Palaces, parks and Prussian kings
Guten tag blog fans! It was yet another beautiful day in Deutschland today and given how sunny and warm it was we decided to head out of Berlin and spend the day strolling Sanssouci Park in Potsdam.
Potsdam is about 30kms outside of Berlin city proper and was were the Prussian royal family based themselves in summer and/or when they weren’t in Berlin. Many of the historical buildings in Potsdam survived the bombing of WWII, which makes this small township a great place to spend a day or two if you love palaces, fountains and history. Central to all the historical sights in Potsdam is Sanssouci Park, a 724 acre parkland containing almost a dozen different lavish 18th century buildings.
Sanssouci Park was the Hohenzollern* family’s hunting grounds for many centuries; then, in 1744, King Fredrick II ordered a palace built on the Eastern side of the park, where he could live sans souci (translation [old French] = without worries). That original palace, Sanssouci Palace, is the park’s star attraction. Built in the Rococo style, the palace sits atop a small hill, overlooking a stepped garden of grape vines, manicured lawns and fountains.
*The house of Hohenzollern is the noble family that once governed Germany. They were the rulers of the state of Brandenburg for many centuries and then, in 1525, became leaders of Prussia. Under their rule Prussia greatly expanded its territories and won many battles, becoming a large kingdom in 1701 and then, in 1871, a vast empire. The German Revolution of 1918 brought an end to the Prussian empire and the 600 year rule of the Hohenzollerns.
We didn’t actually go into Sanssouci Palace as the queue for tickets was 2 hours long and that just seemed like a waste of a good morning to us! Instead we bought a couple of the General Admission park tickets (no queue at all) which got us into every other building and palace in the park, except for Sanssouci Palace. With so many palaces to see, we didn’t regret our choice at all and, tickets in hand, happily spent the rest of the day wandering through the park. In all honesty, even without visiting all the historical buildings, Sanssouci Park was worth the trip – it’s acres and acres of waterways, fountains, flower beds, orchards and forests to enjoy.
Of all the palaces we visited the Neues Palais (translation = New Palace) was probably the most magnificent. Built in 1769, this ornate Baroque palace was built purely to house guests visiting the royal family. It is HUGE, with over 200 rooms and 3 large wings to it. Many of the rooms are open to public and contain museum displays demonstrating how lavishly royals lived in the 18th and 19th centuries. It was an awesome palace and, compared to all the other palaces we’ve seen (i.e. in Sweden, Russia and other parts of Germany), is second only to the Hermitage in St Petersburg in terms of its grandeur and opulence.
As well as the Neues Palais we also toured through the Orangerie Schloss (translation = Orangery Palace). Built in 1864 this Renaissance-styled building used to house the king’s orange trees in winter (literally an orangery) and a collection of his best art works and museum pieces. Many of the art and museum pieces are still there today (not all though as quite a few mysteriously disappeared during WWII) and make for an interesting tour.
The Charlottenhof Palace was a surprise; this tiny (comparatively) neoclassical palace was built in 1826 by King Fredrick IV when he was still crown Prince as a private summer residence for himself and his wife. King Fredrick IV was by all accounts a keen architect and designer – he designed and furnished the palace himself, which might explain why it felt more like a home than a showpiece. Other buildings we got to tour though in Sanssouci Park were the New Gallery (an art gallery in its day); old windmill (which used to produce four for the royal kitchens); the Roman Baths (which, styled after antique Roman baths, had an actual caldarium as well as cool water baths); the Chinese Tea House (a fanciful Chinoise pavilion built in the 18th century and decorated with very expensive looking Chinese porcelain ornaments); and the Dragon House (another 18th century Chinoise tea house, built to look a little like a Chinese pagoda). All very splendid and beautifully restored and maintained, giving us a real insight into how wealthy and powerful the Prussian kingdom/empire must have been during the 18th and 19th centuries.
Before coming here neither of us had a very good understanding of German history beyond the events of the 20th century. Today’s outing certainly brought much of the earlier history of Germany to life for us. It’s astonishing how much the Prussian empire expanded and achieved from the Middle Ages to 1918, under the astute governance and military prowess of the Hohenzollern family. I think today we finally really understood how much Germany, in its various forms, influenced and shaped the history of Europe (and through its dominant economic role in the EU, continues to do so even today).