Saturday, June 6, 2009

Rococo My World

Schloss Sanssouci, from the gardens and terraces

The Bildergalerie exterior

The Chinese pavillion

The "New" Palace

The Orangerie

The Ruins; no palace is complete without some ruins to show off

Our goal for the day, Saturday, which we totally underestimated, was the Schloss Sanssouci, Frederick the Great's summer palace (mid 18th century). We had read that the guided tour took an hour. It turns out the Schloss is just the opener... there also are the women's wing, the kitchens and wine cellar, the art gallery, the orangery, the parks, the orchards, the vineyards, the windmill, the (artificial) ruins, the Chinese pavilion, the guest palace, the new palace, and more. Think of it as the German Versailles (except for most of its time it was merely Prussian). Frederick is of interest himself, probably the closest we ever got to a philosopher/king (Voltaire lived with him for 3 years), but then the whole complex stayed in the royal family and after nationhood in the 1870s became one of the Kaisers' main roosts. In the new palace Wilhelm III signed the documents starting WWI. And in 1918 abdicated.

The whole thing is pretty much Rococo or Rococo revival, reflecting Frederick's era and, throughout, his interests and tastes. Rococo, to my great surprise, grows on you, especially when you begin to see some of its principles and themes. Apart from being a great nation-maker and statesman, and intellectual, Frederick was also a patron of the arts, a colossal collector of French and Italian painting, and an accomplished flutist (composed 102 flute sonatas). I knew of him primarily as a military leader, very much in the same league as Napoleon. He once “exhorted” his troops with the exclamation “Fools, would you live forever?!”.

We arrived a bit past 10AM and left a bit after 6PM, and, by my count, saw seven of the thirteen principal sites. Sanssouci was relatively undamaged in WWII. Despite the Red Army's thoroughly looting it (3,000 pieces are still “missing”), most of it was returned to East Germany, and what one now sees, unlike most other such national monarchical sites, includes much of the original (restored) furniture, furnishings, and art. Of particular interest, and worth the hefty admission price all by itself, is the Bildergalerie, the paintings gallery. It was the first purpose-built art gallery in Europe. Imagine something on the scale of Versailles' Hall of Mirrors, only, instead of mirrors, you have paintings, hung floor to ceiling, Baroque-style, practically every square inch covered by some master or other. The building itself, gold everywhere, sculpture, marble, mosaic, proportion, light, was great art. Alas, photography was not permitted here nor anywhere else at Sanssouci, although we did sneak a few outside shots. Apart from the Bildergalerie, the main hall in the new palace, which Vicki and I dubbed “shell world,” is pretty incredible...a whole 6-8k square foot hall decorated in sea shells and other mineral specimens, floor to ceiling, floor and ceiling included. The shell is a central Rococo image.

It was an exhilarating if exhausting day—3 stars plus, easily, and much more than can be done in a day—but we were glad to get back to our “site” at the Avus Rasthof. Driving to Potsdam from Berlin, by the way, takes you through the now-ruins of Checkpoint Bravo, a major entrance to East Berlin/East Germany.

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