Sanssouci | Friends of BBS

What Versailles is to Paris, Sanssouci is to Berlin: a grand palace within lavish gardens located outside of the capital (in Potsdam), and the royal residence of the ruling dynasty’s most storied representative, King Frederick the Great.

Sanssouci as viewed from the garden

Still, there are important differences. While Versailles is all Baroque splendour, Sanssouci, 80 years younger, follows a less grandiose Rococo design. France’s Louis XIV was the personification of absolute monarchy, while Frederick thought himself an enlightened king. He invited Voltaire to Potsdam; the French philosopher was a frequent guest at the king’s “modest” summer palace.

Frederick the Great

And while Louis XIV abhorred Paris, a city he had been forced to flee from in his childhood, Frederick didn’t have a “Berlin trauma.” Yet the image we have of “Old Fritz” – the misanthrope he became in later years, alienating everyone, the greyhounds he would be buried among his only friends – is so closely linked with the terraced gardens of Sanssouci, it’s hard to imagine him in Berlin.

Interior of Sanssouci

If you too walk through his garden, admiring the never-destroyed palace, you may happen upon his grave. The marker is always covered with potatoes, testament to the widely held (but false) belief that Frederick introduced the potato to Prussia. It’s enough to make you forget that Frederick is called “Great” not because of Voltaire or potatoes, but because he, in war, made Prussia a great power, which it would remain – in various guises – until the middle of the 20th century.

 

 

 

 

 

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OTD in Berlin History | 15 November 1884: The Berlin Conference & the “Scramble for Africa”

The Berlin Conference, as depicted by Adalbert von Rößler for the Illustrierte Zeitung.

15th November 1884: On this day in Berlin history, Chancellor of Germany, Otto von Bismarck, called together the major European powers to divide and formalize the colonization of Africa. The Berlin Conference lasted until February 26th 1885.

Formed only in 1871, the German Empire was the new power on the block at this time and Bismarck hosted 13 other European nations, as well as representatives from the United States, at his official residence on Wilhelmstraße. There they discussed a cooperative policy for the African continent with the aim of ensuring peaceful negotiations between the colonial powers – especially with the new, powerful German Empire on the rise.

 

European claims in Africa, 1913. Today’s boundaries are shown. Yellow: Belgium | Green: Germany | Pink: Spain | Blue: France | Orange: Britain | Lime Green: Italy | Purple: Portugal | Grey: Independent

During the conference, European leaders mapped and formalized their claim to African territory and agreed to free trade between colonies, as well as prepared for future European claims in Africa. With no consideration for any of the cultural or linguistic borders already established, they remapped Africa. No representatives from Africa were invited to be present at the conference.

Whilst the Berlin Conference did not initiate European colonization of Africa, it did legitimize and formalize the process. Additionally, it sparked a new interest in the area and led to the so-called “Scramble for Africa”. In 1870, 10% of Africa was under European control – by the early 1900s, European states had claimed 90% of the continent.

 

 

 

 

 

This slice of On This Day in Berlin History was written by Berlin Guides Association member, Susan Grouchy.

It’s one of four noteworthy events she’s chosen to remember this November. Keep an eye on our blog to see what else made the cut.

Charlottenburg Palace | Friends of BBS

If you are on a quick trip to Berlin and don’t have time to visit the royal residence of Potsdam, Schloss Charlottenburg (Charlottenburg Palace) is a good alternative.

The palace as viewed from the gardens

You’ll find sprawling Baroque architecture, lavish interiors, and an elegant formal garden. The New Wing is especially worthwhile, boasting a beautiful „Friderician Rococo“ interior.

The palace was built in the tiny village of Lietzow under the first Prussian king, Frederick I, for the his wife, Sophie Charlotte. The palace (and village) were renamed Charlottenburg after the queen’s death, and remained a favourite summer residence for succeeding Hohenzollern rulers, many of whom made changes and additions.

Although it dates back to the 17th century, a visit to Charlottenburg Palace is in some ways a reminder of just how young Berlin is, and how quickly it grew in the 20th century. Charlottenburg only became a part of Berlin in 1920. What had been a sleepy village a half-day’s trip from Berlin had grown into a city of more than 300,000, its palace a centrally located tourist attraction.

The destroyed palace

Touring the palace, you can admire many of the original furnishings. The palace was badly destroyed in World War II, but the furniture had been removed for safekeeping, as it was from most palaces, including those that were never rebuilt.

New Wing interior

 

 

 

 

In French châteaus like Versailles, the interiors were often plundered (or auctioned off) in the Revolution, but the palaces left standing. Here, by contrast, we have the interiors, but not the palaces.

 

 

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On This Day in Berlin History | 09 November: Day of Fate

9th November: Today marks the so-called Schicksalstag, also known as the Day of Fate for German history.

 

Philipp Scheidemann declaring the Republic of Germany from the Reichstag, on this day 1989

Most famously associated with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, this date was to some a popular choice for the annual Unity Day celebrations. However, November 9th has a chequered history in Germany and the date marks many events unworthy of celebration.

On this day in 1918, at the end of WWI, Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicated the throne, ending the Hohenzollern rule of Germany and ushering in the chaotic and doomed Weimar Republic.

Before the Kaiser had even left Berlin, SPD member Philipp Scheidemann declared the Republic of Germany from the Reichstag.

Two hours later, the Spartacist leader Karl Liebknecht announced the formation of a Free Socialist Republic from the Berliner Stadtschloss.

 

Karl Liebknecht, who declared a Socialist Republic two hours later.

In 1923, November 8th-9th marked Hitler’s failed attempt to seize power in Munich during the Beer Hall Putsch. 16 years later, the Party’s own commemoration of this event served as the stage for Georg Elser’s famous assassination attempt on Hitler.

In 1938, the night of November 9th-10th marked the Reichspogromnacht (Kristallnacht), in which synagogues and Jewish property were destroyed, hundreds murdered, and over 30,000 Jews arrested.

Due to this controversial history, instead of celebrating Unity Day on the Day of Fate, it was decided rather to celebrate on October 3rd – the official date of German Reunification.

 

 

This slice of On This Day in Berlin History was written by Berlin Guides Association member, Susan Grouchy. It’s one of four noteworthy events she’s chosen to remember this November. Keep an eye on our blog to see what else made the cut.

On This Day in Berlin History | 4 November 1989: East Germans protest on Alexanderplatz

4th November 1989: On this day in Berlin history, one of the largest organized protests in East Berlin’s history took place. Reports vary, but an estimated 500,000 people (the highest reports estimate 1 million) gathered to protest on Alexanderplatz in support of political reform and greater freedoms for East German citizens.

 

“What moves a communist at this moment at the sight of hundreds of thousands?

Only he who hears and understands admonition is capable of a new beginning.”

 

At this point, the DDR was already fragmenting. In August thousands of East Germans had fled west through Hungary to Austria; Erich Honecker had resigned as leader of the country on October 18th and, on October 23rd, 300,000 people demonstrated in Leipzig.

Günter Schabowski speaking on this day, 198

 

The quote above is from SED Politburo member Günter Schabowski, who spoke at the protest on Alexanderplatz on this day but was booed by the protesters. All were unaware that just five days later he would unwittingly say the words responsible for opening the Berlin Wall.

Friedrich Schorlemmer, a theologian and speaker at the demonstration said:

“For me, November 4 remains a more important date than the opening of the wall on November 9… Because at Alexanderplatz ‘D’ stood first and foremost for ‘Democracy’, not for ‘Deutschland.’”

 

 

 


This slice of On This Day in Berlin History was written by Berlin Guides Association member, Susan Grouchy. It’s one of four noteworthy events she’s chosen to remember this November. Keep an eye on our blog to see what else made the cut.

On This Day in Berlin History | 27 October 1806: Napoleon takes Berlin

In 1810, Charles Meynier painted this depiction of Napoleon entering Berlin

27th October 1806: On this day in Berlin history, hundreds of Berliners gathered at the Brandenburg Gate to witness a triumphant military procession. Despite the glorious weather, the mood of the onlookers was sombre as the soldiers entering the city were not their own. They were French and among them rode their glowering commander, a man feared and despised throughout Europe: Napoleon Bonaparte.

Two years into his reign the French Emperor was riding high. A series of brilliant victories had Europe on its heels. The decisive blow for Prussia came swiftly, at the disastrous battles of Jena and Auerstadt. The total collapse of the Prussian military, once considered the greatest in the world, was a bitter pill to swallow. More humiliating however was French occupation.

By the time Napoleon rode into Berlin that sunny afternoon 214 years ago, the King and Queen of Prussia had already fled, leaving their subjects to feed and house thousands of enemy troops in their very own homes. The capital was stripped of its treasures, including the newly completed Quadriga which crowned the Brandenburg Gate. An act which would earn the despised French leader a new nickname among the locals: the “horse thief”.

Prussia was to be carved up, losing vast swathes of land to both east and west, and shackled with massive indemnities. All of this served not only to fuel Prussian antipathy towards the French, but also to stoke a smouldering Nationalism. Onlookers that day could not know, but they were witnessing an event which some historians believe set Prussia on a destructive and eventually disastrous course which a century later would drag Europe to war and ruin.

 

Chris Cooke - Berlin Tour Guide
This slice of On This Day in Berlin History was written by Berlin Guides Association member, Chris Cooke. It’s one of four noteworthy events he’s chosen to remember this October. Keep an eye on our blog to see what else made the cut.

Nefertiti and the Neues Museum | Friends of BBS

One of the world’s most iconic works of art can be found in the Neues Museum (New Museum) on Berlin’s Museum Island: the bust of Nefertiti.

Although she’s more than 3000 years old, she nonetheless conforms to our modern ideal of beauty, and did so from the moment she was put on public display in Berlin in 1924: her make up and jewellery quickly became all the rage.

The Neues Museum is worth a visit just for the architecture. Dating to the mid-19th century, the museum was badly damaged in World War II and restored in the early 2000s by the British architect David Chipperfield. He preserved what he could of the old building, while everything he added is clearly contemporary. The contrast between old and new is striking.

 

The bust of Nefertiti is not the museum’s only draw. The Egyptian collection as a whole is well worth a visit, and the museum also houses artefacts of prehistory and early history. A highlight is the “Berlin Gold Hat” of the late Bronze Age. It is one of only four such conical hats yet discovered – and it’s the best-preserved.

Not on display are the treasures Heinrich Schliemann, an amateur archaeologist, excavated at what is believed to be ancient Troy. “Priam’s Treasure,” as Schliemann dubbed the gold artefacts he found, are now at the Pushkin Museum in Moscow, where they were taken after World War II.

 

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On This Day in Berlin History | 16 October 1906: The Captain of Köpenick

 

The “Captain’s” uniform

16th October 1906: On this day in Berlin history, a man dressed as a Captain of the Prussian Guards entered the town hall of Köpenick outside of Berlin. The moustachioed “Hauptmann” briskly ordered the eleven soldiers accompanying him, as well as the gendarmerie officials present, to cordon off the area. He then gave the police chief leave, who subsequently took the chance to head home for a bath.

Placing the town secretary and Mayor under arrest, the uniformed man seized the town’s treasury of almost 4,000 mark “for inspection” stating “irregularities in connection with the public sewage works”. Ordering his soldiers to guard the town hall for a further half an hour, he then left with the funds (about the equivalent of 22,000 euro today). After reportedly downing a glass of beer “in one go”, he boarded the train back to Berlin and disappeared.

 

Voigt’s arrest sheet

 

The man’s name was Wilhelm Voigt, and actually he was not a Captain at all. In truth he was a shoemaker and ex-convict who had found the uniform in a second-hand store. Noticing the authority his new garb endowed him with, he had seized the opportunity to undertake this caper. Exploiting Prussian society’s tendency to blindly obey anyone in uniform, his plan had succeeded without a hitch.

 

 

Voigt’s grave bears the inscription ‘The Captain of Koepenick’

 

Unfortunately for Voigt, his run of luck soon came to an end when police were tipped off by a former cellmate of his who knew of the plan. He was sentenced to four years in prison but incredibly was later pardoned by Kaiser Wilhelm II who seemed to admire the ingenuity of the heist.

The “Captain of Köpenick” became somewhat of a celebrity in Germany and beyond and his legacy continues to be celebrated as an example of an individual getting the better of the establishment.

 

 

 

 

Chris Cooke - Berlin Tour Guide
This slice of On This Day in Berlin History was written by Berlin Guides Association member, Chris Cooke. It’s one of four noteworthy events he’s chosen to remember this October. Keep an eye on our blog to see what else made the cut.

On This Day in Berlin History | 8 October 1923: Tempelhof Airport opens

Tempelhofer Feld from the air

8th October 1923: On this day in Berlin History, Berlin’s Tempelhof airport opened its gates for the very first time. From that time until its closure in 2008, Tempelhof was to be centre stage for the German capital’s aviation history.

 

C47 planes at Tempelhof Airport, 1948

The original layout was dramatically changed in 1935 when, two years after Adolf Hitler took control of Germany, construction began on what British architect Sir Norman Foster was to call “the mother of all airports”. The 1.2 km long main terminal building (designed by Ernst Sagebiel to resemble an eagle with wings spread) is still one of the largest buildings in the world.

During cold war division the airport was marooned West Berlin’s window to the world, a vital connection during Stalin’s blockade of the city in 1948/49. The subsequent airlift, in which U.S., British and commonwealth air forces flew in almost 2,500,000 tonnes of vital cargo, ensured the pilots as well as the airfield a special place in the hearts of the embattled locals.

 

Visitors to Tempelhofer Feld in May 2010

After reunification, plans were made to replace the three existing commercial airports with one. Despite the construction running around four times over budget and ten years behind schedule, the last flight left Tempelhof in November 2008.

In 2010, the space (an area larger than Monaco) was given over to the public. The Tempelhofer Feld has since become one of the inhabitants’ favourite green spaces and encapsulates that unique blend of history, re-invention and freedom which is quintessentially Berlin.

 

 

 

 

Chris Cooke - Berlin Tour Guide
This slice of On This Day in Berlin History was written by Berlin Guides Association member, Chris Cooke. It’s one of four noteworthy events he’s chosen to remember this October. Keep an eye on our blog to see what else made the cut.

 

On This Day in Berlin History | 3 October 1990: German Reunification

Fireworks at the Brandenburg Gate for German Reunification

3rd October 1990: At the stroke of midnight on this day in Berlin history, the flag of the Federal Republic of Germany was hoisted above Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate. The ceremony marked the moment or German Reunification. After half a century divided, East and West Germany became a single country once more.

There were fireworks and champagne, revellers embraced. There was certainly reason to celebrate. The Berlin Wall, which had been breached so dramatically a year prior, had become nothing more than an increasingly tattered canvas for graffiti artists. The 1,500 km inner German border which for decades had divided the country so brutally was all but gone. It was an exciting new beginning for a nation which had experienced so much trauma over the previous century.

Revellers in front of the Bundestag 3 October 1990.

 

But the jubilation that night belied an undercurrent of uncertainty. Especially for those millions of East Germans who suddenly found the country they grew up in no longer existed. German Reunification was achieved by the accession of the German Democratic Republic to the Federal Republic of Germany.

 

In other words, the five East German states were simply absorbed into West Germany. This sudden merging of two very different countries caused serious complications. In the East, factories closed down, young people left and unemployment soared, problems which three decades later still persist. In 1991 a “Solidarity Tax” was introduced which has since funnelled billions of Euro from western states to eastern, a cost bemoaned by many in the west.

The Berlin Wall by the Brandenburg Gate

 

People speak of the “Mauer im Kopf” or the “wall in their head” to describe the very real cultural divide between “Ossis” and ”Wessis”. Clearly, although the first German Unity Day was celebrated on this date thirty years ago, the actual reunification continues to be a work in progress.

 

 

 

 

Chris Cooke - Berlin Tour Guide
This slice of On This Day in Berlin History was written by Berlin Guides Association member, Chris Cooke. It’s one of four noteworthy events he’s chosen to remember this October. Keep an eye on our blog to see what else made the cut.