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The building then and now

The Saxon State Chancellery today

Today, the Saxon State Chancellery is located in the building's eastern wing, while the western wing houses the Saxon State Ministry of Environmental Affairs and Agriculture. Since its inauguration, the building has only ever been used for administrative purposes.

Fotocollage aus Bildern der Skulptur.
»Die Seherin« (»the seeress«) sculpture in the lobby of the Saxon State Chancellery  © Malgorzata Chodakowska

The life-size bronze sculpture, »Die Seherin« (»the seeress«), crafted by Polish artist Małgorzata Chodakowska, has been an artistic feature in the domed hall of the Saxon State Chancellery since 14 June 2011.

The Saxony-based sculptor has always focused her work on human figures. Delicate female bodies – occasionally also referred to by Małgorzata Chodakowska as »images of Eve« – are the cast-bronze symbols of unadulterated harmony. Featuring subtle, pastel glazes, the slender beauty known as »the seeress« appears pure and natural. The female body is clad in a gossamer, almost fancy dress, though she is not completely veiled. The golden robe in fact underlines the figure's nudity which exudes pure sensuality.

The sculpture's muted colour scheme and puristic form means it blends harmoniously into the domed hall of the Saxon State Chancellery. In the middle of hectic hustle and bustle, it radiates calmness and contentment - an expression underlined by the closed eyes and slight smile on her gilded lips.

The artist

Małgorzata Chodakowska was born in Łodz (Poland) in 1965. She attended the local art college and later studied sculpture at the art academies in Warsaw and Vienna from 1985 onwards. In 1991, she was awarded the »Meisterschulpreis« for her dissertation under Prof. Bruno Gironkoli. She has been living in Dresden as a freelance artist since 1991. She has received numerous prizes and awards, including first prize and the contract to create the »Trauerndes Mädchen« (»mourning girl«) sculpture in 2010 at Dresden's Heidefriedhof cemetery for the victims of the bombing on February 13th, 1945. The sculptor has held a number of exhibitions, including in Vienna, Tokyo, Dresden, Berlin, St Petersburg, Graz, Łodz and Veksølund (Denmark). Małgorzata Chodakowska lives with her husband, famous Saxon organic winegrower Klaus Zimmerling, at the Weingut Zimmerling winery in Pillnitz, where many of her artworks can be admired in the studio and garden.

Designed by architects Waldow, Tscharmann and Auster, the building was erected between 1900 and 1904. The façade is reminiscent of French representative buildings from the 17th and 18th centuries, while modern Art Nouveau is combined with classicism on the inside. Built using sandstone from the Pirna-Posta region, it once housed the Royal Ministries of the Interior, Justice, and Culture with separate entrances.

The domed hall (»Kuppelhalle«) forms the centre of the building with its high skylight, and features the Saxon coat of arms and those of the former government districts of Zwickau, Bautzen, Chemnitz, Dresden and Leipzig, which were then known as the »Kreishauptmannschaften« (»district administration«).

The medallions of King Albert (left) and King George (right) above the stairs, and the four stately lions, commemorate the building owners – the lions as the heraldic animals of the Wettins symbolize courage and rulership. The portraits of the architects Edmund Waldow, Heinrich Tscharmann and Friedrich Auster, are featured on the arched windows under the portruded »Great Meeting Hall« (»Grosser Sitzungssaal«) on the building's exterior.

Following extensive reconstruction and restoration work (1990–1998), even the building's typical Late Art Nouveau elements are now once again visible. This is particularly true for the Art Nouveau elements which had been painted over, and the structural changes (in the hallways and stairwells) made during the East Germany era. Of note are the impressive Art Nouveau paintings in the »Great Meeting Hall«.

After German reunification, heritage workers sought to recreate the rooms as historic evidence of their former times. They did so taking into account the costs and functions required of a modern administrative building. With its contemporary lighting, elevators and acoustic elements in the high-ceilinged halls, the reconstruction served as a renaissance for the building. State-of-the-art technology for press conferences, multimedia and video projections, and event broadcasting through an in-house transmission channel, add to the charm of the historic media centre in the foyer, with its cross vaults. Other selected rooms also appear in new, simple but smart garb as a result of the construction work.

The elliptical »Greet Meeting Hall« (»Grosser Sitzungssaal«), with its Monier vault at the northern end of the central building, today still steals the show with its unique design and décor. The captivating ornaments on a matte green background and the murals by Professor Otto Gussmann can be admired to this day. Both oil paintings by Francesco Migliori, depicting the mythological scenes of »Bacchus and Ariadne« (300 x 402 cm), and the »Rape of Europa« (300 x 404 cm), have been property of the Old Masters Picture Gallery/Dresden State Art Collections since the 18th century, and were on display here from 1904 to 1930. The illustration of the paintings on this card is designed to show what they would have looked like previously, and commemorate the »workshop in the reception hall« (quote from a 1907 building description).

Francesco Migliori (Venetian territory ca. 1684 - 1734 in Venice) was an Italian baroque painter. From 1722 onwards, he painted primarily biblical themes for the gallery of Frederic Augustus I of Saxony. He later created altar and church paintings, and worked almost exclusively in Venice.

Three separate and individually designed entrances once led into the Royal Ministries. Childhood scenes crafted from sandstone illustrate their former purposes:

  • Interior by Ernst Hottenroth: Commissariat for the nobility, State Statistics Office, women's hospital, botanical garden, veterinary college, State Insurance Institution for Employees, surveying, art academy, construction school, art school, police, heritage preservation (monument protection).
  • Justice by Hermann Viehweg: Consultancy, execution/studying of laws, the protective functions of the law, petitions, pardons and blessings under the protection of the law.
  • Culture/Education by Albert Ohlendieck: Technical college, Catholic/Protestant, denomination, university, scholarships, gymnastics, sport, classes for the youth.

The rooster stands for alertness and vigilance. The eagle symbolises strength. The owl personifies wisdom. The raven represents cleverness. The beehive indicates diligence through the bees. The lion embodies courage, power and all things regal. The lion is the heraldic animal of the Wettins, whose dynasty included the building owners King Albert and his brother King George.

Pelican: In mythology, the pelican feeds its young with its own blood. An animal compendium describes it as follows: The pelican opens its chest with its beak to revive its starving/dead young. This allegory was originally seen to symbolize altruism or Jesus' sacrificial death. Here, it mirrors national assistance and public welfare.

With the eight paintings in the »Great Meeting Hall«, Gussmann created allegories for art, farming, trade, ground transportation, research, skilled labour & crafts, water transportation and industry – depicting areas crucial for a state to thrive.

The history of the building

The Saxon State Chancellery is located in the so-called »collective ministry«, the complex, which used to be the headquarters of the former royal ministries of the interior, culture and public education, and justice. The neo-baroque building was constructed between 1900 and 1904 as a counterpart to the Ministry for Finance, located across the street.

The varied uses of the ministerial complex at the Neustadt bank of the river, today the hime of the Saxon State Chancellery and the State Ministry for Environment and Agriculture (SMUL), reflect the turbulent history of the Free State. When it was found around 1900 that the badly lit and much too cramped offices of the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Culture and Public Education would no longer suffice for their administrative task requirements, the then kingdom of Saxony decided to construct new buildings for these ministries. After the completion of its construction in 1904, and until the end of the First World War, it became the home of these two ministries as well as for the Royal Ministry for Justice. The complex was intended as a collective ministry, and was therefore constructed with three main entrances.

The end of the monarchy and the inception of the Free State of Saxony in 1918, initially did not mean any changes to the building's use for the relevant ministries - except for the fact that the denomination »royal« was removed. During the turbulent times of the Weimar Republic, ministries kept coming and going from 1925 onwards almost regularly every two years. Between 1927 and 1934, the building housed seven ministries at once. These were, in addition to the collective ministry, there were those of the Interior, Foreign Affairs, Employment and Welfare, the Ministry for Economic Affairs, and the Ministry for National Education.

In line with the synchronisation of the states in National-Socialist Germany, the Free State of Saxony ceased to exist constitutionally in 1935, and the state government had to surrender its souvereignty to the Reich. This also led to the dissolution of the Saxon Ministry for Foreign Affairs. One year later, the other ministries were forced to vacate the building. Instead, Hitler's governor for Saxony, Martin Mutschmann, used the complex as headquarters for the labour battle of the NSDAP District Commission for Saxony. From 1936 to 1945, the building housed the Stenographic State Office, the Ministry of the Interior, and the Ministry for Economic Affairs and Employment. During the last years of the war, state autorities, the Reich governor to Saxony, the Residential and Settlements Office, the Planning Authority, and the Agricultural Office were headquartered here.

After the end of the Second World War, the partially destroyed complex became the Dresden Police headquarters. From 1950 onwards, the state government of Saxony used the buildings for the Ministry for national Education, Ministry for Health, and the Ministry for Agriculture and Forestry, until the states were once more dismissed in 1952 - this time on the orders of the SED government in East Berlin. Afterwards, it became home to the senate of the district of Dresden until the Peaceful Revolution.

In 1990, the building was home to the Dresden district authorities and the Coordination Committee for the Formation of the State of Saxony. In 1991, the Saxon State Chancellery took up residence here, and with it departments for the development of state ministries of the interior, justice, culture, sciences and the arts. But the Ministry for Culture and the State Ministry for Science and the Arts left once again in the same year. Until 1993, the complex also housed the private offices of a corporate dentist, who had taken up operations here in 1983. During the 1990ies, the Ministry for Justice (1994) and the Ministry for the Interior (1999) took up own headquarters in the newly constructed government district. Since 1999, the complex has not only been home to the Saxon State Chancellery, but also to the Saxon State Ministry for Environment and Agriculture.

In a book published in 1907 by construction supervision on the development and use of the building, Dr. Eng. Mackowsky wrote: »When royal splendour and the emerging middle classes of Dresden gave rise to the most magnifiscent buildings in Dresden at the beginning of the 18th century, the new part of the city on the right side of the Elbe river was practically forgotton.« Indeed was there hardly anything of architectural noteworthiness on the side of the river, upstream of the Golden Rider by the end of the 19th century. Across from the Brühlsche Terrasse, there were military buldings and coach houses as far as the eye could see.

After the construction of a new military town north of Dresden following the establishment of the German Empire in 1871, room was made in the city centre for ambitious urban plans of the up and coming Saxon kingdom. As early as 1877, the chief master builder Carl Adolph Canzler, commissioned by the Royal Ministry for Finance, set out a nationwide open tender for the design of a new city district. The tender failed, even though a total of 76 designs were submitted. This may have been due to the fact that no functional requrements had been stated for the new constructions. The only prerequisite was the integration of a new bridge over the Elbe river. Most of the archtects involved designed two monumental bulding complezes at the outlet of the new bridge: the Ministry for Finance and the collective ministry.

It was another ten years, before the plans were specified - when the negative conditions under which the Royal Saxon Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry for Culture had to operate, made the construction of new buildings a priority. Up to that time, the ministries were housed in the so-called »minister hotel« and the Kanzleihaus on Schloss Strasse, where conditions were cramped, and the lighting was bad. The royal architect Edmund Waldow was tasked with the construction of a new ministerial building. He submitted the first drafts in June of 1899, and the final decision was made by the Landtag in the session of 1899/1900. In addition to Edmund Waldow, the state construction inspector Friedrich Auster and the architect Heinrich Tscharmann were tasked with the project. Ground breaking took place on August 6, 1900. The initial construction phases went so smoothly that the initially scheduled construction period of five years could be cut by three quarters of a year in the end. On July 4, 1903, the crown was added to the skylight of the central building to mark end of construction, and in November 1904, the various ministries had completed their moves to the new premises. For economic reasons, a third ministry, the Ministry for Justice was moved to the new ministerial complex.

Not only construction time, but also costs had been lower than anticipated. In comparison with other similar complexes, the construction of the Dresden ministerial buildings turned out relatively cheap. The complex with a length of 154m, a width of 67m, and a height of 24m came to a total of 4,305,000 marks. The enclosed space comprises 589.63 cubic meters. The Imperial Court (Reichsgericht), which was built around the same time in Leipzig, consumed a whopping 5,902,000 marks, comprising only 132.156 cubic meters of space.

The general style of the building can be classed as neo-baroque, with individual art nouveau features. In a book published in 1907 by construction supervision on the development and use of the building, Dr. Eng. Mackowsky wrote that the owners wanted an architecture that »tells of times gone by in the more developed shapes of the native baroque, and therefore brings the new building closer to the hearts of the people«. In order to create a relationship with the magnificent baroque architecture in the old part of the city and the Finance Ministry directly across the street, the builders decided on Posta sandstone for the facade.

The integration into the cityscape is based on three factors of the plot: its position along the Elbe river, near the Carola Bridge, and its projected utilisation by three ministries. The front of the building stretches along 154 meters of river front. The main entrance is located here, which in 1905 was the access to the Ministry of the Interior, the most important of the three in the building. On the two long buildings, connected by a raised diagonal construction, two wings of different sizes are connected. This is where the entrances to the other ministries used to be: On Carolaplatz square was entrance to the Ministry for Culture and Public Education, and on the side of the now Archivstrasse, the one to the Ministry of Justice. At the rear, the building opens up towards the city with a kind of garden atrium. It was however never used as a garden, and constitutes instead an addition to the street space.

Seen from the Carola Bridge as its mid-axis, the ministerial complex was to counterbalance the collossus of the Ministry for Finance. That is why the architects decided to forego individually shaped design pieces, and instead constructed a heavy-set basement and ground floor. The floors above are differentiated only by solid pilaster strips. The only ornaments are located in selected spots at the centre patterns of the four fronts. the entrances are each flanked by two lion's heads, with the shield of arms of Saxony at the centre of the door arches. The only other figurative ornaments relate to the areas of jurisdiction of the three old ministries. In order to detract the eye from the length of the complex, the corner buildings were emphasised and drawn upwards. Also the skylight of the centre building, lighting the central reception hall, was drawn out vertically. The apex of the hall was decorated with the then state symbol: the royal Saxon crown.

Architects also relied on relatively simple and objective shapes for the interior, without undermining the intended stately effect. In the large arches of the central reception hall with a ceiling height of 25m, the endstones depict the coats of arms of the old main district cities: Dresden, Leipzig, Chemnitz, Zwickau, and Bautzen. These are complemented with animal symbols of cockerel, eagle, owl, and raven, symbolising vigilance, strength, wisdom, and intelligence. Each of the upper shield arches contains a pelican feeding his young as a symbol for state providence. The baroque curved gable above the entrance to the great assembly hall is adorned with a beehive symbolising diligence.

The great assembly hall in the mid-axis of the north wing on the first floor, was at the same time the most lavishly appointed interior room of the complax. Its oval floor area is covered by a vaulted ceiling with eight lunettes. The hall with a total ceiling height of ten meters is panelled to three meters height with dark red stained oak wood. Alcoves and recesses were stained in blue, and the vaulted ceiling in green. The curved floral elements of the paintwork points to art nouveau influences.

During the Second World War, the ministerial complex suffered a lot less damage that many of the historical buildings of Dresden. The war left indelible marks on the western stairwell and roof. However, the conditions within the complex after the Peaceful Revolution were such that they no longer supported the requirements of the headquarters of a state government and its ministries. The decision to refurbish the building as headquarters for the Prime Minister and the State Chancellery was made in August 1990. Deciding factors were the central location of the complex, as well as its quick availability. During the remodeling phase, the facade was reinstated to its original appearance. The golden crown, weighing 600kg was also reinstated to its original position at the apex of the centre building. After 1945, the crown had been removed, and replaced by a peace dove. The restoration of the former royal Saxon state emblem was not undertaken as a political statement, but rather for its monument preservation aspects.

The interior of the complex presented in various stages of repair after the Peaceful Revolution. The spaciousness and openness of the complex from the time around 1900 had been compromised severely by various structural additions. The layout of the stairways in the annexes in particular had been completely changed with the addition of the Plenar Hall for the Dresden district senate and a data centre. The refurbishment of the complex began in 1994 in the north-western wing. 24 months later, work began in the second section at the south-western wing and the southern part of the central building. The third section dealt with the reconstruction of the north-eastern wing, the south wing, and the northern part of the central building. During the fourth and last part of the project, the western part of the building was renovated, which today is home to the Saxon State Ministry for Environment and Agriculture.

The objective for the overall renovation project was on the one hand to reinstate the most important rooms to their former glory, but at the same time adding all the components required for running a state-of-the-art government office. This conundrum caused for example heated discussions regarding the addition of elevators in the central area. In the end, the design by the architect Sandro Graf von Einsiedel, which included glass elevators for the western and eastern periphery of the central hall was accepted. Before the restoration began, in 1990, the central hall still looked quite drab. The addition of the central chandelier with a diameter of 4,6 meters and matching lamps gave the whole room more light. The painting of the pelicans and lions also underwent meticulous restauration.

A state-of-the-art media and citizens' centre was added on the ground floor. Located directly underneath the »beehive«, the room is centrally positioned and easily accessible. In addition to its main function as a venue for press conferences, it is also used as a lecture hall for visitor groups and as a TV studio. The great assembly hall with its sophisticated design features was particularly challenging for the restorers. The hand-carved paneling had to be uncovered and restored, and the arbour-like painted designs, which only remained as fragments, had to be completely restored. After all the work has now been concluded, the blue and green wall and ceiling decorations have restored the exciting yet warm ambiance of the »beehive«.
All offices were done in white throughout. The floor coverings and plinths match the materials used in the hallways. A dining room and canteen have been added in the basement in place of the former cashier and safe rooms. The total cost for the restauration project came to 46.1 million euro. Initially, 5.1 million euro had been invested during the first construction phase to cover services ensuring the continued operation of the Saxon State Government during construction.

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