Although the Zeiss Planetarium company, founded in Jena in 1846, sold planetariums all over the world, it wasn’t until 1987 that a large-scale Zeiss planetarium was built in Berlin’s Prenzlauer Berg. The impressive domed structure was to become one of East Germany’s last, great showcase buildings. Just two years later, the country in which it was built passed into history.
The grounds of the planetarium were once home to the IV Berliner Gasanstalt, a former coal gas plant that was demolished only at the beginning of the 1980s. It was replaced by Ernst Thälmann Park, a so-called ›inhabited park‹ and GDR flagship project named after the former Communist party leader Ernst Thälmann. The large, radiant Zeiss Großplanetarium was included as a complement various other attractions and cultural venues on the premises.
Tim Florian Horn has been director of Zeiss Großplanetarium since 2013 and is well acquainted with the origins and history of the building. He explains that the reinforced concrete and shotcrete dome enthroned in the centre was the most innovative thing that architect Erhardt Gißke could offer in East Germany at the time. The planetarium was to resemble a galaxy with a »large core in the middle, surrounded by spiral arms«, which continue to be used in many different ways today. Multi-functionality was built into the Zeiss Großplanetarium’s design: its spacious foyer is well suited for exhibitions; it has a large stellar dome but also a cinema area, a restaurant, a library, and hireable club rooms.
Renovation work carried out between 2014 and 2016 has given the open-air planetarium a new lease of life. The entrance area has been refurbished; technology in the cinema and planetarium was upgraded. The new star projector and switch to digital projection in particular enable an even more intensive, immersive experience. »Every guest pauses when you show them the stars«, Horn says proudly.
Yet Horn has even bigger plans for the future of this historic location. The »traditional stellar theatre«, as he calls it, will be transformed into a »science theatre«. Geology, biology, medicine, computer science—the Zeiss dome should accommodate all of them, its presentations adapted to suit as many different scientific fields as possible. Advanced digital immersion technology with a 360-degree projection could offer a wide range of expressive possibilities. Above all, he wants to open the dome up for media art work—since artists also venture into new orbits were no one has gone before.