After the partial destruction of the cathedral during World War II, all cathedral services were held in the Remter, the Refectory of the old monastic foundation, which forms the east wing of the cloisters.The room is a long but very low gothic hall, divided in the middle by a row of marble pillars. It still serves the cathedral parish as winter church from mid-October until May, as the cathedral itself has no heating system.
the organ is just visible to the right of the window.
In 1949 the first postwar cathedral organist, Gerhard Bremsteller, succeeded in his attempts to acquire a larger organ for this room, to replace the small two-manual romantic period instrument (Furtwängler und Hammer) which had been moved there from the cathedral school (no longer in existence). The Schuke firm from Potsdam was chosen to carry out the work; of the two sons of the firm's founder Alexander, Hans-Joachim was still in Russian captivity, so that the planning fell to Karl Schuke, who later left the family firm in the hands of his brother and set up his own company, "Berliner Orgelbauwerkstatt Karl Schuke", in West Berlin.
Schuke wished at first to build a 22-stop, 2 manual instrument with Rückpositiv, more or less at the point from which this picture was taken, using the height offered by building directly under the highest point of the vaulting. In the end, however, he agreed to fulfill Bremsteller's wishes and construct a 3-manual organ with 29 stops against the north wall. This means that the interesting part of the facade (the organ has no case) is directly behind a pillar and not visible in its entirety from anywhere in the room. The specification of the organ, which was completed in 1949, would seem typical of a neo-baroque instrument, but the narrow mouths and flues and very high cut-ups of its principals gave it a fluty, slightly woolly and imprecise sound, far removed from the exaggerated brightness favoured by other builders of the period. Some found the lack of hardness in the tone pleasant, but the quite narrow scales did not provide any great carrying power in the difficult room, and the lack of harmonic development in the tone of the foundations made it difficult to bind the large mixtures into the tonal concept. Another picture.
The organ was beset with tonal and mechanical problems from the start; a major rebuild of the Hauptwerk action became necessary as early as 1959, although it was only carried out in 1964. Subsequent cleanings, restorations and maintanance attempts, the last in 1992, could not prevent the organ, which had been declared an historical monument in 1987, from becoming unusable in 1995; a new heating system had dried out the atmosphere in the room to an extent which had caused extensive splitting in the chests, so that runnings and cyphers were a constant problem. A decision was taken by the cathedral council not to repair the organ but to replace it temporarily with an electronic instrument - now, 12 years later, unfortunately still in use - pending discussions with the Landesamt für Denkmalpflege. In 2007, permission to remove the organ from the remter, which is to be renovated, was finally granted after a reshuffle of competencies by the newly responsible lower authority, and the instrument was removed to an organ museum in Bavaria in July of that year.
An account of the history of the instrument and the long squabbles with the monuments authority (in German) can be read by clicking on the Acrobat icon.
After the repairs to the cathedral had been more or less completed in 1955, Gerhard Bremsteller began negotiations for the building of a large, electric action organ on the west gallery, with a smallish "Gegenorgel" on the "Bischofsgang", the triforium of the choir. This was to have mechanical action, but also to be electrically playable from the console of the main organ, nearly 120 metres away. Tenders were called for from a number of firms, including Schuke, Jehmlich and Eule. A number of problems arose, however; amongst them the following:
- the commission for historic buildings was not prepared to allow the building of an organ in either of these positions, even though historically organs had stood there for at least most of the 750 years of the cathedral's history.
- the cathedral has been the property of the state since the Prussian secularisation of 1830. This meant that the state was responsible for the organ and for the financial aspects of the project. Obviously the communist government was not especially interested, but did in fact provide a certain amount of money annually for some years, with the proviso that the money had to be spent within the year. Since there was never enough to complete the organ, and since the necessary materials could not be acquired within the allocated time span, the contract was never awarded.
- the official diocesan organ consultant at the time, Willi Strube, warned (mistakenly) that acoustic reasons made it inadvisable ever to build another instrument on the west gallery.
In the meantime the cathedral obtained the use of an undistinguished organ by the Schuster firm from Zittau. This organ had been constructed for the Heilig-Geist-Kirche, the first of Magdeburg's five inner-city gothic parish churches to be reconstructed after the war. The Heilig-Geist-Kirche was, however, imploded in the fifties, together with the ruins of the Katharinen-, Ulrichs- and Jakobskirchen, by the Ulbrich-regime, which declared that gothic church buildings were out of place in modern, socialistic town planning. Only the Johanneskirche still stands. Rebuilding is due to commence shortly, but sadly not for ecclesiastical purposes; it is to become a concert hall and conference centre. This organ was set up in the south aisle, where it remained until 1970, when it was removed to the Nikolaikirche in the "Neue Neustadt".
After some years, the parish council and Bremsteller decided to try to build a smaller organ in the proximity of the choir, which should in some measure fulfil the functions of both the west organ and the choir organ, and which would be financeable by the parish itself. An order was placed with Schuke, and after a waiting period of nearly a decade the organ was finally erected in 1970. It stands on a triforium ledge above the door to the "Paradise Gate", deeply recessed in the north transept. It is a fine example of neo-baroque organ building and is able to dominate tonally the transepts and crossing; since however the altar which is used for parish services stands west of the crossing, and the screen east of it, this is an area of the cathedral which is "dead", empty of people during services, although seating is available there for organ recitals. Its tones are heard very diffusely in the rest of the building. The case, which is made of stained pine and very roughly carpentered, was designed by the architect Fritz Leweke of Halle.