Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Berlin - Potsdam and Other Palaces

If I mention the name "Potsdam" what do you think of?  My "Potsdam" first thoughts are: the "Potsdam" conference; "San Souci" the palace of the flute-playing soldier-king Frederick the Great who employed musician-composers such as Quantz and CPE Bach; and "the Bridge of Spies" (Glienicker Bridge was used for spy exchanges until 1986).  Whilst in Berlin we spent a morning in Potsdam, but although we recognised the charm and attraction of the place, we didn't see a great deal because of light but continual rain and fog.  It would be a "first choice" place to visit if we ever return to Berlin, but that is probably unlikely - after all, Dresden, Leipzig and other cities are yet to be visited!
Potsdam is the capital city of the federal state of Brandenburg (remember "Brandenburg Gate", Bach's Brandenburg Concertos etc).  It is just 24km from the centre of Berlin and is now part of the greater metropolitan region.  It is a beautiful city with over 20 lakes and three quarters of its area designated as "green space".  Until 1918 when the Imperial dynasty was overthrown it was the place of residence of a succession of German emperors, kings and various members of the nobility.  From the 19th century it has been regarded as centre of science, and it is home to Babelsberg Studio, founded in 1912, and the oldest large-scale film studio in the world.

Because of the rain most of our sightseeing was done through the wet window of a bus, although we did get out (and wet) a couple of times.
Our views of beautiful Potsdam - were they
all to be obscured by raindrops or by fog?
Our first opportunity to get out of the bus and brave the weather was at Cecilienhof Palace.  This was the last of the many palaces built by members of the ruling Hohenzollern Dynasty.  In 1912 the Emperor ordered a new palace for his son as the traditional home of the Crown Prince was deemed inadequate.  This building with a modest 176 rooms and 55 decorative chimney stacks was constructed between 1914 and 1917 in English Tudor Revival style - somewhat strange as Germany was at war with Britain.  The new palace was named "Cecilienhof" in honour of Duchess Cecilie, wife of the Crown Prince.  The royal couple had only been in residence for a year when the monarchy was overthrown and the Emperor banished.  After a time in exile Crown Prince Wilhelm returned as a private citizen to Cecilienhof which had now been declared state property.  Wilhelm and Cecilie remained there during WW2 until they fled from the advancing Soviets who seized the property.  In July - August 1945 it was used as the site of the Potsdam Conference where the future of Berlin and of Germany itself was decided.  The palace later was used as a Soviet officers' club, a reception centre for VIPs, and then a hotel.  Today there is a small museum within the hotel complex.

Inner courtyard of Cecilienhof - note the impressive chimneys (just some of the 55)

One wing of the Cecilienhof - building
work and renovations are proceeding.
Sansouci is the former summer palace and retreat of Frederick the Great, king of Prussia.  The palace and elaborate gardens  became a World Heritage Site in 1990.  It has sometimes been misleadingly called "the German Versailles" but it is much smaller and restrained than the famous French palace.  Frederick used this palace to escape from the pomp of the Berlin court.  Its name indicates that this was a place of relaxation rather than demonstration of power.  "Sans souci" is a French phrase meaning something like "without cares".

Sansouci - the garden façade of the summer palace of Frederick the Great
Details on the central bowed section of the garden façade.

Fog descends on the famed and extensive gardens closest to the palace.  The many white
boxes are shelters for the fine marble statues to protect them from the ravages of the winter.  Fine cracks let in water which can freeze and cause pieces of marble to shatter and flake off.

Decorative emblem (reminiscent of the French "Sun King") on a plant enclosure.

Emblem on a garden structure.  The king maintained a renowned orchestra, and was an
ardent flute player and a technically competent composer (if not a particularly profound one).
In an earlier Blog entry I included  a photograph taken in the crypt beneath the Berlin Dom.  The bodies of many members of the Hohenzollern Royal family were collected and interred there after the Dom was completed.  Frederick is not there - he wanted to be buried at his beloved Sans Souci next to his favourite greyhounds.  He died at sans Souci in 1786, aged 74, but his successor Frederick William III ordered that his body be entombed in the garrison Church in Potsdam. Towards the end of the war Hitler had the body (and several others) hidden but he was located by the Americans in 1946.  Finally, in 1991, his wishes were respected and his casket was placed in the vault in the garden where only a simple stone in the grass marks the place.

This simple stone marks the burial place of King Frederick the Great of Prussia.
The strewn potatoes recall the King's wisdom in ordering peasants to plant
potatoes to provide food during periods of great crop failure.

Frederick's crypt is below the furthest slab.
The others mark the burial places of his greyhounds.

Judy admires the view (eyes in the back of her head?)
to the north of the palace of sans Souci.
An old windmill stands not far from Sans Souci.
From the simple (comparatively speaking!) Sans Souci palace with its beautiful views south across the park and gardens we travelled a kilometre or two to a surprising building in the western end of the park.  This was another palace of Frederick the Great (built 1763-1769).  It was not  built as a residential palace and Frederick rarely stayed there.  It was built to celebrate the Prussian victory in the Seven Years' War and it was built to receive (and impress) dignitaries.  It is grand rather than beautiful and elegant.  After Frederick's death in 1786 it was rarely used and fell into disrepair until it was revived in 1859 as the summer residence of the Crown Prince.  It received a number of modern conveniences such as steam heating, bathrooms and electric lights and continued as a royal residence until the 1918 revolution and abdication of the Emperor when it became a museum.  Many crates of the furnishings of its final years were discovered in 1970 so today it looks much as it did a century ago.

The New Palace, Potsdam.  Well, actually these are the
kitchens, service areas and servants' quarters.

One wing of the servants' quarters and service
facilities facing the New palace, about 100m away.

The dome of the New Palace

A panoramic view of the New palace and lavish, grandiose service areas.

In a brief break in the rain there was a little time to see a few more interesting sights.

Ceremonial arch in Potsdam

The Film Museum, Potsdam from the window of a bumpy bus.

The Nikolai Church, Potsdam - across the river and through the fog
From Potsdam we returned to the suburbs of Berlin to visit Schloss Charlottenburg.  This Palace, the largest in Berlin, was substantially built between 1695 and 1713 but as with all such buildings, it was subjected to repeated additions and alterations.  This was the main residence of Frederick the Great - when not on campaign across Europe or relaxing at San Souci.   He made substantial enlargements to the palace and added the "new wing" to be his residence.  The palace was originally commissioned by, and named after, his grandmother Sophie Charlotte, wife of Friedrich III.  She was the younger sister of George I, King of Great Britain.
The entrance to Schloss Charlottenburg with the central cupola above the original wing.
Gloomy skies, drizzle and some fog could not detract from the elegance of the palace.
Equestrian statue of Friedrich Wilhelm I, Elector of
Brandenburg and father of Frederick the Great.

Above and below - the New Wing.  The exterior was kept quite simple but the interior decorations and fittings were lavish.  They are still impressive, but not quite as extravagant as the excesses in some palaces we have visited.  This wing contains the state apartments of Frederick the Great and houses several collections, particularly of paintings and of royal household artefacts, silver and gold.

The rooms of the New Wing are just gorgeous.  Opulent? Yes! Lavish? Yes!  Vulgarly and excessively extravagant?  I don't think so.  As you progress from room to room you are impressed at each doorway by what lies beyond.

After many rooms dominated by "gold" it was both novel and refreshing
to find a room where the objects and decorations are of silver.

How's this for a drinking tankard?

A simple table setting with silverware (gold was for more formal occasions).
The table was reset for every course so that the table was not too cluttered.
Only what was needed for each course was provided and then removed.

A ceremonial plumed helmet for those occasions
when a bit of extra pomp and pageantry was needed.

Charlottenburg as night falls.
After English, French, Italian, and Austrian palaces we've now experienced some German palaces.   It certainly was an interesting day.

Paul & Judy
January 2016

No comments:

Post a Comment