Hamburg’s Ohlsdorf Crematorium
The Neue Krematorium (New Crematorium) in Hamburg’s Ohlsdorf Cemetery is an impressive building in the Brick Expressionism of Northern Germany. It is a rigorously geometric structure that appears massive from the outside, but it offers a surprise inside thanks to the light streaming through its vividly coloured glass windows. Built between 1930 and 1932 to replace the Old Crematorium from 1891, the building was designed by architect and Werkbund co-founder Fritz Schumacher, who had already made a strong impact on Hamburg’s cityscape through his position as the city’s building director.
The crematorium would be Fritz Schumacher’s last built work in Hamburg and, at the same time, also his most personal. He wrote to his brother in a letter about the significance of this special building type and the search for a suitable expression engaged him deeply: “Alongside the painful, which the building is meant to serve, one must also provide the solemn.”
At the centre of the symmetrically designed complex stands the lofty ceremonial hall with its trapezoidal gable. The end facing the street forms a tower containing the smoke flues. The opposite side to the east has a terrace and exterior steps connecting the crematorium with the cemetery park, which was laid out by Wilhelm Cordes as a romantic landscape garden. Together with the open ambulatories, these elements lend the building a monumental character, which is reinforced by the dark, uniform clinker brick façade.
In contrast, the interior of the hall – today named the Fritz Schumacher Halle – has a sacred appearance. This effect is reinforced by the high, narrow windows, designed by the Hungarian expressionist Ervin Bossányi. Eye-catching is their transition from warm to cool colours between the entrance and the gallery. Fritz Schumacher enjoyed working with little-known artists. One example worth mentioning is the sculptor Richard Kuöhl, who created the small sculptures on the façade.
The New Crematorium, which is listed on the historic register, was expanded and renovated in 2011. The hall’s brick roof, which had been provisionally covered with copper, has also been restored to its original state. Now the building’s monolithic character is once again clearly apparent, just as Fritz Schumacher wanted. [KS/DK]