The history of Berlin’s Huguenot museum
Establishment and development of the collection
In the run-up to the anniversary of “250 years since the Edict of Potsdam”, in 1935 parishioner Alfred Sachse inspired the founding of a Huguenot museum in the French Cathedral (tower). The first exhibition was housed in a small room, which was open only on Sundays after services. The collection was enlarged rapidly through both purchases and donations, such that the exhibition was enlarged several times even in the first three years. On the occasion of the first special exhibition “The Great Elector and the refugees” in 1938, the widow of historical painter Hugo Vogel (1855 – 1934) donated the preliminary study for the painting “Reception of the Huguenots”, hanging in Prague.
In 1939, the Huguenot museum was renamed as the “Huguenot memorial”. When the French Cathedral was partially destroyed by incendiary bombs on 24th June 1944, the museum had to close.
In June 1947, the plan matured to reopen the “Huguenot memorial” under the name “Huguenot museum” and now also to make it available to the public in Berlin. On 5th August 1958 on the ground floor of the Cathedral, a small exhibition initially opened, which was extended by several rooms. Structural damage in 1968 resulted in closure of the museum. Only on 4th August 1973 was it possible to reopen the Huguenot museum in the renovated premises with a revised exhibition concept.
On 15th April 1976, the museum became the victim of burglars. Among other things, the valuable ivory medal for the laying of the foundation stone of the French Cathedral in 1780 was stolen. It has still not been found.
At the start of 1981, the reconstruction of the French Church of Friedrichstadt had advanced so far that the relocation from the French Cathedral (tower) into the premises available there was drawing closer. These relocation plans also affected the Huguenot museum, such that it closed from May 1981 to prepare for a new exhibition in the north hall under the church (now the “Refugium” restaurant). These relocation plans were also connected with the planned reconstruction of the French Cathedral, which was to follow on seamlessly from the reconstruction of the French Church. For the parish festival on 29th October 1983, the new interim exhibition was officially opened in the north hall under the French Church of Friedrichstadt. This parish festival, also known as “Refugefest” (refuge festival), commemorates the Edict of Potsdam on 29th October 1685. During the reconstruction phase of the French Cathedral, work was undertaken on a new museum concept, as the entire ground floor in the Cathedral would be available for the Huguenot museum, which represented quadrupling of the exhibition area possible up to that time.
Official reopening after destructions in the Second World War
On 30th July 1987, the Huguenot museum was officially reopened in the French Cathedral. The group of buildings in Gendarmenmarkt, which had been partially restored by then – the French Church of Friedrichstadt was completed in 1983, the playhouse (concert hall) in 1984, and the French Cathedral in 1987 – became a magnet for the public and the Huguenot museum benefited from this pull effect, which was evident from the high visitor numbers in the initial years. Since 1987, the exhibition has been open to the public. Internal renovation of the Cathedral is planned for the coming years, such that the Huguenot museum must close for this phase. After the renovation, it should be open again to the interested public, with a modern and contemporary exhibition presentation.