The Französischer Dom or French Cathedral is not a cathedral in the traditional sense of the word. The German name of Dom refers to the "domed" tower later erected on the existing church in 1785, almost one hundred years after it had been built originally as the Französische Friedrichstadtkirche.
French Cathedral was erected for French Huguenots
It was erected as a place of worship in 1672 for the Huguenots, members of the Protestant Reformed Church of France, also known as French Calvinists. Fleeing religious persecution and expulsion from France following the 1685 Edict of Fontainebleau, around 6000 French Protestants were granted asylum in Berlin by the Great Elector Friedrich III (King Friedrich I from 1701) who had responded swiftly to the French expulsion order with the Edict of Potsdam, granting permission to French Protestants to settle in Berlin. The Huguenots built a thriving community, preserving a French language church service for nearly a century. It was only in protest against Napoleon's occupation of Prussia in 1806 that the service switched to German.
French Cathedral at Gendarmenmarkt
The Französische Friedrichstadtkirche was erected between 1701 and 1705, in the grid-layout, newly built area known as Friedrichstadt. Its central area – now the Gendarmenmarkt - became the Friedrichstadt market and two churches were built here. On the northern side the French Church, which was modelled by Louis Cayart on the Huguenots' main church in Charenton – which had been destroyed in 1688. To the south of the market the Neue Kirche - later German Church recognizable by its innovative five-side central structure. The identical domes which then gave the Churches their new name of French and German Domes were erected in 1780-85 with no inner architectonic connection to the churches.
Major restoration of the French Cathedral after WWII
In 1905 the building's interior was redesigned by Otto March with the creation of a three-axis central projection on the west façade. His ideas for the church remained influential and a new phase of restoration took place between 1978 and 1983, as a consequence to the damage which occurred during the War with the addition of an intermediate floor and an extra room.
French Cathedral houses the Huguenots Museum
The French Dome church has housed the Hugenottenmuseum - Huguenots Museum - since 1929 and the Berlin Historical Association has its offices in the German Dome. The tower's restoration has made it possible to climb up to a spiralling staircase - an absolutely worthwhile climb for a spectacular view of the square and of Mitte.