Another day in Europe, another palace. Just as frequent European travelers can talk about “church fatigue,” where beautiful churches all over the continent begin to dull and blend together, so, too, is palace fatigue a real thing. And yet, we are drawn to them, to these shining ego projects built by the crowned heads of Europe all trying to outdo each other. But sometimes, one stands out. In this case, it was one I didn’t even go inside of.
Frederick II of Prussia (who would later come to be known as Frederick the Great) was born in Berlin in 1712, the son of King Frederick Wilhelm I and the grandson of King Frederick I (who you may remember from our exploration of Charlottenburg; if not, click here to read about the founder of the Prussian monarchy). His reign would begin in 1740, and last until his death in 1786, although his title would change in 1772 to be King of Prussia rather than King in Prussia after his annexation of Polish Prussia.
As with most monarchs who either self-adopted or were styled with a title of “the great,” Frederick won his on the battlefield. In addition to winning control over all of Prussia from Poland, he conquered Silesia from the Austrian Empire over a series of three wars (called the Silesian Wars) and Bohemia in the Seven Years’ War. He became known as a military strategist of the first order, being idolized by European leaders from Napoleon to Hitler. (The latter’s frequent mentions of Frederick the Great have hurt his reputation in modern Germany.)
Frederick was known as an enlightened monarch, who believed he was a servant to the country. That’s a point in his favor. He was also fervently anti-Catholic, especially after annexing the mainly Catholic portions of Polish Prussia. He updated Prussian currency policy to something commoners were able to understand. He also spent the country into debt to fund the Seven Years’ War. He welcomed Jews and immigrants into his kingdom, was a big proponent of land restoration (as opposed to an existing agricultural system that often led to soils being barren), and founded one of the first veterinary hospitals in Europe.
But his lasting legacy is found in the small city of Potsdam, about an hour outside of Berlin (and the end of the S7 rail line from the city), where he would ultimately move his court, although the capital would remain in Berlin officially. After the Edict of Potsdam in 1685, the city became one of the largest centers of immigration in Europe, let alone in Prussia. Frederick loved Potsdam, and in 1747, founded his summer palace there. Sanssouci Palace (inside a large park of the same name) literally means no worries, from the French sans souci. Meant to be Frederick the Great’s version of Versailles (click here to read about Versailles), it is really just a large villa, single storied, although richly adorned.
I am here in Potsdam to visit Sanssouci Palace. It is about a half hour walk from the train station, and one that ends inside the park, before making one’s way to the palace itself. I find myself so enthralled by the park that I choose not to even enter the palace. Do I regret this decision? Not in the slightest. Sanssouci Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It includes sculpted gardens, fruit orchards, forests and meadows, statuary, fountains, and a large number of palaces and other outbuildings. It is about a mile from east to west, full of greenery and beautiful construction.
There are three “main” palaces within the grounds: Sanssouci, New Palace, and the Orangery. New Palace was started by Frederick the Great in 1763, although construction would continue until the end of the monarchy in 1918. It is huge, a truly enormous and imposing edifice, especially when contrasted with the relatively small Sanssouci. It is also all the way on the western end of the grounds, requiring a good 25 or so minute walk from Sanssouci, although it is also open to tour. (Again, I don’t.) The palace has hundreds of rooms, and is the most generically grand of the buildings.
Orangery Palace, on the other hand, is a unique building, and is currently closed as of this writing. It was built nearly 100 years later, opening in 1864. Make sure to walk past, even if you don’t go all the way to New Palace. The view from below, found on Google Maps as being near the statue of Apollo the Archer, is the best.
Frederick the Great died childless, and it is widely believed (and even was during his reign) that he was homosexual. He is buried here at Sanssouci, in his favorite place.
Potsdam is a charming town even outside of the park and its palaces. St. Nikolaikirche dominates the skyline of the newer portion of the city. The church opened in 1850, and while it is more impressive from the outside, is worth a few minutes’ stop on your way back to the train station.
Another feature of Potsdam worth a detour is the Dutch Quarter, which consists of 134 red brick Dutch buildings constructed between 1733 and 1740. Make sure to get some Dutch pancakes!
An easy day trip from Berlin, Potsdam defied my sense of “palace fatigue,” largely because I chose not to enter any. Instead, I enjoyed the city and the legacy of Frederick the Great from the beautiful grounds, exterior facades, and outdoor features that, while the interiors might not live up, rival any in Europe. And I got some awesome pancakes. A great day, all in all!
Like it? Pin it!