Don’t confuse Walter Gropius, the founder of the Bauhaus, with Martin Gropius, his most prolific architect great-uncle, after whom the Gropius Bau museum is named. Martin Carl Philipp Gropius would turn 198 on August 11th.
Photo by: Workshop of the Gropius Brothers, Alte Nationalgalerie
Martin Gropius, one of Grunderzeit Berlin’s most famous architects, was born in 1824 in Berlin’s esteemed family, among which were such luminaries of that time as Carl Wilhelm Gropius, who studied under Karl Friedrich Schinkel and was a head painter for the Royal Theater, as well as “Brothers Gropius”, Ferdinand and George, who entertained a generation of Berliners in their Diorama, off Unter den Linden. This theatre, which was an exact copy of the one founded by Daguerre in Paris, hosted large silkscreen paintings of various exotic locations. They slowly moved, creating an illusion of travelling to the viewer.
Influenced by Schinkel and his neoclassicist style throughout his life, Martin, after graduating from Berlin’s Bauakademie, left home for prolonged travel through Italy and Greece to continue his studies. He returned to Berlin and established an architectural practice with his travel companion and a former academy classmate Heino Schmieden.
Photo by: EMAU, Alte Unibibliothek
Photo by: Berlin Friedrichshain Historical Portal of Vivantes Klinikums
Bismark’s unification of Germany in 1871 caused a huge building boom across the country. Gropius & Schmieden architecture firm was a top choice for most lucrative contracts, because of the Gropius family reputation and his professorship at the Academy of Applied Arts. Kaiser Wilhelm I commissioned the architects to design a fitting building to host his recently acquired German Craft Museum (renamed as the Royal Museum of Applied Arts, now the Martin-Gropus-Bau). The building was developed with architect Karl Friedrich Schinkel’s fundamental design principles in mind and was immediately judged Gropius’ finest work. Unfortunately, Martin Gropius didn’t live to see the inauguration, dying in 1880.
Not much is written about the great uncle of Walter Gropius, but you can witness his legacy across Brandenburg area to this day. Along with the representative buildings, such as the University in Kiel and the second Gewandhaus in Leipzig, many clinics and hospitals in Berlin and Brandenburg were built based on Gropius's designs, even though not many surviving the war. Amongst still standing (and worth visiting) are the Martin Gropius Krankenhaus (Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital) in Neustadt-Eberswalde, Manor House in Neuruppin-Gentzrode (now abandoned), the Zoological Museum of Kiel University, the Old Library at the University of Greifswald, and, of course, the Groups Bau museum for contemporary art in Berlin. Martin Gropius was buried at Dreifaltigkeitsfriedhof 2, which is located in the Bergmannkiez in Kreuzberg. You can visit his grave and pay tribute to the great master or the great uncle, whoever you choose to commemorate.