of Jugendstil in Berlin. Today, he ranks among such names as Peter Behrens, Hermann Obrist, Henry van de Velde and other great artists.

Ballroom in the Hackesche Höfe
AUGUST ENDELL

»Die Schönheit der Grossen Stadt« (1908)

»If the great city is already a moving, richly structured being for the listener, it gives inexhaustibly to the sighted, the city as a landscape, as a colourful, eternally changing image gives a richness, a fullness.«