One of my all time favourite buildings in my hometown of Hannover in Germany’s Lower Saxony state is the “new” town hall – das Neue Rathaus.
This building celebrated its 100th birthday last year, hence the new!
I wrote a previous post about my hometown, but felt the need to delve a little further into this building.
A lot of tourists mistake this town hall for a castle, and you can see why, given its new-gothic style, its manner towers and turrets. The town had gone out to compete the design of this new build and Professor Hubert Stier was the winner of this architectural competition. His design included a larger tower, which some critics just did not warm to; they wanted a copula instead. After some pleading, the town went out with a second competition, this time stipulating the inclusion of a copula. Only the first six placed from the first competition were invited to take part. In 1897 the winner was declared: Hermann Eggert, designer of the main train station in Frankfurt.
The undertaking was massive, to say the least. The building was designed to be 129 meters wide, 76 meters deep and over 97 meters high, making it to this day one of the tallest buildings in Hannover. It would have two inner courtyards, one enormous entry hall (it’s big, honestly) and a number of ball rooms, meeting rooms and offices for the civil servants.
The building contains a very unique elevator (apparently the only one like this in Europe) within its dome. It follows the shape of the dome up to an observation platform (almost 100 meters high) at an angle of 17 degree in the 50 meter shaft.
In 1906 work began on the copula over the central entry hall, and it took two years to complete it. Even though the building was not complete, the first civil servants moved into their offices in 1907.
However, the interior build did not go as smoothly as the town fathers had wished. The overseeing construction commissioner from the town was not happy with the design for the interior, claiming it was outdated and not modern enough. The designer disagreed and the two ended up in stalemate. Eventually the town cancelled the contract with Hermann Eggert over this issue and at the end of 1909 the painter and architect Gustav Halmhuber was given the reigns to design the interior for the entry hall, the ball and meeting rooms and the offices. At the opening ceremony Hermann Eggert, original designer of this beautiful building, was nowhere to be seen, having chosen not to attend the ceremony.
This building cost just over ten million marks over the 12 years of building, which was completed in 1913 and opened on 13 June 1913 by none other than the German Kaiser Wilhelm II. Despite the enormous costs, which started out at only 4.5 million marks, the city paid for it all without going into debt over this new building. At the opening ceremony the town’s director, Heinrich Tramm, proudly declared to the Kaiser: “All paid for in cash, your Majesty!”
The reason for building a new town hall was due to the expansion of Hannover. Its citizens swelled from around 100,000 to 300,000 between 1871 and 1912. The old town hall just wasn’t big enough to cope with the increases of citizens and their associated business and paperwork. It took the town fathers a few years to settle upon a new location near the local parliament building.
The old town hall from 1410 still stands in the historical old part of the city and together with the Marktkirche (Market Church) it is a great example in northern Germany for the Backstein-Gothic.
In July 1943 the town hall escaped the bombs of American bombers, just barely though. In October 1943 the worst bombing, with over 250,000 bombs dropped by allied forces, left the town in ruins. The copula got hit and set the inside on fire. The flames were extinguished by volunteers and the building survived, damaged, but it survived.
In the main entry hall there are four model of Hannover, all showing the town/city at different stages during its life. One of the models shows the devastation caused by allied bombing.
Today the building is still very much in use; it is the official seat of the major and the city council. It is always open to the public, who can walk in for free and take a look around and take a trip (for a fee) up to the top of the copula where they are rewarded with some fabulous views.