Berlin: Charlottenburg, Dahlem

On The Road Travel Essays

back to index

Berlin: Charlottenburg, Dahlem

(COURIER: These places are mentioned briefly in "Introduction to Berlin" as attractions the students should be aware of. Use the following notes for special trips to them.)

Charlottenburg Palace  Berlin's two famous royal palaces are Charlottenburg and Potsdam, both built mainly in the 18th century. Potsdam is now in the eastern sector and not readily accessible to visitors. Charlottenburg is the palace most often visited, and it is becoming a major art museum as works are moved there from other places in Berlin and West Germany.

Sophie Charlotte: The palace was built as a summer residence for the wife of the King of Prussia, Friedrich I. Back in 1695, this area was nothing but woods and lakes, quite far outside the city limits of Berlin, and thus a pleasant setting for a summer villa. (By now the city has expanded outward in all directions, so that the palace is in a residential district, called Charlottenburg after the palace.) Sophie Charlotte was an extraordinary woman: well educated, a friend of the arts, and zealous to promote learning. In 1700, with the philosopher Leibniz, she founded a scientific society that eventually became one of the most prestigious in Germany, the Royal Academy of Science and Fine Arts.

Frederick the Great: This is the second major personality associated with the palace. Throughout the 18th century, Prussian kings enlarged the palace, adding apartments, libraries, and gardens. You must keep in mind that this was their residence, not originally an "art museum" the way it is today, rather bare of furniture. It is because of war destruction that the palace looks sparse on the inside, and an uncomfortable place to try to "live." The buildings have been restored, but the job is immense and is still unfinished.

In Europe, every king felt that he had to improve on the work of his predecessors, leaving his own personal mark on the royal palace. This was certainly true of Charlottenburg, which Frederick the Great became attached to for a few years before moving on to Potsdam, which he built himself. In Charlottenburg, Frederick added a new wing to the palace, which was designed by one of the leading architects of the day, Knobelsdorff. Frederick the Great was a Francophile, and he attempted to imitate something of the grandeur of Versailles on a smaller scale. He surrounded himself with French philosophers and writers, wrote (and presumably dreamed) in French, and adopted here at Charlottenburg the style of French rococo architecture. His official court painter was a French artist, Antoine Pesne. His library was stacked with books by French authors: Moliere, Corneille, and Voltaire. Frederick was a man of learning, and he wrote several philosophical essays which can still be seen in his study in the palace. He advocated a doctrine which was popular at the time, namely the doctrine of the "Enlightened Despot." Those holding this view believed that the major task of society at the time was to escape the iron grip of traditional institutions such as the church and feudal lords. Only a strong, enlightened king had the power to overcome these entrenched forces, and he should use his absolute power, not for personal gain, but for the good of the people. This, at least, was the theory, and its two most famous practitioners were Frederick the Great and Catherine the Great of Prussia.

Napoleon at Charlottenburg: Napoleon entered Berlin in 1806, after defeating the Prussian army. He was greatly impressed with Charlottenburg and compared it favorably with Versailles — a compliment that Frederick the Great would have appreciated.

Features of Charlottenburg: As you pass the iron gates in front and enter the courtyard, you'll see an equestrian statue of the "Great Elector," Friedrich-Wilhelm, executed in 1703 (long after the Elector's death) by the famed artist Andreas Schluter. The main entrance is behind it. Inside the palace, you'll be taken from room to room to see the private apartments used by Queen Sophie Charlotte, reception rooms where Prussian kings conferred with their councillors, and the wing of the palace built by Frederick the Great. Among the art works displayed are paintings by leading French 18th century artists like Watteau and Chardin. The porcelain decoration is elaborate, and one room, called the Porcelain Chamber, is covered entirely with Oriental porcelain, its effects heightened by mirrors set into the walls. Another room is devoted to tapestries by Boucher, showing ancient gods and goddesses carousing in idyllic woods. Some personal effects of Frederick the Great can be seen in three rooms of the wing he built: his library and some of his tobacco jars, of which he had a large collection.

Summary: The apartments and art works inside Charlottenburg Palace show you what it was like to be Prussian royalty in the Age of the Enlightened Despot. The French influence is apparent from the elaborate rococo decorations, mirrors, stucco, porcelain, and tapestries. Also the neo-classicism of the times can be seen in the figures on tapestries and in paintings, taken from Greek mythology and poetry. Prussian rulers, though they might be hostile to France politically, still wanted to live like French monarches, and this palace was one attempt to recreate a little of Versailles in far-off Berlin.

Charlottenburg Museums  Across the street from Charlottenburg Palace are two buildings which used to be guardhouses of the palace. The east guardhouse is the Egyptian Museum, the west guardhouse is the Greco-Roman Museum. Most visitors are interested in the former.

Egyptian Museum: Most visitors come to see one exhibit here, the bust of the Egyptian Queen Nefertiti, wife of the famous "King Tut" (Tutankhamen). It dates from about 1400 B.C., and gives an accurate, eyewitness portrait of this ancient monarch; we see that the ancient Egyptians were no less adept than ourselves in facial cosmetics, and the beauty of this woman continues to haunt all who see the statue. Other exhibits: seals and plaques that go back to the invention of writing (3000 B.C. — earlier than the time of Abraham in the Bible). Tools and weapons are shown in various rooms, and there is a display of tomb furnishings, including a boat which the pharaoh was supposed to use to ferry his soul through the underworld. The displays trace the long history of Egypt, from the earliest pharaohs to the time of early Christianity (Coptic writings).

Greco-Roman Museum: Less popular than the Egyptian Museum, this collection includes Greek vases, statues of Greek gods, and some death masks of Roman citizens.

Dahlem Museum  Before World War II, Berlin boasted many art museums specializing in all periods. During the aerial bombardments, these works were taken out of the museums and stored in cellars and in abandoned salt mines. After the war, the works were scattered all over Europe: some went to Russia, some to France, some to the U.S. Gradually, the city of Berlin managed to get many of them back again. But some, unfortunately, were too large to be stored during the war and were lost forever during the air raids: e.g. 8 Rubens and 3 Van Dyck paintings. The work of reassembling the works goes on today, with new displays added at the Dahlem museum every year. The Dahlem more or less takes the place of the dozen or so pre-war museums in Berlin, and is therefore the best place to visit for a view of Berlin's leading art collections. (One other place to visit is the Museum Island in East Berlin, where most of the pre-war art museums were located.)

The emphasis is mainly on German, Italian, and Dutch-Flemish works. Among the most famous exhibits: works of Durer, Altdorfer, and Lucas Cranach the Elder. In the Italian gallery are two Raphael Madonnas, and works by Titian, Fra Filippo Lippi, Correggio (Leda with the Swan), and Botticelli. In the Dutch-Flemish gallery are 26 Rembrandts (Man with the Golden Helmet) and 20 Rubens canvases. (The Dahlem will be moving to a spot in the Tiergaren sometime soon.)


passports educational travel logo

passports Educational Group Travel partners with teachers across the United States to provide high-quality educational travel experiences to their students. Educational tours visit destinations around the world - primarily France, Italy, England, Spain and Costa Rica - at low, guaranteed prices.

Passports, Inc., ToursOperators & Promoters, Spencer, MA


Facebook icon   Twitter icon   Pinterest icon   Blog icon

For updates on educational travel tips, ideas and news, subscribe to our newsletter:


51 Union Street Suite 106
Worcester, MA 01608

Email Us

© Copyright 1992-2022 Passports Educational Travel | All Rights Reserved | Privacy Policy