On Friday, we students were led on a tour of the Charlottenberg Schloss, located in Charlottenberg (southwest of downtown Berlin/south of the Tiergarten). Our tour guide, Helmut, or as I’ve unofficially nicknamed him, Herr Feeney (he looks and acts a lot like Mr. Feeney from Boy Meets World), lived in former East Berlin and can even speak Mandarin Chinese. For this excursion our guide used this one building to show the gradual change in how architecture manifests the spirit of the time in regards to power and reign.
The Charlottenberg Schloss is a very old building, dating back to 1695, and many kings have resided in its halls. Though under each ruler, the building has undergone specific changes in a way to represent the relationship between the ruler and the people. The first, Frederick the Great, had very large ambitions. Being the one who put Prussia on the map, he had to prove the might of his reign and capital to the others, London and France. During this era of Absolutism, Baroque methods of design were employed to evoke the idea that the Charlottenberg Schloss is the center of the world, and the seat of all power. The building acts as a focal point, with wide avenues radiating out from it. The plan is symmetrical and the entry is aligned with the North-South Axis while the wings run along the East-West axis. In front of the building, in the frontcourt, is a bronze sculpture with Frederick the Great mounted on his horse looking both regal and terrifying. There, behind, in the dome was his bedchamber. And as Helmut put it “Frederick I did not just ‘get up from bed’ he would ‘rise from bed’ and the people would celebrate his awakening as he was the sun to Prussia.”
Walking along the west wing of the building we came upon a rather humble looking section. It was here that we learned that the wings were expanded with additions over the years and that this particular addition we were looking at was commissioned by Frederick II. He was not like his grandfather Frederick I. Rather he was friends with Voltaire and a man with new ideologies for his reign. Where Frederick I said that “I am the state,” Frederick the III said, “I am the first servant to the state.” He is famous for abolishing torture and for religious freedom in his country. And therefore, instead of taking his grandfather’s bedchambers he made this new, more humble addition, where he would sleep and just ‘get up’ from bed.
This was a daylong tour that was chock full with information and architecture. But unfortunately the weather wasn’t ideal. The entire complex was meant to showcase a harmony between water, sculpture, garden, and architecture. But being that we are in winter, we couldn’t get the full grandeur of the grounds. But despite that setback we were still able to appreciate the buildings and our guide, Helmut, committed himself to showing us the most impressive and historically interesting buildings.
Potsdam, apparently, has the largest concentration of palaces in a single city, boasting a number of 34. This large amount of palaces weren’t just to show off wealth. Well in a way they were. By putting money into architecture and the arts you show your competitors (i.e. other countries) that you have a lot of money to put into those things, but also have the capability to fund an army, so watch out!
Potsdam also housed the Prussian Army. But since there were no barracks it became a law that each family would have to provide housing for two or three soldiers. This made it into a very militaristic town. The plus side for this was that housing was free and education became standardized.
There was a lot of history given to us, but I will share the most interesting one. We visited a summer palace called the Sanssouci Palace. It has a leveled garden space in front of the palace. The middle section of the palace is designed to look like pantheon, having statues for all aspects for the arts. But here’s the interesting part. Frederick the Great had a bone to pick with a farmer that had a windmill next to his palace. This windmill made too much noise and bothered him from his work, making him lose concentration for political matters. Civilly, he went to this farmer and offered to buy his land and tear down the mill and be done of the nuisance. But the farmer objected, saying that his grandfather had this windmill, his father had this windmill, and by god that his son too will have this windmill. So what did Frederick the Great do? Did he say ‘chop his head off and then tear down the windmill?” No, instead he went to court and the church served as the arbitrator. And so they both went to present their arguments, and the church came out to favor the farmer, saying that since the mill was not for sale the king had no right to tear it down. The mill still stands there to this day.