Himmelssaal? Many of Bremen’s inhabitants would say that they’d never heard of it. Nevertheless, Himmelssaal hall and its spiral staircase are rather impressive, despite their questionable origins, and can be found in Böttcherstrasse, right in the heart of Bremen. The hotel that owns the building let me have a peek behind the doors.
It’s no exaggeration to say that this is a bit of an insider’s tip. After all, I only found out three years ago that the Himmelssaal even existed. At the time, I wanted to go and see it straight away, of course, but it was all shut up. That’s because the hall is only open on certain occasions. “It’s possible to visit the hall as part of a guided tour,” says Gitta Hümpel, who works for the Radisson Blu hotel and is showing me around Atlantis House.
Like rising through water
Even the staircase leading up to the hall is stunning. The spiral staircase is made of concrete and glass, and the stairs wind around a central construction of three pillars that shoot inexorably upwards. Both the light and the structures have a hard edge to them, yet at the same time they somehow manage to be warm. The circular and square glass bricks that are set into the walls and stairs let light shine through, but it’s a bit gloomy, as if you’re surfacing from the depths of the sea. This impression fits nicely with the theme – we are in Atlantis House, after all. The circular bricks of white and blue glass that accompany us on our way up give the impression of air bubbles. And the lamps also feature wave-shaped elements.
While climbing upwards, I can’t ignore the fact that the motivation behind building this house remains controversial. Towards the end of the 1920s, Ludwig Roselius commissioned architect Bernhard Hoetger, whose ideas are reflected throughout Böttcherstrasse, to build Atlantis House. The myth of the sunken island kingdom dates back to Plato, but it was embraced and misused by the Nazis and supporters of racial ideologies for their racist and anti-Semitic ideas. According to them, Atlantis was the cradle of Aryan culture. Roselius and Hoetger were supporters of the Third Reich and wanted to impress the Nazis with their work, but the Nazis viewed the buildings as degenerate art and declared them a ‘negative example’. I feel it’s only right to give at least a rough outline of the building’s background at this point.
Expressionism, cubism, art deco
Despite its questionable history, I’m impressed by the architecture. Looking around the stairwell, I’m constantly reminded of expressionist silent movies from the 1920s. The angled forms and structures remind me of Robert Wiene’s The Cabinet of Dr Caligari, for example. The art deco style with its elegant shapes, strong colours and fine materials is recognisable everywhere. The building, which was completed in 1931, also features expressionist and cubist elements.
Reaching the top
At the top, Ms Hümpel opens the door to the Himmelssaal, and what I see takes my breath away. So I’ll let a few photos speak for themselves:
The hall has been used for a wide range of activities, including concerts and dance and gym classes. In the 1980s, Bremen Theatre was based in Atlantis House, but these days it’s a venue for weddings, corporate functions and conferences. The Himmelssaal has always been a special part of the building, and I can appreciate why now. It’s truly magnificent.
Small hall, big echo
From the Himmelssaal, a small wooden staircase winds its way upwards. Above it there are two large golden spheres, and I’m captivated by the reflections of the hall below.
The stairs lead up to the Kuppelsaal, a much smaller, circular room. Ms Hümpel invites me to stand in the middle and speak or sing. The echo that is generated by the dome gives me such a surprise that I’m left speechless. I’ve never heard anything like it – it’s almost as if it has been generated artificially.
In 1988, Atlantis House was separated out of the Böttcherstrasse ensemble and sold to a Swedish hotel firm, who integrated Atlantis House into a hotel complex that was being constructed on a former car park next door. Radisson Blu now owns the complex with the Himmelssaal, which is rented out regularly for all types of events. That is why the doors to the hall remain closed most of the time, Ms Hümpel explains. I take a final photo of the hall before the doors close once again. Who knows when I’ll get the chance to see this again.