The architecture of Germany has a long, rich and diverse history. Every major European style from Roman to Post Modern is demonstrated, including renowned examples of Carolingian, Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, Classical and Modern architecture.
Centuries of fragmentation of Germany into principalities and kingdoms caused a great regional diversity and favoured vernacular architecture. This made for a heterogeneous and diverse architectural style, with architecture differing from town to town. While this diversity may still be witnessed in small towns, the devastation of architectural heritage in the larger cities during World War II resulted in extensive rebuilding characterized by simple modernist architecture
The Romanesque period, from the 10th to the early 13th century, is characterised by semi-circular arches, robust appearance, small paired windows, and groin vaults. Many churches in Germany date from this time, including the twelve Romanesque churches of Cologne. The most significant building of this period in Germany is Speyer Cathedral. It was built in stages from about 1030, and was in the 11th century the largest building in the Christian world and an architectural symbol of the power of the Salian dynasty, a dynasty of four German Kings (1024–1125).
The cathedrals of Worms and Mainz are other important examples of Romanesque style. Many churches and monasteries were founded in this era, particularly in Saxony-Anhalt. The Rhenish Romanesque, for example at Limburg Cathedral, produced works that used coloured surrounds. Of particular importance are also the church of St. Servatius in Quedlinburg, and also Luebeck Cathedral, Brunswick Cathedral, Trier Cathedral and Bamberg Cathedral, whose last phase of construction falls in the Gothic period.
Maulbronn Abbey is considered a significant example of Cistercian architecture. It was built between the 12th and 15th centuries, and therefore includes Gothic elements. In the 11th century there also began construction of numerous castles, including the famous castle of Wartburg, which was later expanded in the Gothic style.
Gothic architecture flourished during the high and late medieval period. It evolved from Romanesque architecture. The first Gothic buildings in Germany were built from about 1230, for example the Liebfrauenkirche (German for Church of Our dear Lady) ca. 1233-1283 in Trier, which is one of the most important early Gothiccathedrals in Germany and falls into the architectural tradition of the French Gothic.
Freiburg Cathedral was built in three stages, the first beginning in 1120 under the dukes of Zähringen, the second beginning in 1210, and the third in 1230. Of the original building, only the foundations still exist. It is noted for its 116-metre tower, which Jacob Burckhardt reputedly claimed is the most beautiful in Christian architecture. The tower is nearly square at the base, and at its centre is the dodecagonal star gallery. Above this gallery, the tower is octagonal and tapered, with the spire above. It is the only Gothic church tower in Germany that was completed in the Middle Ages (1330), and survived the bombing raids of November 1944, which destroyed all of the houses on the west and north side of the MARKET.
Cologne Cathedral is after Milan Cathedral the largest Gothic cathedral in the world. Construction began in 1248 and took, with interruptions, until 1880 to complete – a period of over 600 years. It is 144.5 metres long, 86.5 m wide and its two towers are 157 m tall. Because of its enormous twin spires, it also has the largest façade of any church in the world. The choir of the cathedral, measured between the piers, also holds the distinction of having the largest height to width ratio of any Medieval church, 3.6:1, exceeding even Beauvais Cathedral which has a slightly higher vault.
Brick Gothic (German: Backsteingotik) is a specific style of Gothic architecture common in Northern Europe, especially in Northern Germany and the regions around the Baltic Sea without natural rock resources. The buildings are built more or less using only bricks. Stralsund City Hall and St. Nicholas Church are good examples of this style. Cities such as Lübeck, Rostock, Wismar, Stralsund Greifswald and various towns in present-day northern and western Poland are shaped by this regional style. A model for many North German churches was St. Mary’s in Lübeck, built between 1200 and 1350.
The building of Gothic churches was accompanied by the construction of the guild houses and the construction of town halls by the rising bourgeoisie. A good example is the Gothic Town Hall (13th century) at Stralsund. There is also Bremen Town Hall (1410) and the (reconstructed) city hall of Munster (originally from 1350).
The dwellings of this period were mainly timber-framed buildings, as can still be seen in Goslar and Quedlinburg. Quedlinburg has one of the oldest half-timbered houses in Germany. The method of construction, used extensively for town houses of the Medieval and Renaissance periods, (see Dornstetten, illustrated above) lasted into the 20th century for rural buildings.
Renaissance architecture belongs to the period between the early 15th and early 17th centuries in different parts of Europe, when there was a conscious revival and development of certain elements of ancient Greek and Roman thought and culture. The earliest example of Renaissance architecture in Germany is the Fugger chapel in St. Anne’s Church, Augsburg. At that time, Germany was fragmented into numerous principalities, the citizens generally had few rights and armed conflict, especially the religious conflicts of the Protestant Reformation, ensured that large tracts of land remained virtually undeveloped.
Some princes, however, promoted modern art, for example in Torgau and Aschaffenburg, and Landshut, where the renaissance era originated. Examples include the decorated inner courtyard of Trausnitz Castle and the ducal Landshut Residence in the inner city, built by Italian Renaissance master craftsmen.
St. Michael in Munich (begun around 1581) is an important Renaissance building. There is also Heidelberg Castle with its typical Renaissance façades. Augsburg City Hall is also a significant renaissance, but it was late, built from 1614 to 1620, by the Augsburg architect Elias Holl.
In the area of the Weser there are numerous castles and manor houses in the style of the Weser Renaissance. There are also the cities of Lemgo and Hamelin. Wolfenbüttel Castle of Guelph and the evangelical church Beatae Maria Virginis are also special examples of the Renaissance style.
In Thuringia and Saxony, many churches and palaces in the Renaissance style were built, for example, William Castle with castle in Schmalkalden, the church of Rudolstadt, the Castle of Gotha, a town hall in Leipzig, the interior of the presbytery, the Freiberg Cathedral, the Castle in Dresden or the Schönhof in Gorlitz. In northern Germany there is Güstrower Castle and the rich interior of Stralsund’s Nikolai Church.