Especially in the Western part of Germany - and of Berlin too - city halls, as well as post offices, are imposing buildings, with a special history and massive architecture. Even though destroyed during the war, many were rebuilt following the original plans. When walking around Richard Wagner Square in Charlottenburg, the building of the district's city hall is easily observed as making a classical difference in the architectural geography of the place: big, massive and high, aimed to send a strong message of power. The Town hall/Rathaus was built at the end of the 19th century, in order to answer the growing needs of a population that in 50 years jumped from 12,000 to 300,000 people. The construction, a combination of Art Nouveau and Modernism, was ready in time for the 200th celebration of Charlottenburg. Kaiser Wilhelm II was not extremely pleased when discovered that the tower of the newly inaugurated edifice was much taller than the beautiful castle of Charlottenburg, but was too late for a dramatic change.
I started my exploration with a short visit at the Ratskeller, an indispensable part of any serious historical German townhall, the traditional restaurant in the basement. It was relatively empty during my lunch time, as many of the locals were probably rather tempted to taste the meals from the simpler and cheaper canteen inside the main building. But at least three times the month, there are plenty of people here, meeting to trade postmarks. Too late for me, as I gave up my passion for collecting postmarks a good couple of years ago.
The interior of the city hall is richly decorated, with grandiose halls and corners, that were not bothered by the simple and efficient offices dealing with current financial and administrative issues. The building was expanded during 1911-1916 and destroyed during the war. Besides the usual offices that you can find in a local city hall, here is hosted too a local library. The building can be visited, but most probably in small groups, as too many tourists may bother the daily activities.
The stairs look like an intricate maze that lead the visitor's steps to next level through stone arched massively decorated with mythological figures. Near the mayor's office, I saw the pictures of all Berlin's mayors, noticing that till now, only one woman, Louise Schroeder, was elected as the chief manager of the city, and this only for 2 years, shortly after the war, 1946-1948.
As in the case of many buildings in Berlin, the old times memories are translated into modern languages. A modernist golden painting of Sophie Charlotte, by Gabriela Ribow, was successfully integrated in the universe predominated by the Art Nouveau monsters.
Inside the city hall was created a memorial for war victims.The combination of artificial and natural lightning outlines the shapes of the statues, conferring them more weight and importance. I freely wandered the empty halls, noticing one detail, trying to understand the other. It's easy to get lost in the immensity of the space, but was able to find my way back to the entrance.
As planned, I spent my last minutes at the Charlottenburg city hall browsing the shelves of the library. I was curious if there is a difference with my local offer and happy that I did not find anything tempting to take home - the entrance card issued by a local library can be used for borrowing books from any library in the city, I left the building through door headed by a bucolic scenery skilfully realised by little stones of mosaic. Going through this door every day may gives you a certain feeling of importance of responsibility, for sure. Time to realize how a simple citizen I am.