The Wilhelmstrasse refers to the top level of the governmental administration of the Kingdom of Prussia and the unified German state from the mid 19th century until the end of the Second World War. The name derives from from the street Wilhelmstraße in Berlin where several of the top governmental offices where housed. This usage of the name is akin to the use of "Whitehall" to signify the British governmental administration as a whole.
Before the Nazi era
From 1875 the Reich Chancellery building stood at Wilhelmstraße 77. During the years of the Weimar Republic (1919-33), the Reich President's official residence was at Wilhelmstraße 73. It was from the balcony of this building that Reich President Paul von Hindenburg watched the torchlight parade on the night the Nazis came to power: 30 January 1933.
New Reich Chancellery (1938)
In 1938, Hitler assigned his favourite architect Albert Speer to build the new Reich Chancellery, requesting that the building be completed within a year. Near the complex was the underground Führerbunker, where Hitler committed suicide at the end of World War II in 1945. The new Reich Chancellery had the address Voßstraße 6, and the old Reich Chancellery, located along Wilhelmstraße, probably had the address Wilhelmstraße 77.
Hitler commissioned Speer to build the Chancellery in late January, 1938, although preliminary planning had begun four years earlier. Hitler commented that the old Chancellery, which dated from Bismarck's time as chancellor in the 1870s, was "fit for a soap company" but was not suitable as headquarters of the German Reich nor him, the soon-to-be "master of the world". Hitler assigned Speer the work of creating grand halls and salons which "will make an impression on people".
Hitler placed the entire Voßstraße at Speer's disposal. Speer was given a blank cheque — Hitler stated that the cost of the project was immaterial — and was instructed that the building be of solid construction and that it be finished by the following January in time for the next annual diplomatic reception to be held in the new building. In the end it cost over 90 Million Reichsmark, well over one billion dollars today.
Speer claimed in his autobiography that he completed the task of clearing the site, designing, constructing, and furnishing the building in less than a year. In fact, versions of the designs were already being worked on as early as 1935. Over 4,000 workers toiled in shifts, so the work could be accomplished round-the-clock. This immense construction project was finished 48 hours ahead of schedule, and the project earned Speer a reputation as a good organiser, which, combined with Hitler's fondness for Speer played a part in the architect becoming Armaments Minister and a director of forced labour during the war.
- From Wilhelmsplatz an arriving diplomat drove through great gates into a court of honour. By way of an outside staircase he first entered a medium-sized reception room from which double doors almost seventeen feet high opened into a large hall clad in mosaic. He then ascended several steps, passed through a round room with domed ceiling, and saw before him a gallery 480 feet long. Hitler was particularly impressed by my gallery because it was twice as long as the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles.
- Hitler was delighted: "On the long walk from the entrance to the reception hall they'll get a taste of the power and grandeur of the German Reich!" During the next several months he asked to see the plans again and again but interfered remarkably little in this building, even though it was designed for him personally. He let me work freely.
The series of rooms comprising the approach to Hitler's reception gallery were decorated with a rich variety of materials and colours and totalled 725 feet (220 meters) in length. The gallery itself was 480 feet (145 meters) long. Hitler's own office was 400 square metres in size.
From the exterior, the chancellery had a stern, authoritarian appearance. From the Wilhelmplatz, visitors would enter the Chancellery through the Court of Honour (Ehrenhof). The building's main entrance was flanked by two bronze statues by sculptor Arno Breker: "Wehrmacht" and "Partei" ("Armed Forces" and "Party").
Hitler is said to have been greatly impressed by the building and was uncharacteristically effusive with his praise for Speer, lauding the architect as a "genius". The chancellor's immense study was a particular favourite of the dictator.
The large marble-topped table in Hitler's study served as an important part of the Nazi leader's military headquarters, the study being used for military conferences from 1944 on. On the other hand, the Cabinet room was never used for its intended purpose.
Some 4000 workers were employed in the construction of the New Reich Chancellery. Speer recalls that the whole work force — masons, carpenters, plumbers, etc. were invited to inspect the finished building. Hitler then addressed the workers in the Sportpalast.
The New Reich Chancellery was badly damaged during the Battle of Berlin at the end of World War II in 1945.
After the war, the remains of the Chancellery were demolished by orders of the Soviet occupation forces. Parts of the building's marble walls were used to build the Soviet war memorial in Treptower Park and to renovate the nearby war-damaged Mohrenstraße U-Bahn station. Some of the red marble was used in the palatial Underground stations in Moscow.
Other buildings during the Nazi era
The German Foreign Office was situated in the former Reich President's palace at Wilhelmstraße 73, the old building being refurbished in grandiose style by the Nazi Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop. The Finance Ministry stood at Wilhelmstraße 61. Joseph Goebbels's Propaganda Ministry stood further south at Wilhelmstraße 8-9. The Agriculture Ministry stood at Wilhelmstraße 72, as it still does today - the only German government ministry now located on its prewar site, although in a reconstructed building.
The only major surviving public building in the Wilhelmstraße from the Nazi era is the Reich Air Ministry building at Wilhelmstraße 81-85, south of Leipziger Straße, a huge edifice built on the orders of Hermann Göring between 1933 and 1936.