Die Französische Friedrichstadtkirche in Berlin

The Gendarmenmarkt & Friedrichstadt

The Gendarmenmarkt is often called the most beautiful square in Berlin – and, indeed, in Europe. This description goes back to a remark made by the Berlin author and publisher Friedrich Nicolai, who lived in Berlin in the 18th century.

Even in Nicolai’s day, the square seems to have fascinated people. Quite a lot has changed since then. Above all, the buildings that now stand around the Gendarmenmarkt date from the post-Second-World-War period and arose either during the phase of reconstruction in East Germany, or after German unification. What remains at the Gendarmenmarkt are (at first sight) the three large buildings on the square, which have such a dramatic impact on its overall appearance: the Französischer Dom on the north and the Deutscher Dom on the south side of the square, not to mention the Schauspielhaus (or rather Konzerthaus), which was designed by Karl Friedrich Schinkel, as a “child of this world”.

The square has been popularly known as the “Gendarmenmarkt” since the 18th century, although officially only since 1991. The expression goes back to the “Regiment Gens d’Armes”, a cuirassier regiment of the Soldier King Friedrich Wilhelm I (1688, †1740; king from 1713 on).

The idea of a Regimentes Gens d’Armes was introduced into Brandenburg-Prussia by the Huguenots. Many of the regiment’s officers and nobles had been among the refugees. And its stables, barracks and main guard were located at the square from 1736 to 1773. Initially, it bore the name “Friedrichstädtischer Markt” or simply: the ”New Markt”. Under the former German Democratic Republic, the square was called the “Platz der Akademie” (academy square).

The Gendarmenmarket is a part of the old Friedrichstadt, a suburb created by Johann Arnold Nering outside Berlin’s city walls in 1688. Now, the former Friedrichstadt lies in centre of historical Berlin, between Schlossplatz and the Brandenburg Gate.

Friedrichstadt was named after its architect and founder: the Elector Friedrich III (*1657, †1713; Friedrich I. King in Prussia from 1701 on), as was Friedrichstrasse, the main North-South axis running through Friedrichstadt. In honour of his second wife, the first Prussian queen, Sophie Charlotte, the street parallel to Friedrichstrasse, which marks the boundary to the Gendarmenmarkt in the West, was named Charlottenstrasse.

The area covered by Friedrichstadt extends northwards as far as Dorotheenstadt (to what is now Behrenstrasse), to Friedrichswerder in the East, to Hallesches Tor in the South, and to Brandenburg Gate in the West. In 1709, Friedrichstadt was incorporated into Berlin. It evolved into a popular residential area for the French Réfugiés (refugees) and became a veritable “quartier français“. It is no coincidence that the Gendarmenmarkt’s northern boundary and the parallel road to “Unter den Linden” is called “Französische Strasse”.