There are a number of interesting chapters in the construction history of Dresden’s Kulturpalast. Initially commissioned as a “House of Socialist Culture” in a 1959 architectural competition, the planning process was subject to numerous ideological, political and economic influences. Already then, a library and the “Die Herkuleskeule” cabaret were planned in the Kulturpalast, but for cost reasons were not realised during the course of the planning.
The draft from a collective around architect Leopold Wiel ultimately formed the basis of the execution. After long discussions all the way up to the state and party leadership at the time, the project planning devolved to a Dresdener planning combine in 1962. The chief architect was Wolfgang Hänsch. The foundation stone was laid in February 1967, and the ceremonial opening was in October 1969.
When opened, Dresden’s Kulturpalast was remarkable in a number of respects. A cultural centre in this dimension that could be used for many purposes had not yet been realized in what was then the GDR. The architecture also resisted the political doctrine of a high-rise building visible from a great distance in the socialist classicism style, integrating instead principles and elements of international modernism. The city centre of Dresden, destroyed in 1945, was enriched by a striking cultural building that was quickly a great success with artists and audience as a visible sign of reconstruction.
The great hall was a sensation when it opened in 1969: the largest event room in the former GDR at that time was fascinating in its dimensions and technical possibilities. Up to 2,415 people could be seated in it. Multifunctionality was at the heart of the design concept: the orchestra lifting stage and the variable seating arrangements enabled rapid resetting of the space. The integrated tilting stalls, with the help of which the stage and part of the audience space could be converted into a flat surface, constituted a novelty in the construction of concert halls.
A few days after the gala inauguration on 5 October 1969, the Dresden Philharmonic and the Sächsische Staatskapelle also took possession of the great hall. Already in the opening year there were guest performances by international ensembles and the start of a great range of concert and event series. In the 1970s and ’80s, the Kulturpalast programme constituted the city’s central point of cultural interest. Twelve million visitors were registered in the first ten years after it opened. The list of concerts, ballet and theater performances, dance events, TV productions, festivals and congresses from the time is still impressive even today.
From the 1990s onwards, the Kulturpalast was competing on an international concert and event market, and the multifunctional hall concept was only partially equal to the requirements. Artists, event organisers and audience, first and foremost from the classical music sector, found fault with the acoustics, which were problematic compared to leading concert halls. It was increasingly rare that the available seating capacity was actually needed. For the Dresden Philharmonic the hall, so enthusiastically received in 1969, became more and more of an artistic constraint.
From 1994 onwards, various plans and actions started to extensively modernize the Kulturpalast. The city council decided on the modernization concept in 2008; with mixed utilisation as a concert hall, library and cabaret with service facilities, it is a contemporary interpretation of the 1950 idea of the cultural centre. Parallel to this, the building was added to the Monument Registry of the Free State of Saxony.