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.
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.
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.
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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