Sans Souci: A Place of Peace
It was our final week in Berlin and the last few days of our project final. We saw this as an opportunity to unwind. It was a Sunday and the train ride to Potsdam was about 30 minutes on the intercity express service.
We got there ahead of our guide and decided to walk around in the gardens to while away time. We finally met our guide right in front of the famous Sansoucci windmill and the tour began. Sanssouci is the former summer palace of Frederick the Great, King of Prussia, in Potsdam, near Berlin. It is one of the historical German buildings said to rival the Palace of Versailles in France.
Sanssouci’s design is much smaller than its French Baroque counterpart, but it remains very popular with tourists, thanks in no small measure to the heavenly atmosphere of the extensive landscaped gardens. The palace was designed by Georg Wenzeslaus von Knobelsdorff between 1745 and 1747 to fulfil King Frederick’s need for a private residence to relax, away from the pomp and ceremony of the Berlin court.
‘San Souci’ means ‘without concerns’ or ’without worries’, ‘hakuna matata’, things like that. The name symbolises what the palace represented to Frederick: a place of relaxation rather than the seat of power.
Exploring the grounds, you come across the windmill, which stands opposite the entrance to the gardens. Not intended to be part of Sanssouci, the windmill was on this spot long before Frederick built his palace.
The king wanted the windmill removed, but the miller refused and went to court, and the judges decided in his favour. The story of how a lowly windmill came to stand in such close proximity to a grand palace did not end there.
The windmill sustained heavy damage during World War II and the working structure on the site today is only a copy of the original, put in place 15 years ago. It fits very well with the historical
environment and resembles a museum; the wood is already acquiring an aged, grey look.
Opposite the windmill is the palace, a large single-storey building. With 10 principal rooms, the building’s Rococo design and decoration were influenced by Frederick, giving rise to the architectural term ‘Frederician Rococo’. From all accounts, the king believed the place would die with him. But it is the nature of great buildings to outlive their owners, and Sanssouci is no exception.
The breathtaking park was a great attraction for us. If you stand in front of the small palace, you will be blown away by the beauty of the garden. A prominent feature here are the garden’s doors, built to preserve the garden in winter. Doors are closed on the figs so they will not wither away; they remain warm even in winter and grow more luxuriant. Whatever time of year you visit Sanssouci the garden
remains the same.
A great fountain, built in 1748, is the central feature of the garden. Unfortunately for Frederick, he never saw the fountain in action because his engineers could not master the hydraulics system in
Marble statues of Greek gods and goddesses were added to the basin of the fountain in 1750, features modelled on the Palace of Versailles. The four elements – Fire, Water, Air and Earth – are also represented. I was tested by our guide to guess which of the elements I was viewing in front of me at any given time. When it comes to statues, Sanssouci is no different from palaces I have visited in Berlin. They nearly always have many statues that depict male and female figures partially or totally nude, sometimes with private parts in full view.
The section leading from the garden to the bigger palace is very beautiful. There is an archway of trees to the left and right, forming a lovely shade to walk through. This leads to the main palace.
The big palace
A splendid statue of Frederick the Great stands in front of the big palace. You are sure to be intimidated by the imposing figure. On entering, something dramatic and funny happened.
We were shown big, furry shoes which we had to wear while inside the building. We had to wear these with our own shoes on, like double shoes. Walking was quite funny, I felt like Tinky-Winky
from Teletubbies, the children’s television programme. We were all gliding across the floor. Here’s
the reason for the fur shoes: it was discovered that when tourists come with their shoes, they wear off the flooring. Furry shoes are thus needed to preserve the historic flooring.
With furry footwear on, we began our tour of the big palace. Each of the rooms is themed around and named for a different colour: Blue, Green, Red and Royal purple Rooms. In the middle was this big room with paintings and statues, mostly of cherubs. A huge painting of ‘The Last Supper’ had pride of place on the wall. I found this really big cup in one of the rooms; it was a royal goblet. I could not help imagining how it must have been made and how long it took.
We ended our tour on the rooftop, where we were told the old way of regulating traffic on the spiral staircase. When you are down and the light shows red, people are coming down the stairs; once it is green, you can go up. From the rooftop the view was a paradise to behold.
There was much to see and the tour was really short. It is my wish to go back sometime soon to really soak myself in the views of the gardens and learn more about the statues.
Sanssouci Postdam is a must see place if you are in Berlin.
This article was first published in 234next.com and written by ‘Funmilayo Ajala