A walk through German cultural history – the Dorotheenstädtischer Friedhof is where important figures from Hegel to Brecht were laid to rest.
Every major city has a cemetery for its famous sons and daughters, and in Berlin you’ll find it at Chausseestraße 126. At the Dorotheenstädtischer Friedhof the gravestones and memorials read like a Who’s Who of Germany’s intellectual elite.
The history of the cemetery
The cemetery at the Dorotheenstädtische Kirche was opened in 1762. The name Dorotheenstadt comes from Dorothea, the second wife of the Great Elector, Friedrich Wilhelm. The area was outside the Berlin Customs Wall and from 1800 onward Berlin’s first heavy industry developed in the part of it known as Feuerland. The cemetery initially served as a burial place for ordinary citizens, but because institutions such as the Academy of Arts, the Choral Academy, the Academy of Science, the Academy of Architecture and the University Unter den Linden were all in the parish, the social standing of the people buried in the cemetery changed.
The graves in the cemetery became more and more expensive and ornate and it became the final resting place for notable figures. The City of Berlin maintains many graves of honour there.
Graves of important Berliners
The people buried in the Dorotheenstädtischer Friedhof include the philosophers Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel and Johann Gottlieb Fichte. The authors Heinrich Mann, Johannes R. Becher, Arnold Zweig and Anna Seghers also have their last resting place here. The grave of the theatre director Heiner Müller is decorated with a birdbath in the shape of an ashtray and his fans often leave cigars for the inveterate smoker. One of Berlin’s most notable sculptors was Johann Gottfried Schadow, who designed his own grave, and his contemporary Christian Daniel Rauch lies not far away. Berlin’s greatest architects, Karl Friedrich Schinkel and Friedrich August Stüler are also buried here, as are the artists John Heartfield, Wieland Herzfelde, Hanns Eisler, and the printer and publisher Ernst Theodor Litfaß. There is a large and ornate tomb to the industrialist August Borsig and his family, whose house was opposite the cemetery.
By contrast, two simple fieldstones mark the grave of Bertolt Brecht and Helene Weigel. At the entrance to the cemetery is the Bertolt-Brecht-Haus, where the pair lived their last years and which now houses the Brecht archive and the literary forum.
Notable Berlin figures who have been given a grave of honour in recent times include the actor Otto Sander, the theatre director Georg Tabori, the former president Johannes Rau, the philosopher Herbert Marcuse, the human rights activist Bärbel Bohley and the West Berlin commune founder Fritz Teufel.
A stone slab and a simple cross commemorate the members of the plot to kill Hitler on 20 July 1944, eight of whom were buried here after they were murdered shortly before the end of the war. Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Hans von Dohnanyi, whose burial places are not known, are also honoured on the stone.
The chapel and the light installation by James Turrell
Light in all its magic and light as a divine being are represented by the artist James Turrell’s installation in the chapel, which was restored in 2015. Just as in mediaeval Gothic churches, the blazing, coloured light is a sign of God. The fascinating light installation begins every evening after sunset. Guided tours and viewings are available without booking in advance.
The Französischer Friedhof is also on the site. From 1780 to 1835 it was used by the French Protestant community as a cemetery for the descendants of the Huguenots.
Many beautiful Neoclassical monuments mark the graves. Friedrich August Stüler created the opulent grave of the industrialist and collector Pierre Louis Ravené, and famous figures such as Jenny Gröllmann are buried here.
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