My first time in Berlin dates from May 2015. Until now it’s even my only time. I know it’s odd. The capital of Germany is a centre of history, culture, clubbing, gay culture. Berlin is a modern, quirky city with a reputation for being hip and trendy. While Danny and I plan to visit Berlin briefly – coronavirus countermeasures permitting – soon, it’s nice to look back at that 2015 Berlin citytrip with Frank.
Six years ago so many photos are lost in archive. But thanks to a photo album on Facebook, I can reconstruct the trip.
Built by Frederick the Great, King of Prussia, as his summer palace, it is often counted among the German rivals of Versailles. While Sanssouci is in the more intimate Rococo style and is far smaller than its French Baroque counterpart, it too is notable for the numerous temples and follies in the park.
The palace was designed and built by Georg Wenzeslaus von Knobelsdorff between 1745 and 1747 to fulfill King Frederick’s need for a private residence where he could relax away from the pomp and ceremony of the Berlin court.
Sanssouci is little more than a large, single-story villa. More like the Château de Marly than Versailles. Containing just ten principal rooms, it was built on the brow of a terraced hill at the centre of the park. The influence of King Frederick’s personal taste in the design and decoration of the palace was so great that its style is characterised as ‘Frederician Rococo’.
Because of a disagreement about the site of the palace in the park, Knobelsdorff was fired in 1746. Jan Bouman, a Dutch architect, finished the project.
Sanssouci Palace and its reflection in the pond at Sanssouci Park.
During the 19th century, the palace became a residence of Frederick William IV. He employed the architect Ludwig Persius to restore and enlarge the palace, while Ferdinand von Arnim was charged with improving the grounds and thus the view from the palace. The town of Potsdam, with its palaces, was a favourite place of residence for the German imperial family until the fall of the Hohenzollern dynasty in 1918.
After World War II, the palace became a tourist attraction in East Germany. Following German reunification in 1990, Frederick’s body was returned to the palace and buried in a new tomb overlooking the gardens he had created. Sanssouci and its extensive gardens became a World Heritage Site in 1990 under the protection of UNESCO.
In 1995, the Prussian Palaces and Gardens Foundation Berlin-Brandenburg was established to care for Sanssouci and the other former imperial palaces in and around Berlin. These palaces are now visited by more than two million people a year from all over the world.
Neues Palais or New Palace
The building of the New Palace started at the end of the Seven Years’ War, to celebrate Prussia’s success. The war is also variably referred to as the Third Silesian War, owing to the dispute over Silesia. In an architectural form, Frederick the Great sought to demonstrate the power and glories of Prussia attributing it as fanfaronade, an excess of splendor in marble, stone and gilt.
For the King, the New Palace was not a principal residence, but a display for the reception of important royals and dignitaries. Of the over 200 rooms, four principal gathering rooms and a theater were available for royal functions, balls and state occasions. During his occasional stays at the palace, Frederick occupied a suite of rooms at the southern end of the building, composed of two antechambers, a study, a concert room, a dining salon and a bedroom, among others.
After the death of Frederick the Great in 1786, the New Palace fell into disuse and was rarely occupied as a residence or entertainment venue.
However, starting in 1859 it became the summer residence of the German Crown Prince, Frederick William, later German Emperor Frederick III. The palace was the preferred residence of Frederick and his empress, Victoria, throughout the 99 Days’ Reign.
During the short reign of Frederick III, the palace was renamed Friedrichskron Palace (Schloss Friedrichskron) and a moat was dug around the palace.
The accession of Wilhelm II saw renovation and restoration within the palace being carried out with the installation of steam heating, bathrooms in state apartments and electrification of the chandeliers which Frederick the Great had collected from across Europe. Until 1918, it remained the preferred residence of Wilhelm II and the Empress Augusta Viktoria.
After the November Revolution and the abdication of Wilhelm II, the New Palace became a museum and remained such until the Second World War. Some of the palace’s treasures were looted by the Soviet Army at the end of the war.
Much of its furniture had been removed and taken to the residence of the exiled Wilhelm II at Huis Doorn in the Netherlands. The majority of the furnishings were discovered by the Dutch in the 1970s, still in their original packing crates, and returned to Potsdam. Because of this, and because it escaped bombing in the Second World War, the palace today looks much as it did in 1918.