The Electoral Palace (German: Kurfürstliches Schloss) in Koblenz, Germany, was the residence of the last Archbishop and Elector of Trier, Clemens Wenceslaus of Saxony, who commissioned the building in the late 18th century. In the mid-19th century, the Prussian Crown Prince (later Emperor Wilhelm I) had his official residence there during his years as military governor of the Rhine Province and the Province of Westphalia. It now houses various offices of the federal government.
The Electoral Palace is one of the most important examples of the early French neoclassical great house in Southwestern Germany, and with Schloss Wilhelmshöhe in Kassel, the Prince Bishop’s Palace in Münster and Ludwigsburg Palace, one of the last palaces built in Germany before the French Revolution. Since 2002 it has been part of the Rhine Gorge UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it is also a protected cultural property under the Hague Convention.
The palace consists of a rectangular main building (Corps de logis) which extends in a north-south direction parallel to the nearby bank of the Rhine and two semi-circular wings which extend from it on the west side facing the city, enclosing the great forecourt of the palace (Schlossvorplatz). The main building is predominantly horizontally articulated; five of its 39 axes are emphasised by projecting bays. In the centre of the façade which faces the city, a portico with eight columns rises to the roofline. On the river side, a central bay has six columns and is surmounted by a relief by the sculptor Sebastian Pfaff depicting an allegory of the Rhine and the Mosel, the electoral coat of arms, lions symbolising sovereignty and symbols of the ecclesiastical and temporal power of the Archbishop Electors of Trier. The side wings, which were rebuilt to a height of two storeys in the 1950s, are unarticulated.
In commissioning the relatively unornamented and austere building from French architects, Clemens Wenceslaus broke with the previous tradition in Koblenz of architecture in the French and German Baroque tradition. It was built as a residence and city palace. However, as a function of its location on the bank of the Rhine, it was conceived of as part of the river landscape, and the rooms are so arranged as to either draw attention to the landscape or refer to it. From the entrance facing the city, the intended path leads through the vestibule and garden room to the palace garden on the riverbank. The rooms on the south and east sides offer an impressive view of the Middle Rhine Valley. The embracing of the landscape was in response to Clemens Wenceslaus’ wish. The grand gesture of the forecourt encircled by the colonnaded wings has older antecedents, such as the colonnades of St. Peter’s Square in Rome, the New Palace in Bayreuth, and Schwetzingen Castle.
In the garden behind the palace is an 1854 sandstone sculpture by Johann Hartung depicting the allegorical figures Father Rhine and Mother Mosel.
During the Third Reich, an amphitheatrical Thingplatz theatre was created in the palace forecourt. It was one of the first of a projected 400 to be built; in March 1934 building materials were brought up from the Rhine by citizens, over 100 workers began work in two shifts on 8 June, a mystical cornerstone-laying ceremony took place on 16 June, and the theatre was dedicated by Mayor Otto Wittgen on 24 March 1935. The theatre was oval, 100 metres (330 ft) long by 70 metres (230 ft) wide and approximately 5 metres (16 ft) deep; it was constructed using 16,000 basalt pillars, seated 20,000 people and could accommodate a further 80,000 standees in the surrounding areas of the forecourt. The layout incorporated a glacial boulder and, under the palace portico, a memorial grotto with an eternal flame. The motto of the theatre was Leuchte, scheine goldene Sonne über dies befreite Land (Gleam, shine golden sun, over this liberated land), and a lur was installed on the palace roof, to be sounded twice daily. It was audible up to 5 kilometres (3.1 mi) away. The Koblenz Thingplatz was one of the most important in the effort to use the locations for mystical observances, particularly at the summer solstice. However, interest in the Thingspiel movement waned rapidly, and already at the end of 1937 a contest was organised to redesign the forecourt as a simple parade ground, doing away with the amphitheatre; in later years it was mainly used for the annual May Day ceremonies. After World War II, it was filled in with debris from the bombing of the city.
During World War II, the palace complex was reduced to a shell by bombs in 1944. It was rebuilt in 1950–51, the exterior being accurately reconstructed using the original plans and the interior finished in 1950s style, except for a few spaces in the centre section whose interiors were reconstructed in the classical style of the palace’s original construction (before Stüler’s alterations): the grand staircase, the entrance hall, the guard room (now known as the Spiegelsaal (hall of mirrors) or the Kurfürstensaal (elector’s hall) and the garden room. A competition was held to choose art works for these rooms: the staircase was decorated on the ground floor with a statue by Emil Krieger entitled Kore, on the landings with Europa on the Bull by Otto Rumpf and Horse and Rider by Werner Meurer and on the first floor with niche paintings by Edvard Frank; Rolf Müller-Landau created allegorical paintings for the niches in the south hall on the ground floor; two paintings in the northern vestibule of the garden room are by Edgar Ehse; and a mosaic on one wall of the grand staircase, signed E. K., is probably by Eugen Keller. The selection committee attempted to reproduce as closely as possible the original impression a visitor would have received, including in the choice of colours, but the works reflect the period of their creation. The grounds were restored in the original style, in particular the forecourt. The only surviving historic interior is that of the vestibule to the now destroyed palace chapel, at the head end of the northern semi-circular wing. The two wings were restored in a simplified modern form, preserving only the footprint of the originals.
The building initially served as the seat of the Allied Security Office (Military Security Board). In 1960 the building was sold to the Federal Republic of Germany by the State of Rhineland-Palatinate, which had inherited it in 1946 as the legal successor to Prussia. In 1998 it was again restored, and the exterior, which had been painted in the traditional ochre and purplish red of Prussian forts and palaces, was repainted in its 18th-century colour scheme: pale grey walls and grey architectural details. The palace currently houses offices for various branches of the federal government (including the Institute for Federal Real Estate (Bundesanstalt für Immobilienaufgaben), which also oversees the building, the Central Tariffs Office (Hauptzollamt), the Bundeswehr Office for Armaments, Information Technology and Implementation (Bundesamt für Ausrüstung, Informationstechnik und Nutzung der Bundeswehr) and the Federal Testing Agency (Prüfungsamt des Bundes), a division of the Bundesrechnungshof, the national auditing agency. It is therefore not accessible to the public except during special events.