Aerial view of Heidelberg Castle and the Neckar valley

Heated discussions about these dignified wallsA monumental dispute

Preservation of the "Romantic" ruins in their present state? Or proud, reconstructed castle? Around 1900, this question led to heated political and professional discussions in a famous conflict regarding the monument.

Aerial view of the powder tower at Heidelberg Castle

Demolished rampart: the powder tower.

Heidelberg Castle as a national monument

As a result of the Napoleonic Wars in the early 19th century, patriotism rose increasingly in the German states. Following the victory against France and the founding of the German Empire in 1871, the size of the German nation was also to be reflected in its mighty architecture. It was the popular opinion that Heidelberg Castle, destroyed by French troops, would be an ideal National Monument. The decision was made to reconstruct it. 

Photo of a model for the reconstruction of the Ottheinrich Building at Heidelberg Castle

Model for the reconstruction of the Ottheinrich’s Wing.

A dispute about the castle

In 1883, the Baden authorities established a palace construction office. Architects Julius Koch and Fritz Seitz documented the condition of the palace ruins in a comprehensive plan. Surprisingly, the final report from 1891 rejected the reconstruction, instead recommending only technical protective measures. Many, however, longed for a restoration of the former splendor. A heated dispute broke out in political and professional circles about how to proceed. 

Corridor in the Friedrich’s Wing at Heidelberg Castle

Renaissance Revival in the Friedrich’s Wing.

Reconstruction begins despite resistance

And yet, architect Carl Schäfer was granted a contract in 1893 and immediately began restoring the Friedrich’s Wing. He restored the facade and replaced the sculptures with replicas. The interiors were outfitted with fanciful stucco ceilings and door trim in the Renaissance Revival style. When Schäfer presented further reconstruction plans, art historians and preservationists called a castle construction conference. 

Courtyard view of the Friedrich’s Wing at Heidelberg Castle

The reconstructed Friedrich’s Wing.

Who will win?

Leading architects, art historians, architectural historians and preservationists discussed what to do with the monument. The great German art historian, Georg Dehio, coined the phrase: "Preservation, not restoration!" This opinion prevailed. Despite heated debates, no further reconstruction plans were put into action. The remaining buildings were only protected in their current condition. The Friedrich’s Wing is the only example of the original intention to reconstruct. 

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