Four centuries of Berlin architectural history: the Forum on Museum Island

ein PLatz in Berlin bei Nacht
December 2023

We visited some exciting new neighbours. Just a few steps from the Hackesche Höfe, between Oranienburger Straße and the Spree, the Forum an der Museumsinsel has opened. Here you can rediscover an ensemble of freshly refurbished architectural monuments from different stylistic periods. An asset for Berlin-Mitte.

Eight architectural monuments

The Hackesche Höfe remain true to themselves, while their neighborhood continues to change its face. Within walking distance of the courtyards on Oranienburger Straße, two new urban districts were opened in 2023. Besides the Tacheles neighborhood, the "Forum an der Museumsinsel," as the developers call it, has finally been completed – after almost twenty years of planning and restoration. The gigantic urban repair project comprises a large piece of Berlin in the most prominent location between Oranienburger Straße, Monbijou Park and Museum Island.

At the beginning of the 20th century, this was the location of the capital's communications center, the main telegraph office and the telephone exchange. Charité hospital buildings were located in the southern section facing the Spree. The eight listed buildings span different stylistic periods from classicism to expressionism and Bauhaus modernism. A detour is worthwhile – for example after a visit to the Hackesche Höfe.

Photos above and right: the central square of the forum

all photos: © Forum Museumsinsel GmbH & Co.KG

Industrial chic

In addition to offices and luxury flats, several cafés, restaurants, bars and a hotel have been created here alongside a new square – places that are open to the public. Visitors are offered exciting insights into elaborately restored industrial architecture. The dignified industrial chic of the interior design includes – this is Berlin, after all – raw concrete, patina, unplastered brick walls, old cranes and machinery. The history of the buildings remains recognizable – the nearby Neues Museum and the concept of its restoration greet you across the Spree. Architect David Chipperfield and his office were also involved in the Forum on Museum Island.

Diesel meets beer

A previously closed block now opens up to the neighborhood. Opposite the synagogue, a newly built gatehouse leads from Oranienburger Straße to a new town square, the center of the ensemble. A large screen in one of the gateways provides information about the history of the individual buildings. The square is dominated by the historic "Dieselhaus." The "Diesel" restaurant has established itself there on two spacious floors. Bavarian beer and down-to-earth cuisine are served here in an industrial ambience. Speciality of the house: Guests can tap their own beer from a wooden keg at the table.

In the past, the Dieselhaus housed a gigantic diesel-powered emergency generator, which was intended to ensure the electricity supply to the telecommunications center in the event of a power failure. Today, the impressive machine dominates the restaurant's dining room, carefully cleaned and polished. In summer, you can sit in the beer garden outside on the square - more protected from traffic noise than almost anywhere else in Mitte. Two cafés are open on the square during the day, but there are no retail outlets.  On a visit to the square on a winter evening, it still looks rather lifeless. In the first winter, there is still no sign of the ice rink planned by the development company. 

Photo left: the former diesel-powered generator in the restaurant ”Diesel”

The investor

The land on the site was gradually acquired at the beginning of the millennium by the entrepreneur and investor Ernst Freiberger (73). Development and restoration work took over 20 years and several 100 million euros were invested. Freiberger, who is often referred to in the tabloid press as "pizza millionaire", comes from a Bavarian bakers’ and ice cream dynasty, made a fortune with frozen pizza, runs clinics and has already managed a major property project on the Spreebogen in Berlin. The Forum on Museum Island seems to have been a matter close to Freiberger's heart. His wife, an interior designer, was involved in the design of the buildings. Freiberger only wants to rent out the buildings and not sell them on; he has a stake in the hotel and the associated restaurant.

The telegraph office

The largest building in the Forum is that of the city's former main telegraph office. It was built between 1910 and 1916 in neo-baroque style. It was the largest of its kind in Europe and the center of what was then a pioneering communications network. Up to 20,000 telegrams were sent from here every day. Berlin's pneumatic tube center was located in the basement of the building: Messages and objects were transported by compressed air in cylindrical containers to around 100 stations. The Berlin pneumatic tube network stretched up to 400 kilometers. The pneumatic tube system was in operation until 1976. In order to fulfill monument protection requirements, the building owners had to preserve the pneumatic dispatch system. Unfortunately, it cannot be viewed in its entirety. A side wing of the former telegraph office has been converted into modern office space used by IT companies.

Back to the Roots

The "Hotel Telegraphenamt" with 97 rooms is located in the main building with its entrance to Monbijou Park. The elegant furnishing of the rooms with lots of dark wood and industrial elements stands out pleasantly from the kitsch of other upmarket hotels in Berlin. The offer ranges from double rooms (from 285 euros per night) to maisonette suites (from 550 euros) and a 140-square-meter residence on the top floor. Here, guests who have forked out at least 1,200 euros can enjoy a unique view of the city center and the TV tower.

For curious visitors who don't want to spend the night in the telegraph office, it's still worth taking a look at the impressive, spacious lobby and the industrial and art deco interior. An old machine for sending and receiving pneumatic tubes can also be admired here.
Adjacent to the lobby is the "Root" restaurant in a canopied former courtyard and the bar of the same name. Like the hotel, the restaurant and bar are run by Roland Mary, the boss of the legendary "Borchardt", together with investor Ernst Freiberger. The "Root" serves sushi and other specialties from different parts of the world, but does not want to call its concept "fusion." If you want to dine quietly in a special ambience, you should try the "Roots."

The Lodge House

The "Lodge House" adjoins the telegraph office on Oranienburger Straße. It is the oldest building in the area. Built in 1789, it is an outstanding example of classicism in Berlin. The headquarters of the "Grand Lodge of Freemasonry of Germany" was equipped with representative meeting rooms and is considered the oldest surviving house of the order in Germany. In 1898, the Reichspost acquired the building and used it for parcel delivery, among other things. Following restoration, the building is now used for offices.


The former telephone exchange on Tucholskystraße impresses with its expressionist clinker brick façade. It was built between 1926 and 1927 within a very short space of time. Due to the increasing demand for telephone connections, a new telephone exchange was urgently needed in Berlin. After the Second World War, the telephone exchange was extended to include the Institute for Post and Telecommunications of the GDR, which has since formed the corner building facing Oranienburger Straße. The building is used in its entirety by the company Delivery Hero.

Photo left: the former telephone exchange of the city

From clinic to search engine

The southern area of the "Forum an der Museumsinsel" between Ziegelstraße and the Spree has been used by the Charité hospital since the early 19th century.
The so-called "Gropius ensemble" includes several buildings that were redesigned by David Chipperfield and have been used by Google since 2019. The main building was constructed between 1879 and 1883 by Martin Gropius and Heino Schmieden in neo-Renaissance style. A large lecture theater is located in a circular building at the rear, where the famous surgeon Professor Sauerbruch taught at the beginning of the 20th century. The building with its large semi-circular windows directly on the Spree is particularly striking.

Exclusive living in the ward

At the beginning of the 1930s, the women's clinic of the Charité was built on Ziegelstraße in an elongated, slender building in the style of Bauhaus modernism. At the time, a wind-sheltered ward on the flat roof caused quite a stir. The round building facing the Spree is characteristic. It housed a gymnastics hall with a spectacular view of Museum Island, the Rotes Rathaus and Alexanderplatz. This building, known as "Das Bauhaus", was also remodeled by David Chipperfield. The main tenant is an advertising agency, while apartments are located on the upper floors.
Finally, the Forum also includes two smart city palaces from the beginning of the 20th century. Today, wealthy people can enjoy a unique residential location right next to the Spree and Museum Island. The neo-baroque "Monbijou" on the street of the same name became part of the women's clinic 20 years after it was built. The neo-classical "Simon Palais" is located on the Spree promenade opposite the Bodemuseum. The Ida Simon Foundation built this palace in 1911 as an infirmary for needy women and girls. Here, at least, "ordinary mortals" can also enjoy the exclusive location: There is a café on the ground floor that serves excellent cakes. In summer, there is hardly a more beautiful place in Berlin to enjoy a coffee than outside in front of the Palais.

Photo below left: Simon Palais, right: Palais Monbijou