Jan Bouman’s Old Town Hall

The old town hall in the historic center of Potsdam, the Altes Rathaus, was built from 1753 to 1755 at the behest of the Prussian king Frederick II. It was constructed in his favorite Rococo style, and is located on the Alter Markt, the oldest city square in Potsdam, near the now-rebuilt city palace and the Museum Barberini as well the church of St. Nicholas. It is the fourth building on this site; the first is documented as early as the sixteenth century.

During Potsdam’s transformation into a Prussian residence in the mid-eighteenth century, Frederick the Great ordered major renovations to the Alter Markt and its surrounding buildings. The plans were provided by Johann or Jan Bouman, a native of Holland, as well as the Prussian architect Christian Ludwig Hildebrandt. Bouman had come to Potsdam from Amsterdam in 1732 at the invitation of Frederick William I, who commissioned him to design the Dutch Quarter.

As a model for the new town hall, Frederick II chose an unbuilt design for the Palazzo Angarano in Vicenza, created by the Italian Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio; echoes of the Pantheon in Rome are also discernable. The figure of Atlas was inspired by the rear gable of the Amsterdam city hall. The façade of the three-story building is divided into seven bays, articulated by eight engaged columns on the side facing the Alter Markt. The engaged pilasters of the attic story are crowned by figures that represent the “civic virtues” of good municipal government: allegories of vigilance, fortitude, wealth, justice, trade, and caution. Today, the original statue of the allegory of trade is located in the staircase of the Potsdam Museum.

The Altes Rathaus was the seat of city government until 1909. Near the end of World War II, the building was severely damaged in the bombardment of Potsdam during the night of April 14 –15, 1945. After its reconstruction, it served as the “Hans Marchwitza” cultural center from 1966 on. Since 2012, it has been the home of the Potsdam Museum – Forum for Art and History, where a permanent display and special exhibitions showcase local and regional history along with art and culture.

– Anke Stemmann, Potsdam Museum – Forum für Kunst und Geschichte

This item was taken from the audio walk “Holland in Potsdam”, which was created on the occasion of the exhibition “Clouds and Light. Impressionism in Holland” (8 July – 22 October 2023) and leads to 20 different places in Potsdam with a Dutch connection. Like its predecessor projects “Italy in Potsdam” and “France in Potsdam”, the city tour is permanently available as a free audio tour on the Barberini App and will also be published in the course of 2023 as a art guide in the series of publications of the Stiftung Preußische Schlösser und Gärten.

Header Image: Wilhelm Barth: The South-East Corner of the Alter Markt in Potsdam, 1823 │ Photo: Potsdam Museum, Michael Lüder