Officer’s club of the US Army

In mid-July 1945, US troops confiscated Harnack House which had initially been occupied by the Red Army at the end of the war. The Americans found an intact building that lent itself to use as a hotel and set up their officers’ club there.

1945: The arrival of the Americans

General Lucius Clay (right) with guests at an event in the Goethe Auditorium, 1948.

South-west Berlin was under the Allied control of the USA which established its headquarters near to Harnack House. From that point on Harnack House represented a piece of America in Berlin and contributed to German-American relations. Instead of scientists, members of the Berlin Brigade were now regular lunchtime guests here and also attended events and festivities.

Carrying on the tradition, Harnack House also continued to host social events in the 1950s. General Lucius Clay, military governor of the US occupied zone in Germany from 1945 to 1947, held press conferences and receptions at Harnack House. Harry S. Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower visited the building shortly after its confiscation.

Berlin events, such as those held as part of the Berlin Film Festival, also took place here during the 1950s, presumably due to the lack of venues available in a city that had suffered extensive destruction.

The academic tradition was also continued for a period as organizations such as the Columbus Society held parties and balls for American students visiting Berlin on guest residencies. When Kirk L. Grayson, the Vice President of Columbia University, visited Berlin in 1952, he met the Dahlem-based Nobel Prize winners Max von Laue and Otto Warburg, both of whom had strong research ties with the United States, at Harnack House. Their Institutes, which previously belonged to the Kaiser Wilhelm Society, were incorporated into the Max Planck Society a year later.

1950-1994: A new form of use

Soon after Harnack House was taken over by the US Army it quickly became apparent that the building designed as a clubhouse and to provide guest accommodation could only meet the new requirements and intended purpose to a certain extent. There were no large rooms for exuberant parties and glamorous celebrations. In the early 1950s, extensions were added and the building’s structure was permanently altered.

The Berlin Brigade began planning the renovation of the building shortly after its confiscation. The lecture theatre was converted into a dance bar based on designs drawn up by the architect Eckart Muthesius. The lectern and lab bench gave way to a dance floor and the ascending rows of seating were removed. The new Marine Bar soon became a firm fixture in Berlin’s “Little America”. The rest of the building also underwent extensive structural work. A ballroom was built directly adjacent to the lecture theatre. Until 1953 only a narrow corridor had connected the main building with the lecture theatre. Another floor was now added in its place for the ballroom. 

Builders also set to work in the main building. The club reception (today the Planck Lobby) was made many times bigger with the addition of the Wintergarten Hall. The terrace, previously accessible directly from the lobby, disappeared as a result.

Shortly after the war Harnack House was still largely fitted out with the old interior furnishings. Some items were reclaimed by individuals and Institutes or by the Max Planck Society’s Administrative Headquarters. Their whereabouts are unknown.

The most significant structural work internally took place at the end of the 1960s when the wife of Robert G. Fergusson, the serving general, extensively revamped the building according to her own style of décor. The ballroom was also presumably fitted with artificial stucco features, mirrors and floral carpets at this time. These furnishings disappeared during the renovation in 2014.

The house was increasingly shaped by its American occupants from this time onwards. The modern-day Einstein Lounge was used as a pub where Guinness and lager could only be bought with US dollars. The American Women’s Club organized fetes and theatrical performances in the Goethe Hall. The public was allowed into the venue for certain events at which Germans and Americans established closer relations. The US allies only completely opened up the house to the Berlin public shortly before their departure.

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