Trace The Legacy Of Frederick The Great

January 24, 1712 was the birth date of one of Germany’s most celebrated leaders. On that day, Frederick II –future king of Prussia, later known as Frederick the Great — was born in Berlin.

His birth was greeted with much rejoicing by both family and the Prussian people as two previous heirs had died at young ages. As the son of the Soldier-King, Frederick William I, young Frederick naturally rebelled against his strict, aggressive father, even attempting to run away.

However, as the saying goes, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Frederick II, upon becoming king, soon became feared and famous for his own war-like nature after a string of successful attacks on Austria and Silesia.

But this war-hardened king also had a softer side. He was a talented musician who played the flute and composed over one hundred sonatas for his favorite instrument. He was a polyglot who spoke Spanish, French, English, Italian and Portuguese, and dabbled in ancient Latin, Greek and Hebrew.

His love for the arts is apparent in many of the buildings that he commissioned, which are a great way for the casual traveler to appreciate his impressive legacy.

We begin at the Berlin State Opera on the famous street of Unter den Linden and designed by the famed Georg Wenzeslaus von Knobelsdorf. Next is the Royal Library, which today is no longer royal, simply the State Library of Berlin. St. Hedwig’s Cathedral is another of his famous creations. This eye-catching building with its distinctive light blue dome is a landmark Roman Catholic Church on the Bebelplatz. And then there’s Prince Henry’s Palace, now the site of Humboldt University, the oldest in Berlin.

But the best and finest example of what came to be known as “Frederician Rococo” style architecture is surely the masterpiece at Sanssouci Palace. You’ll have to travel a bit outside the capital city to visit this palace and garden, situated in the nearby suburb of Potsdam. (This is still easily reached from Berlin using the fabulous public transportation system. Just hop aboard tram number 7!)

Sanssouci is the French word for “without worries.” Frederick meant this place to be a refuge and sanctuary from the rigors and responsibilities of governance. The result is a not-to-be-missed tourist attraction that features terraced gardens, wonderful fountains, and numerous fantastic “follies.” A folly is the architectural term for an extravagant garden decoration.

At Sanssouci, you’ll see a Turkish mosque and minaret, a Chinese tea garden, a few obelisks, Roman baths and temples.

You may find yourself believing you’ve stepped into a carefree fantasy world filled with these amazing follies, an abundance of fruit trees and hedge-lined walkways. If so, then Frederick’s greatest legacy — creating a worry-free garden that transports you to a different world — has been accomplished. ;-)

—Marcus

 

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