Sunday, June 5, 2016

Berlin: Carefree

We didn't think we'd get to spend any time in the countryside during this trip, but then Jeff and Kit (one of the other instructors and his wife) wanted to rent a car and go see some castles, so we asked if we could come along too! This isn't really the part of Germany in which to see big, fairy-tale castles looming out of old-growth forests (that's more by where I went on my trip with Rachael), but Jeff said he'd read about some cool palaces within a few hours' drive, so off we went.

It turns out you can't go fifty feet without stubbing your toe on a palace in these parts, and we hadn't realized there was so much to see in Potsdam alone! So we spent most of our day there. I hadn't researched any of these landmarks, so I didn't even know what we were seeing until I listened to the audio guide and read the signs, and then I realized I HAD learned about this area—a long time ago in a European History class. The palace complex we went to was the home of Frederick the Great of Prussia. I've always felt a fondness for him because we chose famous historical figures to "be" in that class, and I was Catherine the Great, Frederick's fellow Enlightened Despot. (My friend Rachael may, in fact, have been Frederick. Were you, Rach?)
This was Frederick's "little" palace, his retreat where he could withdraw from the cares of every day. He called it "Sanssouci"—meaning, in French (everyone who was anyone spoke French in those days), something like "without care" or "carefree"? Same root as "insouciant," I assume. 
It's a beautiful palace. I love the bright yellow colors and the elaborate detailing. It reminds me of Catherine the Great's Summer Palace. This was the late Baroque period, going into Rococo, which is evident when you look at all the fancy curliques and patterns inside. C.P.E. Bach was the court musician here, and his father J.S. Bach visited too. Just imagine, we were walking where Bach walked!
Beautiful! But…also a bit too MUCH, eh?
Behind Sanssouci are some beautiful formal gardens, in the style of Versailles. It was chilly the day we were there, but the sun kept almost peeking out and I kept saying, "any minute now it's going to start getting warmer." And eventually it did. I wish I could see these gardens in the summer, though, when the grape vines are all grown up and leafy. (It looks like this.)
There were several of these little wrought-iron gazebos scattered about the gardens.
"This lamp post seems incomplete somehow."
"Did you try adding feet?"
"Ah!"
Sam drew for awhile, before his fingers got too cold.
Frederick had a little windmill put in, to add rustic charm. This isn't the original, but it IS a working grain mill even today. Kit and Jeff bought some flour there.
You can climb up and stand on the platform and feel the blades whiz past you, which is cool and a little scary. And you can go inside and up to the different levels to watch the mill mechanisms.
It was amazing to watch how elegantly it all works. I couldn't stop exclaiming over it: the huge gears that change the vertical rotary motion into a horizontal one, and then the shaft that attaches to the enormous millstone. All the gears were whirring around with the wind, and it smelled like wood and flour and bread. All we could think about was how much the children would have loved to see this! We've seen a mill with a waterwheel before, but never a working windmill!
We wished we could go up to the very last level, but "unless this sign means, 'please feel free to step over this rope…'" said Sam dubiously…we decided we better not.
Below the windmill were the most delightfully overgrown stone steps!
The grounds and gardens of this complex are huge, and you can wander along path after path never seeing the same thing twice. I LOVED it.
My favorite parts were these foresty, wild-looking areas. We felt like we'd wandered out into the woods somewhere instead of being on the royal grounds.
But then we'd come upon some little pavilion out in the grounds, beautifully constructed of marble and copper, of course, and remember where we were. You can just imagine a string quartet playing here, wearing powdered wigs. :)
This "Chinese pavilion" was my favorite of them.
Built with his typical restraint… :)

The main walkway (or carriageway, maybe) was very long and grand, lined with tall trees and fountains and various marble statues.
We walked along it toward this building, expecting another pavilion of some sort.
But as we got closer, we could see…
It was slightly bigger than that. This one is Frederick's "New Palace." It, along with seemingly every other historic building in Greater Berlin, was being renovated, so we didn't go in.
But Sam stood by it to show how enormous it was. This is the back side.
Up close, there were so many little details: on the lamppost and the cupola and the roof. SO MUCH WORK must have gone into building this!
Such a peaceful, beautiful place. Thanks for building it, Frederick! :)

1 comment:

  1. I often think how strange it is that there are so few (are there any?) old grand structures in America. No castles or giant tombs dating back 500 years.

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