When we booked our month in Berlin, the palace that was at the top of my “must see” list was Sanssouci in Potsdam, King Frederick II (aka Frederick the Great)’s summer retreat, but once we got here I realized that there is an even BETTER palace just 6 km away.
Charlottenburg is the largest and most significant palace complex still standing in Berlin, built for Queen Sophie Charlotte by King Frederick I in 1695-1699 – actually just before Prussia became an official kingdom. Once that happened in 1701, the palace immediately had to be upgraded. It became one of the favorite retreats of seven generations of Hohenzollern rulers: beginning with the Brandenburg electors, then the Prussian kings and German emperors.
Each successive occupant redesigned their individual rooms to reflect the style and luxury of their own era, transformed sections of the vast royal gardens, and even added new wings (hence our visits today to the “Old Palace” and the “New Wing”).
Only a limited number of people are allowed into the Old Palace at one time, so we had to book a timed entry. Fortunately, Charlottenburg was not at all crowded, so we had lots of time to listen to the audio guide and gawk (me) and take photos (Ted).
After suffering severe damage in World War II, the palace was largely rebuilt and then refurnished in the original styles, which means that tourists today get a sample of the various historic periods from Baroque through early 20th century. What was surprising to me was how much original decoration, furniture, and original artwork did survive, making it much easier to recreate the missing elements.
There was so much to take in that I can’t remember it all, or even some of the room identities, but the pictures are well worth being able to look back on, so here they are. Where I’ve remembered details, I put them in. These first sets of photos are all from the “old” palace.
The “new” wing was added by Frederick the Great in the mid 1700’s, around the same time he built his retreat in Potsdam (Sanssouci). It’s not really a wing, but a self-contained palace in its own right (although to be fair, it is attached and does share the Old Palace’s kitchens) with two stunning Rococo festival halls (the White Hall and the Golden Gallery) and 2 royal apartments. This palace was also heavily damaged in WWII, so what we see today is mostly a reconstruction.
Almost the first thing we saw in the new Wing was the very familiar painting below, part of one of the largest collections of 18th century French painting outside France.
If anything, the “Frederican” Rococo decor of the royal apartments in the New Wing were even more impressive than the opulent ones in the old palace.
Frederick II also had an independent Theatre Building constructed in 1788–91, along the Large Orangery, as well as a garden pavilion known as The Belvedere, which usually exhibits the royal porcelain collection, but is currently closed to the public.
Two palaces are never enough though, so the next King, Frederick Wilhelm III, had the New Pavilion built in Charlottenburg’s palace gardens in 1824-25, as a private retreat and “summer house” closer to the river. It is a cube-shaped, two-story building apparently modelled on neo-classical Italian villas – because, why not?
And the gardens…. Wow! Originally Baroque in design, Kings after Frederick II laid out English style landscaped gardens, which is the style maintained today. As with the rest of the palace complex, the gardens were severely damaged in the war; the recreated gardens have been given some very modern additions, including a children’s playground.
Our last stop at Charlottenburg was the Mausoleum that King Frederick William III had built in the shape of an ancient temple for his wife Luise upon her death at only 34 years old in 1810. He was entombed next to her, and later Emperor William I and Empress Augusta were also laid to rest here. The sarcophagi truly are beautiful works of sculpture.
HISTORICAL NOTE: Why is Charlottenburg, a summer palace, the oldest existing Hohenzollern palace? Because of WWII of course. The Berlin Palace (Berliner Schloss) on the Museum Island was the main residence of the House of Hohenzollern from 1443 to 1918, but was damaged during the Allied bombing and subsequently demolished by the East German authorities in 1950. Between 2013 and 2020 the palace was reconstructed incorporating 3 Baroque facades into an otherwise modern building which now houses the Humboldt Forum Museum. The other original palace in Potsdam was also destroyed, and never rebuilt, although many of its moveable artifacts (furniture and art) are now on display at Charlottenburg, since they are of the same vintages.
THE HOHENZOLLERN MONARCHS. All those Fredericks and Williams (Friedrichs and Wilhelms) get confusing, so here’s the order of Prussian monarchs, starting in 1701 when Prussia changed from a Duchy to a Kingdom: Frederick I, Frederick William I, Frederick II (“The Great”), Frederick William II, Frederick William III, Frederick William IV, William I, Frederick III, and finally William II (the one we know as Kaiser Wilhelm).
It was a full day, but we remembered to stop and rest for a bit in the café housed in the small orangerie. “Lunch” was coffees, a slice of cheesecake with baked sour cream topping, and a slice of Sacher torte.