You are here

Amerika Haus

For decades, millions of Berlin residents have informed themselves at the library and at film screenings. Robert Kennedy, Richard Nixon and Willy Brandt visited, the building was bombarded with eggs and Molotov cocktails and protected with barbed wire. Robert Rauschenberg, Frank Lloyd Wright and Lyonel Feininger exhibited their works here – the Amerika Haus in Berlin is much more than an architectural treasure from the 1950s. This building has reflected the changeful transatlantic relationships between the USA and the Federal Republic of Germany since the end of World War II. For fifty years it was symbolically in the firing line of cultural and political discussions and international controversies.

In the early days, the Amerika Haus was open to everyone. A cultural meeting place of the US, in the form of a democratic and civil-social organised event and information centre. This is also reflected architecturally in the icon-like detached building, which was built in 1956/57 on the occasion of the International Building Exhibition according to plans by Bruno Grimmek from the United States Information Agency (USIS)–light, simple and delicate. However, in the course of the anti-American protests held since the 1960s and following the terrorist attacks on 11th September 2001, this open house changed step by step to become more of a fortress. US American institutions increased their security to such an extent that only invited guests could visit Amerika Haus – behind high fences, with rolling shutters in front of the windows and a security door system. At the latest when the new US embassy was opened at Brandenburger Tor and the ownership was transferred to the State of Berlin in 2006, the Amerika Haus fell into a deep sleep.

In 2015 the publication Pop, Politics, And Propaganda–Amerika Haus Berlin Through The Ages was released.

Architecture

Light, simple and delicate – Amerika Haus was built in 1956-57 on the occasion of the International Building Exhibition “Interbau”, based on the design plans of the architect Bruno Grimmek. Until 2006 it served as the cultural and information centre of the United States of America in Berlin – including a cinema, library and exhibition spaces. After many years and a series of different temporary utilizations, C/O Berlin reopened the buidling to a large cultural audience in 2014. This revitalization is also expressed architecturally through exposing the original building material and also connecting the old with the new, meeting the modern standards of a professional museum infrastructure.

Chronology

February 26, 1946 Opening of the public library of the US occupying forces. The nucleus of the Amerika Haus was on Kleiststrasse 10–12 and offered a range of 2,000 books for loan.

March 1946 Opening of the British cultural institute in West Berlin, British Centre—Die Brücke December 1946 First exhibition: Jugendbücher aus aller Welt (books for youths from around the world).

May 21, 1947 The library was officially turned into a US information center. As was the case in several West German cities, the institution was called “Amerika Haus.”

1947 Opening of the Soviet cultural institution in East Berlin, Haus der Kultur der Sowjetunion

June 3, 1949 Move to larger building on Einemstrasse 1 in Schöneberg

April 1950 Opening of the French cultural institution in West Berlin, Maison de France

1951–52 The location on Hardenbergstrasse was considered for a new building. In December 1952, a contract of lease was drawn up between the state of Berlin and the US state department.

1951 Initially, it was planned that Walter Gropius would design the Amerika Haus. However, the contract fell through because he required the payment in US dollars.

1952 Initial design draft by the US architects office Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM)

1953 The newspaper Tagesspiegel reported on the building plans for the first time and highlighted the “oversized glazed façade.” Preliminary halt to planning due to change of government in the US.

1955 Commissioning of Senate architect Bruno Grimmek

March 12, 1955 The Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands (socialist unity party of Germany, SED) newspaper Neues Deutschland commented on the plans for the new building with an allusion to the zoo nearby: “an Amerika Haus, that’s all that was missing close to the monkey house!”

October 30, 1956 Topping-out ceremony

June 5, 1957 Ceremonial opening

May 1, 1958 First anti-American demonstrations in front of the building—the East Berlin Freie Deutsche Jugend (free German youth) FDJ youth organization marched past.

1960–61 Building extended with basement story at rear. Includes space for seminar and screening rooms.

November 1961 Opening of permanent exhibition Die Mauer (the wall). Exhibition shown in former Ost-Lesesaal (East reading hall), from which visitors from East Berlin were excluded from August 13 onward.

Spring 1962 The British Centre moves into the neighboring building on Hardenbergstrasse 20.

February 5, 1966 Eggs are thrown at the façade during the first anti-Vietnam War demonstration of the Sozialistischen Deutschen Studentenbundes (socialist German student union, SDS)

May 4, 1970 Attempt at attack by left-wing members including incendiary devices

May 9, 1970 Largest street fight between anti-Vietnam War demonstrators and the police in front of Amerika Haus

1973 Peak of the wave of protests: at least nine anti-American demonstrators, most of them organized by the maoist Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands (communist party of Germany, KPD), marched past the building during this year.

1973–74 Thorough renovation and refurbishment. Windows are reinforced as a response to the demonstrations and attempted attacks. The library reduces its stock and is transformed into a specialist library providing information about America.

1974 Joachimstaler Strasse, about 150 meters away from Amerika Haus, is one of the places most frequented by pedestrians in West Berlin. With 12,000 visitors, the exhibition Street Art was one of the most successful in the history of the building.

1976 Following sixteen male directors of the institution, the US diplomat Caroline Meirs was the first woman to hold this position.

May 17, 1980 During a demonstration on the occasion of the allied forces military parade, RAF supporters climb onto the roof of the building. Four-hour dispute with the police. 1989–90 Following German reunification, Amerika Haus organizes many events and activities in the GDR or the “new states.” At the same time, the American foreign policy is questioned in the sense of whether or not it makes sense to continue to run the German Amerika Haus institutions. With the fall of communism and the establishment of German democracy, their mission was considered fulfilled. However, sixteen years passed before the institution was actually closed.

August 7, 1998 Terror attacks by al-Quaeda on the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. A total of 223 deaths. As a result, US institutions around the world are insulated. The public cultural program at the Amerika Haus almost comes to a complete standstill in 1999.

1999 The arrival of the “Bonner”—relocation of the US embassy from Bonn to Berlin. The Amerika Haus was above all used as an administration building for the department of culture.

September 11, 2001 Following the terror attacks in New York, many Berlin residents lay flowers in front of the building.

2006 Although the new US embassy at Pariser Platz is not yet ready, the department of culture moves out of Amerika Haus. Hence the building stood empty shortly before its fiftieth anniversary.

2009 The new car park directly next to the Amerika Haus did not take into account its listed building status

2014 Reopening of C/O Berlin in Amerika Haus following its renovation