I guess, when you’re a king, you won’t ever have to built a single castle in the air, instead you might even built them out of thin air. Just for fun, for a laugh, ha-ha-ha. To be fair, Frederick the Great built some of them, like the Neue Palais, for other reasons, for real statesmanly reasons like entertaining other kings or have a ball with diplomats, ambassadors, and such, but Sans Souci, he did built for nothing but pleasure. In winter, the joyfulness of it all might be less visible, but the architectural finesse of the ensemble is to be experienced at its very best.
In the 1700s, when Frederick the Great was in charge of Prussia, chinoiserie was in style. And so he had his splendid little tea house outside Potsdam’s Sans Souci palace built à la chinoise, in rigourous splendour as well as in rational opulence; he was into arts, but he was also a very Prussian Prussian. He lived in the age of showing off, but he also knew that a crown is merely a hat that lets the rain in. The golden statues of romanticized Chinese noblemen having tea outside the little pavilion are part of the showing off side of things and therefore purely ornamental, and as such they require even more attention than any other tea guest, no matter how high their level of maintenance might be. In winter, they get all wrapped up, to protect them from the cold, from the ice and snow of the severe winters in Eastern Germany.
It’s a mess, a complete architectural mess, an eclectic monstrosity, Potsdam’s Church of Peace evokes everything at the same time, it features the Italian Renaissance, as well as Roman columns, Greek temples, Russian icons, Venetian mosaics, a miniature baroque mausoleum, a Tuscan campanile, Romanesque ornaments, a Tyrolean chapel, and a particular Tyrolean chapel at that, the one that recreates a chapel from Calvary outside Jerusalem, a replica’s replica, so to speak, there are sculptures of all kind of kings, namely Solomon, David and Charlemagne, and there’s Moses, Aaron and Hur, too, the only thing it doesn’t feature is anything remotely contemporary, the Prussian architects of the mid 1800s who were involved in erecting this absurd ensemble must have had no clue of what they were doing when planning a place for all those sarcophagi of the Prussian kings and emperors and their spouses, but at least the result is so grotesque, it’s definitely worth a visit, by the way, there’s a daughter of Queen Victoria buried here, too, called Victoria as well, married to Friedrich III, and although Germany and Great-Britain are one big family, at least as their Royal families are concerned, she wasn’t very influential, otherwise this compound would feature some stunning oriental references, too, her mother was Empress of India, wasn’t she?
Blend out what you dislike, that would be my general advice in life, and in particular when visiting Potsdam. The city is over a thousand years old, but mostly known for its glorious ornaments ever since it became a royal seat, the palaces and follies of the Prussian kings, prestigious buildings, carefully designed for entertainment, pleasure and recreation, to praise God, too, of course, the Protestant way, a little less pompous than Roman Catholics, but really just a little, Luther’s influence stopped when architecture was concerned, and guys like Karl Friedrich Schinkel took over, and there are plenty more of fine buildings to house soldiers, horses and plants. It’s all still there, at least most of it, but something else survived, too: the architectural crimes of the GDR, some newly invented iconoclasm, instead of destructing the monuments of Germany’s royal past, they just surrounded them with their derefined vision of socialist housing, let’s get rid of that stylish nonsense, let’s disparage all architectural styles, let’s baste Potsdam with concrete and glass and show them what it means to be equal, pardon my temper, but this is what you have to blend out when visiting Potsdam – unless you care for historically correct polar opposites, of course.
My parents’ home has three garages. There’s one for the car, of course, one for the kit and kaboodle and all other kinds of stuff such as fertilisers for every sort of rhododendron and azalea, the lawnmover and terracotta pots of various sizes, and one for the garden furniture – the latter we call the orangerie. Pure irony, of course, we’re quite ironic a family, but as the years went by, the irony got lost somehow, and now, we all think of this garage as of our orangerie. How very absurd that is came to my mind just this Sunday, when visiting the New Orangerie at the Royal Parks in Potsdam, built under the reign of Friedrich Wilhelm IV, I laughed out loud, as its left wing alone could easily house half of Wyoming, I understand, Wyoming is not very crowded, and I can’t come up with any other references. Anyway, the New Orangerie, an example of the revival of Italian Renaissance, a style popular in the 1850s among the royal and famous, doesn’t house that many people any longer anyway, the opulent guest chamber in malachite is currently only visited by tourists, but all those beautiful and well cared palm trees, oleanders and lemon trees that adorn the gardens and parks in summer, and as there are such a lot of them, the size of that building is really not that exaggerated. Prussian kings were obviously quite modest. Just ask Voltaire, he’ll tell you.
Despite a very white sky, not grey, just really white, hate that colour on a sky, I felt like not having another cup of tea, but like strolling through Potsdam’s palaces and gardens, I needed some splendour, some king’s extravaganzas to lift me up, and Friedrich II’s summer residence Sans Souci, his pleasure palace outside of Berlin, would definitely do the trick, its rooms are just magnificent, rococo at its very best, but once I arrived after a 45 minute commute, I wanted to stay outside, even at temperatures below zero, every little puddle was frozen, just to catch up with nature, listen to the birds while walking through all those gardens, from Sans Souci to the Chinese teahouse, from the New Palais, new means, it’s from seventeensixtysomething, from the New Chambers to the Orangerie, some marathonic palace hopping so to speak, you see, the eye has to travel, once said Diana Vreeland, and so my eyes and I went on an extended trip, a very extended trip, through all kinds of architectural styles, we’re still quite exhausted from it, I’m blaming all those stairs, they’re all very beautiful, even perfect, but still, why did they have to construct so many of them? I feel like having spent way too much time on the stairmaster.