Kroll Opera House

Kroll Opera House

The Kroll Opera House (German "Krolloper") was an opera building in Berlin, Germany, on the western edge of the Königsplatz (now the Platz der Republik), facing the Reichstag. It was built in 1844 as an entertainment venue for the restaurant owner Joseph Kroll, on a site donated by Friedrich Wilhelm IV. The building was redeveloped as an opera house in 1851 and was used by various owners and directors for opera, operetta and drama. It was redeveloped again in 1895 and re-opened as the New Royal Opera Theatre, operated by the Prussian state opera and drama companies.

1842-1848 Early years

"The Kroll story began in Breslau, where the entrepreneur Joseph Kroll (1797-1848) founded the “Kroll Winter Garden” in 1837. The city of Breslau chose this reputable establishment to entertain the new Prussian King Friedrich Wilhelm IV (1795-1861) when he visited the city in 1841. He was so impressed by the splendid, flower-decorated rooms that he suggested that something similar should be initiated in Berlin. It was going to become the social hub for the nobility in the Prussian residence.After a consultation with the garden director, Peter Joseph Lenné (1798-1866) and other members of the government, the King presented an order from the cabinet dated 19 August 1842, which specified the building site on the west side of the parade ground in Tiergarten, and laid out the conditions: Kroll was able to use the property without charge, but he would have to return the land and demolish any structures he had built if the project failed.

The parade ground, which had stood since 1730, was outside of the city just to the north west of the Brandenburg Gate. It had long degenerated into a sandy field, and the Berliners therefore derisively called it the “Sahara”. Every step on the sandy ground would kick up a cloud of dust on the square. When it rained, the soil would turn into a mass of dirty mud. Yet Kroll took solace in the fact that the greenery of the Tiergarten lay just beyond the property.

The plans for the new building came from the court architect Ludwig Persius (1803-1845), which was a good indicator of the significance that the project had for Friedrich Wilhelm IV.

After a construction period of only ten months, Kroll’s enterprise opened on 15 February 1844. Forty waiters were to serve up to five thousand guests in the three halls (the main hall, also referred to as the King’s Hall, and two smaller halls), thirteen boxes for at least thirteen people each, and fourteen large rooms (for smaller parties). Sixty musicians provided entertainment. The “Tunnel” was a special attraction and praised as a novelty for Berlin – a hall where one could smoke! A technical innovation was the newly implemented gas lighting, which “consisted of 400 flames”.

During the first year Kroll had satisfactory results. The main attractions were the large exhibitions, concerts and balls, which took place around lavishly constructed stage sets. Yet despite its uniqueness in Germany, as noted by the critics, the enterprise became increasingly difficult to sustain. On 15 April 1848, on his deathbed, Kroll regretted that his King had once had breakfast with him."1

1848-1894 Between success and decline

"Kroll’s successor was his eldest daughter, Auguste. The “National People’s Garden” was opened as soon as May 1848 as part of an expansion. Great attractions were offered first in the garden and later in the great hall, such as performances with wild animals by their tamers and an extensive trade fair (1849). In 1850 Kroll established a permanent summer theatre with open-air performances of operas and other events. Here, among others, Albert Lortzing (1808-1851) directed the first showing of his operas “Undine”, “The Armourer” and “The Czar and the Carpenter”.

The operation of the new Theatre and Opera Company was suddenly disrupted on 1 February 1851, when the curtains were accidentally set on fire while lamps were being lit. But Auguste Kroll didn’t let that stop her, and on 24 February 1852, the theatre already reopened in a completely new building. About a year later, Auguste Kroll married the Hungarian violinist, conductor and businessman Jakob Engel. This successfully expanded the “Kroll Opera Pool” and brought many new comic operas to the stage. But he could not prevent the business from closing its doors on 1 April 1855. Despite all efforts, the earnings were far beneath the costs of operation.

One of the creditors, the entrepreneur Heinrich Bergmann, took over the operation and brought in such luminaries as Jacques Offenbach (1819-1880) for one of his first guest appearances in Berlin. In 1862 the “Kroll” was forced into auction, which enabled Jakob Engel to buy it back. Although the company was still weighed down by debt, Engel was beaming with optimism, and attempted to bring the Berliners back into his establishment in droves with a diverse program – albeit only with moderate success. Engel’s attempts to sell failed because of the Prussian tax authority and the mortgage that weighed down the business. In addition, the parade ground was renamed “Königsplatz” (King’s Square”) by 18 December 1864, the gardens were redone, and later plans were made for a series of monuments to honour the Prussian victories from 1864-71. In September 1873 the Victory Column was unveiled in the middle of Königsplatz, while at the same time a long discussion took place at the Reichstag about whether to tear down the Kroll establishment and build a new Reichstag structure in its place. Only in 1876 did these proposals, which were so detrimental to any future investments, get tossed out, so that Jakob Engle was able to proceed with the modernization and improvement of his establishment. In 1885 – the first time in Berlin – the old gas lighting was therefore replaced by the “Edison system” of electric lighting. Two years later, Engel was also able to secure a contract extension for another forty years, but he ran out of time to implement his plans. He died unexpectedly from a stroke on 28 June 1888. His son tried to continue his work, but the “lack of interest from the Berlin public” for the Kroll stage’s artistic presentation forced him to sell in 1894." [Reichhardt Hans J., (October 1988). "Bei Kroll 1844 BIS 1957", Landesarchiv Berlin, KalekreuthstraBe 1-2, Berlin 30, ISBN 3-88747-048-6. Page ?]

1895-1957: Decline, seat of the Reichstag, and destruction

In 1924 the building was renamed the State Opera at the Platz der Republik, but was always better known as the Kroll Opera House. During the 1920s its resident conductor was Otto Klemperer. The Kroll Opera House saw the world premières of Paul Hindemith's "Neues vom Tage" in 1929 and Arnold Schönberg's "Begleitmusik zu einer Lichtspielszene" in 1930.

After the Reichstag fire in 1933 severely damaged the Reichstag building, the Krolloper became the seat of the Reichstag, by then under the control of the Nazi Party. It was chosen both because of its convenient location and for its seating capacity. On 23 March 1933, the Reichstag session in the Kroll Opera House passed the "Enabling Act" that gave Adolf Hitler virtually unlimited power. The Krolloper was used for sittings of the Reichstag throughout the Nazi regime, and was the site of Hitler's set piece speeches. It was here that Hitler made his "prophesy" speech of 30 January 1939 in which he said that "if the international Jewish financiers in and outside Europe should succeed in plunging the nations once more into a world war, then the result will not be the Bolshevizing of the earth, and thus the victory of Jewry, but the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe."

The last session of the Reichstag was held in the Kroll Opera House on 26 April 1943, passing a decree allowing Hitler to override the judiciary and administration in all matters.

The building was destroyed by Allied bombing on 22 November 1943. The ruins were demolished in 1951.


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