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The Berlin Trade Exhibition of 1896

The prevented World Exhibition

The history of world exhibitions started in London in 1851, where within a gigantic glass palace the greatest nations of the world were presenting their goods and country.

The world exhibitions in Chicago 1893 and Paris 1889 (for which the Eiffel tower was build) were the greatest of their kind and examples for national self presentation. After them, industry and trade in Berlin dreamt of a world exhibition within the Reich capital...

Year Town Country Year Town Country
1851 London GB 1904 Saint Louis USA
1855 Paris F 1905 Liege B
1862 London GB 1906 Milan I
1867 Paris F 1909 Amsterdam NL
1873 Vienna A 1910 Brussels B
1876 Philadelphia USA 1911 Turin I
1878 Paris F 1913 Gent B
1879 Sidney AUS 1915 San Francisco USA
1880 Melbourne AUS 1923 Gotenborg S
1883 Amsterdam NL 1924 London GB
1885 Antwerp B 1926 Philadelphia USA
1888 Barcelona E 1929 Barcelona E
1889 Paris F 1933 Chicago USA
1893 Chicago USA 1935 Brussels B
1897 Brussels B 1937 Paris F
1900 Paris F 1939 New York USA
World Exhibitions until 1950

But the government of Reich chancellor Caprivi and emperor Wilhelm II. opposed to it. At August the 13th, 1892 in the "Reichsanzeiger" was written: "Dem Plane einer Weltausstellung in Berlin wird von Reichs wegen nicht näher getreten." - A hedged by clauses dissociation. But without the support of the government the world exhibition was not possible. Reasons for the refusal could had been beside others an aversion against the capital city within the country and the beginning of an economy and finance crisis. Also Paris announced a world exhibition for 1900 after the end of the Chicago fair. Because of ongoing disunity not even a national exhibition was possible.

Therefore the "Verein Berliner Kaufleute und Industrieller" (Union of Berlin Traders and Industrialists) and the Vereinigung "1879" (Union of 1879) only were able to organize a local exposition, the "Berliner Gewerbeausstellung 1896" (Berlin Trade Exhibition of 1896) according to a similar event in 1879 on 60000sq.m fair park at the Lehrter train station.

Poster of the Berlin Trade Exhibition 1896

Another dispute arose about the exhibition ground. A first decision was made for an empty area at the Lietzensee in Witzleben west of Berlin. A train station Witzleben was planned anyways as a continuation of the route to Charlottenburg, and the Kurfürstendamm with its steam engine street train lead to that area, too. But then adherents for the Treptow Park south of Berlin as the exhibition place could attract the press to their side, although Treptow had a worse infrastructure. Beside other arguments this was done with anti Semite emotions: The area at the Lietzensee was owned by Jews. A collection was arranged which was only usable for an exhibition in Treptow Park. The park was owned by the city of Berlin.

Postcard of the Berlin Trade Exhibition 1896 - Main Building

The final ground was about 1.1 Million sq.m within Treptow Park and superseded the Paris exhibition with its 0.9 Million sq.m, but not the Chicago exhibition with 2.3 million sq.m. The capital provided the ground without fee but with the restriction that no tree of the 1888 installed park had to have cut down and that the area has to return into the original state. Therefore not only the buildings had to been build around the vegetation, but the buildings must had been destroyed after the end of the fair. Visitors of the exhibition had to move through the ugly industry area East of Berlin. At north west wind factory exhaustion gases were blown over the park.

Around 10 Million Reich Mark were invested into the fair, including the construction of the city train station Treptow Park, the upgrade of the Oberbaumbrücke from a wooden construction to a stone bridge, and other streets and links. The run time costs were about 6.5 Million Mark.

Postcard of the Berlin Trade Exhibition 1896 - Pavillion Rudolph Hertzog

The chairmen of the working council were F. Kühnemann (commerce consultant), Max Goldberger (secret commerce consultant), and B. Felisch (master of constructions). Framer of the fair were beside others the city representative Rosenow, city construction inspector Frobenius, steel construction ingenieur Klinke and the architects Bruno Schmitz (main industry building and main restaurant with 22000 seats, also architect of the national monument on the Kyffhäuser at Leipzig), Hans Griesebach (chemistry & photography building), Karl Hoffacker (main entrance, health, instruction & education building, and fishing, sport & food building), and Bruno Möhring (tower restaurant). The exposition was under the protectorate of prince Friedrich Leopolds, who nevertheless never visited the event.

The domes of the main hall were made of glaring aluminium, nearly all exhibition buildings were of wood/steel constructions with wire/plaster wafers, which provisorical nature nearly could not be seen.

Postcard of the Berlin Trade Exhibition 1896

Of nearly three hundred small and medium buildings the fair park was made, but not all of them were ready at the start date. 3780 exhibitors were counted at the first day of the fair, but nearly no international representatives. Emperor Wilhelm II. arrived to the fair at that day with his steam yacht "Alexandria" and visited the most important exhibits. Some of the exhibitors were AEG, Siemens&Halske, Borsig, Orenstein&Koppel, Schwarzkopff, Schering, Mannesmann, Linotype, Zunst Kaffeerösterei, Zirkus Hagenbeck, Lloyd, and many others.

The exhibition was opened from the first of May until the fifteenth of October daily until midnight. This was possible through the complete electrical illumination, installed by Siemens, but which partly failured for days. The main restaurant with its construction costs of 500000 Reich Mark was co-financed by the "Hof-Traiteuren" (court gastronomers) Louis Adlon and Rudolf Dressel, which managed or leased the restaurants of the fair.

Art print of the Berlin Trade Exhibition 1896 - Restaurant with Tower

Beside other attractions a scenery town Old-Berlin of 1650, spectacular shows with original like war ship models, and a colonial exposition "for the study of our German protectorates" were installed. Here the Berlin citizen were first widely introduced to the Banana. Architecture samples from Barock, Romanic, Renaissance, Byzance, Bayern and much more were presented within and by the exposition buildings, there was a tobacco museum by Loeser and Wolff, a museum for traditional costumes, a Northpole and an Alpes panorama, a scenery town Cairo, and the longest lense telescope of the world.

Archenhold Observatory within Treptow Park, Photo, Winter 1990/1

The fair had around 7.5 million visitors, roughly 41000 people every day. The entrance fee was 1 Reich Mark, for special expositions an extra fee had to be paid. There was a special billet book at a price of 4 Mark, where all special expositions were included and some bonus tickets were added. The reasons for the fact that the planned 50000 visitors per day weren't reached may was the high fee, a common exhibition tiredness, but also the fact that of the 168 days of exhibition 120 were rainy and the summer of 1896 was relatively cold. Therefore the exhibitors made a deficit at the end.

The Berlin Trade Exhibition of 1896 was the last of its kind. Beside of the enhancement of the infrastructure in Treptow and of the Archenhold observatory the experience had remained, that a permanent exhibition area for Berlin was needed. This was built in Witzleben then.


  1. In the first hundred years of world exhibitions, was there any in Germany? (And later? (!))
  2. How old is the Eiffel tower in the year 2000?
  3. Who was the (famous) Reich chancellor previous to Caprivi? (!)
  4. Which groups were initiators for a possible world exhibition in Berlin?
  5. Because of what reasons a world exhibition in Berlin had failed?
  6. What reasons were against Treptow Park as the fair place?
  7. In which (general) stile the main building - planned by architect Bruno Schmitz (see the first postcard) - was kept and why was this a point for critics (and by whom)? (!)
  8. How many days were between fair start and end including first and last day?
  9. Why were the exhibition buildings destroyed after the fair?
  10. Which greater buildings of the fair were not destroyed after it (until 1900)?
  11. What is the landmark of the permanent exhibition area in Witzleben? (!)
  12. Because the busses were always crowded while the Berlin Trade Exhibition, it is said that women were allowed to use the upper deck since then. Why was it permitted before? (!)
Questions marked with (!) are not answered (directly) within the text. Answers.

Postcard of the Berlin Trade Exhibition 1896 - Alpes Panorama


Jan Gympel
"Für zehn Pfennige von den Alpen nach Alt-Berlin
in "Weltspiegel Nr. 15609, 28. April 1996"
"Der Tagespiegel" 4/96 p. W1

Peter Auer
"Kühne Männer mit goldenen Bergen" -
"Schau der Superlative vor 100 Jahren in Berlin
in "Berliner Morgenpost", 30.4./1.5.1996 p.12

Hans-Werner Klünner, Helmut Börsch-Suppan
"Berlin Archiv"
"Reichsstadt und Welthauptstadt", B05106
Archiv Verlag 1985

Until the Expo2000 in Hannover there is an itinerant exhibition about 150 years of world exhibitions It was located at the German Technique Museum Berlin ("Museum für Verkehr und Technik") until the 3rd of May 1998 and will travel through Germany then. At the Expo2000 web site there are also pages about the Industrial Exhibition.

So why is it called Trade Exhibition on this page? The original name of the exhibition was "Gewerbeausstellung" as you can see on the poster, it was not called "Industrieausstellung". Nevertheless the original translation for "Gewerbeausstellung" is "Industrial Exhibition", but many aspects (education showcase, colony presentation, historical showcase) of this exhibition were non-industrial. Its nature was very different to the exhibition of 1879 and the todays "Hannover Industrial Fair". To underline this different type it is called Trade Exhibition, here. The original first title of this page ("Fabric Exhibition") was wrong, anyways, but a result of the desperate look for another word than "Industrial".

To the page "Berlin Information" of the FUB

To the brief History of Berlin Astronomy...

-- jd --