In my last post, I wrote about the impact physical places have and how context invites you to experience a historical narrative that can’t be captured in a traditional museum. Preservation makes these destinations accessible, but the actual process never entered my mind until visiting this palace.
Located about 45 minutes outside of Berlin in Potsdam, the Neues Palace dwarfs everything around it and has a generous scoop of baroque architecture to tempt you inside. It was hard not to freak out with excitement as you approach it from the loooooong walk up through beautiful landscaping to the entrance. It’s MASSIVE!
Built at the end of the Seven Years’ War to mark Prussia’s victory, the Neues Palais (neues meaning “new”) was created to be the physical manifestation of Frederik the Great’s power, success, and influence…and was hardly used as a residency. The glorious 200+ room building was meant to impress foreign dignitaries and any royal that came across its gilded splendor in an architectural boast of superiority. Not a bad way to intimidate people!
The Neues Palais was neglected after Frederick’s death in 1786 and sat virtually abandoned until 1859 when the future Frederick III used it as a summer residence and his home during his famed 99 day reign. The last German Emperor and King of Prussia Wilhem II modernized the building, but became it’s final resident in 1918 when he abdicated and Germany became a republic. He made it a point to take all the good stuff with him to his new, exiled life in the Netherlands…something that proved to be a very good move.
The palace became a museum until WWII and miraculously escaped being bombed (!)….but ended up being pillaged by the Soviet Army around 1945. Then in 1970 Wilhem II’s stash of original 1918 furnishings was unearthed by the Dutch, still carefully packed away in untouched crates. The furnishings were returned to the palace and some are back on display in their former home, but much of it is under renovation. A select number of rooms are open to the public, which some of it is used by a nearby university.
A guided tour takes you through a dozen or so rooms, simply furnished and clearly in transition. She also pointed out parts of the room that were being worked on and told us a bit about the process. Large empty rooms, tucked away decor, and scaffolds aren’t what you come to expect from a royal residency…but I found it to be the most inspiring and beautiful of any building I’ve seen. Despite their appearance, the rooms were gorgeous and invited you to imagine what they may be like once restored. You don’t need “stuff” to feel the luxury of the apartments.
Original silk wall hangings were deteriorating, gilded gold paint was fading, and the smell of “old” hung in the air (you’re thinking I’m crazy to think this pleasing). The rooms were “paused”, but really invigorated my senses and opened my eyes to the tireless work that goes into maintaining and restoring spots like these. It also felt like you were walking in on someone as they were getting dressed.
Focus was instead drawn to the structure and detail of the rooms: wall coverings, fixtures, and murals all uncrowded by ornate rugs or elaborate furniture. You felt the age of the building and the generations of people that used it as a home, and it seemed like a dress rehearsal. Not quite ready to be seen…but promising that it was going to be worth it.
The protective slippers we were asked to wear echoed as I shuffled into each room and the emptiness was humanizing and humbling. Even the wealthiest of places aren’t immune to the passage of time, and even the most powerful people aren’t untouchable. I noticed some carefully placed boxes sitting around, and some tarps covering other parts. The large “Marble Gallery and “Grotto Hall” are closed until 2017, and the King’s apartments weren’t available during the winter months when I visited.
This post isn’t meant to sway you from visiting the Neues Palace at all. I want it to encourage a different approach to how it’s enjoyed because of the changes going on, and it shouldn’t be written off. The “sneak peek” feel of it is fascinating, and seeing a work in progress is exciting! It’s why time lapses are so popular. I sincerely hope to make a return visit in the future and marvel at what’s been accomplished.
You can visit Frederik’s summer home of Sansoucci and the Neues Palace on the same trip, but reserve an entire day for it. Be prepared for a lot of walking, using the bathrooms before entering the palaces (small fee required), and paying extra for a photo pass that’s good for several spots. It’s roughly 45 minutes on public transportation from Berlin and there are other spots to see in the area while you are there. The gardens are especially charming and it’s easy to lose track of time while hanging out in them.
TIP: Stop at a bakery and bring some snacks with you. You’ll be hungry and thirsty after all that walking, and there aren’t a lot of food options on the grounds…but don’t eat inside the palaces!
Phone: +49 (0)331 – 969 42 55
April 1 through October 31: 9am – 5pm
November 1 through March 31: 9am – 4pm
Closed on Fridays
6.00 Euro (5.00) in summer, with guide
5.00 Euro (4.00) in summer, without guide
5.00 Euro (4.00) in winter, with guide
5.00 Euro (4.00) The King’s apartment, with guide, only in summer months