Two Multifaceted Visitor Magnets - One Location
CHAMÄLEON Theater and Hackesche Höfe are closely connected, not only topographically but also historically. Those wishing to trace the heartbeat of Berlin should not only visit our theatre but also take a stroll through the historical courtyards.
There is much to discover in Germany's largest closed courtyard complex, of which the former ballroom and today's stage for Cirque Nouveau is the glittering centrepiece.
This duo of locations, popular with tourists and Berliners alike, is situated in what is probably the best preserved part of old Berlin: the Spandauer Vorstadt, which also includes the Scheunenviertel and whose beginnings date back to the Middle Ages. Nowadays, it is an extensive landmark with a multi-faceted neighbourhood culture.
But first, a little tip regarding theatre tickets in Berlin: If you haven't already done so online, you can buy a ticket to our show at the box office at the very start of your tour through the picturesque courtyards. You can find the box office directly at the entrance to Courtyard I, near the theatre building.
City and Nature Joined in Architecture
There are a total of eight Hackesche Höfe. A lively backyard network with a strong tradition. The site, constructed between 1906 and 1907, is dotted with cultural facilities, owner-managed shops, and workshops, as well as cafés, restaurants, offices, and apartments.
The most spectacular of these is certainly Courtyard I. When you enter the courtyard, the street noise subsides and the Art Nouveau tiles on the facades of the surrounding houses, glazed in white and blue tones, gleam around you. The outer walls of the stairwells are held in red, brown, and green. The choice of colours seems to bring nature into the cityscape. Instead of historical pathos, the design evokes elegance and clarity. The inner courtyard panorama is dominated by geometric forms, complemented by white window frames in several variations.
The windows in Courtyards I and II were designed by the legendary Art Nouveau architect August Endell, along with all the facades and the two representative gastronomic establishments in the front and rear. The aesthete and design philosopher also designed the three ballrooms in Courtyard I, as well as the stairwells of the left wing, which lead to the entrance to our theatre foyer.
Two of these former function rooms have been preserved to this day: The smallest of them, on the ground floor of the right wing, is used by the Askania Uhrenmanufaktur as a showroom for its products. Today the CHAMÄLEON Theater resides on the opposite side of the courtyard, in the most magnificent of the remaining ballrooms.
The Hackesche Höfe Berlin project was planned and realised in its entirety by architect and building contractor Kurt Berndt. He was probably the one to entrust August Endell with this most prestigious work. The reason for the costly construction of the entire quarter was, incidentally, the attractive prospective profits in light of the booming population and economic development in the city on the Spree at the time. Covering an area of around 24,000 square metres over various floors, the project laid the foundations for a conceptual mix of residential, commercial, and retail space, including compatible floor factories.
Kaleidoscope of the Past and Present
Local and German history has always been reflected in the fortunes of the Hackesche Höfe quarter: In times of economic prosperity, goods and services of all kinds were offered under its roofs. Products were designed, manufactured, used, and lived. From the very beginning, the Hackesche Höfe area was home to Jewish culture and intellectual opposition. Decades later, the neighbourhood fought to preserve the courtyards, established them as a historical monument, experimented with alternative forms of living and working, devised strategies for culture and use, threw elaborate parties, organized events, made films and worked on the reconstruction and modernization of the quarter with dedicated passion.
But the dark sides of the political, economic, and social developments of the past decades have also left their mark. This is visible, for example, in the Stolpersteine (stumbling stones) outside the courtyard entrances, reminding us of the persecution of some of the inhabitants; and also in the wounds of the building structure that have not completely healed. Complex property and expropriation dramas are as much a part of the history of the courtyard complex as speculative and repressive woes.
Hackesche Höfe Berlin: Those who immerse themselves in this world of contradictions will be rewarded with wonderful surprises on their strolls, but also with a deeper understanding of the architectural highlights and exciting history.
A Home for the New Circus
When entering the left wing staircase leading to the CHAMÄLEON, Germany's number one venue for Cirque Nouveau, with its curved floral railings and ornamental pillars, one experiences pure Art Nouveau pleasure. The theatre stage is on the first floor.
Once the guests have disposed of their wardrobe in the foyer and turned their backs on the expansive theatre bar, they are welcomed by the wonderful ambience of the former ballroom: Here the CHAMÄLEON Theater Berlin presents its unmistakable contemporary circus shows.
Like the entire complex, the CHAMÄLEON floor has also been used for different purposes throughout its history. Initially used as a ballroom for family and club festivities, it was subsequently converted into a cinema and then used as a storage facility in the 1950s to 1970s. The hall was even used as a TV rehearsal stage. Although the wing survived the Second World War relatively unscathed, the various conversions over time contributed considerably to its poor structural condition.
After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Chamäleon Varieté first opened its doors in 1991 as a stage for a unique, ever surprising cabaret programme. The number of fans grew rapidly and flocked to the Hackesche Höfe, which were completely renovated in 1994.
With the takeover of the venue by CHAMÄLEON Theater GmbH in 2004 and its reorientation towards the New Circus genre, the historic hall was partially renovated in keeping with its historic status. The ultimate goal was to preserve the grace and character of the existing building without creating a historicised new space. Later, the CHAMÄLEON was gradually developed into a cultural facility meeting the highest standards through the installation of an air conditioning system and the modernisation of the technical equipment and bar area. As aging buildings require constant, thoughtful attention, in 2015 the historic oak parquet flooring in the auditorium and the balconies, which had been unused since the golden twenties, were also lavishly restored.
The result is impressive: Fresh grandeur and best theatrical value for the next 100 years. The culmination of the rejuvenation was the purchase of 44 new LED spotlights and additional equipment to ensure a sustainable energy supply for the spectacular light shows and to keep up with the latest technical developments in 2016.