Again in Berlin – catching up with the history of Prussia and enjoying Sans Souci

Another day of ours starts at the Gendarmenmarkt

From our hotel near Theodor Heuss Platz, the metro U2 takes us directly to Stadtmitte and to the Gendarmenmarkt – the French dome looks at us through the yellow leaves of late autumn.


“You do not know Fassbender&Rausch at the Gendarmenmarkt?” My friend asks me, “then come and have a look at their magic shop.” We enter and I am overwhelmed – the shop is full of so many shelves filled with chocolate delicacies. And out of chocolate they have built the Reichstag, the Kaiser Wilhelm Gedächtnis Kirche, the Brandenburgertor and a huge Santa Claus.


I almost feel bad: Is it not a waste to take tons of chocolate to cast buildings and santa clauses? Food is made for eating…

From Gendarmenmarkt it is just a few steps to the German Museum.


How did Berlin become the capital of Germany? How did it happen that the Hohenzollern from Prussia overtook the Habsburgians from Vienna?

Today I want to learn more about the rise of Prussia, the foundation of nowadays Germany and how Austria and the Habsburgians lost their dominant position visavis Prussia and the house of Hohenzollern in the 19th century. The German Museum (Deutsches Museum) is the right place to study that. Here we focus on the 18th and 19th century. I am writing down what I took with me from the excellent curation of the museum –  though not being a historian by profession.

The Holy German Empire had ceased to exist with Napoleon. After the Congress of Vienna (1815), a loose federation of German speaking principalities was founded. In this federation there was competition between the Hohenzollern (Prussia) and the Habsburgians (Austria). In 1866 Prussia won the battle of Königgrätz (today in Poland). The Prussian army used their strategy of independent commanding officers that were given their own targets to fight and bind Austrian forces at various front lines. In addition the Prussian king Wilhelm and his minister Bismarck were present in the battle motivating their army. The Austrian officers were not fully loyal to their general and emperor Franz-Josef I of Austria lost this battle. Without Austria, the Prussians founded the German Empire (Deutsches Reich) and Wilhelm II of Hohenzollern became emperor of this (reduced) Germany. The Habsburgians had been emperors of the (former) Holy German Empire for about 400 years and Franz-Josef now remained emperor of his multination empire Austria and king of Hungary (k&k monarchy).

BUT Prussia was a relative newcomer in the power play of German principalities: In the 17th century it had gained importance, thanks to the Great Elector Friedrich Wilhelm who prepared the ground for Prussia to become a kingdom in the Holy German Empire in 1701. Friedrich I, Friedrich Wilhelm I and Friedrich II the Great (nick named “Alter Fritz”) were the first kings of Prussia. Prussia formed a strong army to expand their territory and they lived religious tolerance which attracted Huguenots that were excellent craftmen and trademen. When Friedrich II conquered Silesia (Schlesien) in 1763, Prussia rose to the rank of one of the high power principalities alongside with Austria and Bavaria. The center of Germany (without Austria) moved to Berlin in the late 19th century after the victory of the Prussians over the Austrians in 1866. The new mighty city of Berlin needed representative buildings. Ostentatious Baroque buildings (such as the castle or Stadtschloss) and Neoclassic complexes (such as the Museumsinsel – island of museums – and the Dome of Berlin) were built during the rise of Prussia and for Berlin as a young capital. Modern Art houses on wide alleys were constructed and surrounding villages became part of Berlin. They needed to be connected which gave rise to the metro and S-Bahn network – planned with a broad mind and equipped with Modern Art stations. And after the Second World War and the fall of the Iron Curtain, modern architecture was added to rebuild Berlin (such as the Potsdamer Platz).

Now I understand: Prussia is a very successful newcomer in the power play of German principalities – this may be the reason, why I feel that the Prussian language is not always welcomed in the rest of Germany. Now I know, why I have learnt to be careful not to use my second language to aggressively.

In the evening we attend a concert in the Dome of Berlin – this manifestation of power. It is Mozart’s Requiem in f-Moll given by the Choir of the Johanneskirche Schlachtensee near Berlin. The acustics is great.  I particularly like the Alt voice of Franziska Markowitsch.



Visiting Potsdam and Friedrich II’s castle and park of Sans Souci

Early in the morning we take the S-Bahn (or Rapid Railway) to Potsdam. We enter the station at Heerstrasse. I enjoy the Modern Art construction of the 1920’s…


… and the humor of Berlin. When caught without ticket you do not pay a “penalty” of 60 Euros. No, what you pay is “erhöhtes Beförderungsgeld” or “an enhanced price for transportation”.


At Potdsdam Friedrich II the Great has built his charming small castle Sans Souci, …


… with the wine garden climbing up to his castle.


For his guests Friedrich II had the New Palais built (Neues Palais).  It is under permanent renovation and every time more of the luxury rooms are open. We attend a guided tour. This is the floor of the “cave” room…


… and this is a small piece of the Kibo summit, given to emperor William II by Hans Meyer who was the first to climb the Kilimanjaro in 1889 (he then named the highest point on the crater rim after Kaiser Wilhelm).


The bathroom of empress Augusta Victoria (the wife of emperor William II) was integrated in a wardrobe.


After having spent an hour in the chilly New Palais, we warm up by strolling through the park of Sanssouci with its teahouse…


… and its colorful November  atmosphere.


Friedrich II wanted to tear down this mill, because it was in his way. But the owner warned him that he would appeal to the court. The king was impressed and changed the plans for his park. The mill has been here until today.



Good-bye Berlin and see you next year

On Monday many, many Christmas markets opened in Berlin. One of them is at the Gendarmenmarkt where restaurants are inviting to eat.


We have dinner at the small Italian restaurant Adelino near our hotel and then I say good-bye to Berlin. I am pretty sure that I will return to my mother town next year.




Literature and destroyed diversity – 80 years ago in Berlin


The French and German Cathedral on the Gendarmenmarkt

The Gendarmenmarkt is one of my favorite spots in Berlin. Memories are tied to it. Around 1966, there were three black ruins here, and my mum (she knew the past beauty of this square) was very sad. When I came back in the 90’s, the cathedrals were beautifully restored. Ernst and I visited the museum about the Huguenots that Friedrich the Great had welcomed in Berlin. The French Cathedral was for them. Back later again… with Ernst in the Konzerthaus. And today, Antoinette takes me to the French Cathedral. Two priests are reading about the diversity in literature that has been destroyed 80 years ago (Dr. Jürgen Kaiser and Dr. Matthias Loerbroks). Here are two thoughts that I took with me.

Berlin and Babel – both striving for unity and destroying diversity

Berlin 80 years ago and Babel in the bible have similarities. Both towns longed for unity… unity of language, unity of thought, unity of the peoples, unity of art, unity of architecture (symbolized by the one tower of Babel). Yes, unity is easier to handle than diversity which is complex. But the bible condemns such unity and says that destroying diversity is sinful. Diversity is what the bible asks for… diversity is, the priests say, what God wants. But 80 years ago Berlin became a second Babel and destroyed diversity. Sorely, the priests admit that the church then supported the destruction of diversity.

Written text can be destroyed, but not the words (and thoughts)

80 years ago Berlin burnt books that did not conform to the unity of thought, not far away from the cathedral. The bible describes a similar burning of books. In Jeremias 36, God asked Jeremias to write down the history of Israel and Juda. The text was read out to Jojakim, the king of Juda. He cut the written text into pieces and burnt it. But Jojakim could only burn the written text, not the words. Jeremias wrote them on paper again. Similarly burning books in Berlin just destroyed the written text, but not the words and thoughts.

The devil in Bulgakow’s “Master and Margarita”

Master burns his book about Pontius Pilatus that had not been accepted for publication. Towards the end of this wonderful story, at the devils’ party, the devil Voland pulled Master’s book from the fire and says that his manuscripts cannot be destroyed. Did Bulgakow have Jeremias 36 in mind, when he wrote this? And, I understand, that this was a hidden hint to another ruler who tried to destroy diversity.

Dr. Kaiser invited the community into the garden of the parish hall in Taubenstrasse, where barbecue, salad, water, cake and coffee were waiting for us in the warm sun. We all sat together and chatted. Now, Dr. Kaiser will read “Master and Margarita” – his organist (from the former GDR) promised to lend him his copy and confirmed enthusiastically that it is worth reading.