The Spandau Citadel in Berlin

Berlin Zitadelle
Erin Porter

Spandau is just a short ride from the center of Berlin but can appear to be from a different century.  The Kiez (Berlin neighborhood) was once its own city.

Sat at the meeting point of the rivers Havel and Spree, this settlement traces back to the seventh or eighth century and the Slavic tribe, the Hevelli. Needing to protect their growing town they built a fortress, today's Spandau Citadel (Zitadelle Spandau). Not only is it a beautiful attraction and the site of some unique Berlin history, it hosts numerous festivals and events throughout the year. A look back at the history of Zitadelle Spandau and its best features today.

History of the Spandau Citadel

After its construction in 1557, the first troops to lay siege to the Citadel were Swedish. However, it wasn't until 1806 that the Citadel was first overrun by Napoleon's army. The site was in desperate need of restoration after the battle. Slowly it was rebuilt and the city around it grew and was incorporated into Greater Berlin in 1920. The Citadel's defenses were then put to use keeping people in rather than out as a prison for Prussian state prisoners. Eventually, the Citadel found new purpose as a gas laboratory for military research in 1935.

It took a more active role in the war effort in World War II as a line of defense during the epic battle in Berlin. Unable to overcome its walls, the Soviets were forced to negotiate a surrender. After the war, the Citadel was occupied by Soviet troops until the official division took place and Spandau ended up in the British sector. Despite persistent rumors, it was not used as a prison for national socialist war criminals like Rudolf Hess. They were housed nearby in Spandau Prison. That site has since been demolished to prevent it from becoming a neo-Nazi shrine.

Today, the Citadel's fighting days are done and the site is ornamental. Opened to the public in 1989, it is one of the best-preserved fortresses of the Renaissance with the Julius Tower holding the title of the oldest structure in Berlin (built around 1200).

Events & Attractions at the Spandau Citadel

Visitors may cross the bridge over the moat and onto the grounds of the Citadel to admire the impressive tower and walls. It is hard to envision the dynamic shape of the fortress from the ground, but pictures help illustrate its unique rectangular shape with four corner bastions.

The former arsenal house is the site of the Museum of Spandau which covers the complete history of the area. The former commander's house features a permanent exhibition on the citadel. In the Queen's bastion, 70 medieval Jewish gravestones are viewable by appointment. Changing works of young artists, craftsmen, and even a puppet theater are available in the Bastion Kronprinz. A new permanent exhibition, “Unveiled - Berlin and its Monuments”, showcases monuments that have been removed after political changes. Back outdoors, Theater Zitadelle holds theatrical performances and events in the courtyard. Watch its busy events calendar for open air concerts like the Citadel Music Festival in summer. On a sunny summer day, take a break at the biergarten (or check out one of the other best Berlin biergartens).

For something a bit darker - literally - enter the bat cellar. Around 10,000 native bats use the Citadel as their winter home and visitors can observe the animal and learn more about their habits here. 

Visitor Info for Berlin's Citadel

Address: Am Juliusturm 64, 13599 Berlin

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