Castles and Palaces in Berlin

The only direct evidence of Berlin's medieval fortifications and custom wall lies in the word "Tor" or "gate" in many of the place names in the city centre. The city was originally surrounded by a wall and moat, to protect the inhabitants from marauding German knights as well as to control the passage of goods and persons who travelled through. These walls were knocked down and rebuilt many times in the Middle Ages as the city expanded, and only a few traces of them remain to be seen in the centre. A few miles to the north-west, however, on the river Havel, lies Spandau's Zitadelle fortress and the Juliusturm, built in the 12th Century by the Askanien dynasty to complement a second fortification at Köpernick, and control trade across Brandenburg. Spandau remained a fortress through the 16th C. when Venetian style bastions were added into the 20th C. , when it was 'defortified' and integrated into the city.

Schloss CharlottenburgNearer the centre Schloss Charlottenburg, the baroque summer palace of the Hohenzollern dynasty and resting place of the first German Emperor, Kaiser Wilhelm I and his wife in the nearby Mausoleum, is open to a public eager to see its collections of paintings, furniture and porcelain. The lawns and flowerbeds of the landscaped grounds to the rear run down to the river Spree, whilst a statue of the Great Elector by Schlüter dominates the forecourt underneath the copper cupola.

Wanting to reside close to the political centre of gravity, many wealthy Prussians built their own stately homes in the outer suburbs of Berlin, stately neo-classical edifices richly decorated tapestries, marble, antique furniture and carpets.

Amongst the most celebrated are Schloss Tegel, family home of the Humboldts, the two brothers, the academics Alexander and Wilhelm who founded the University. Schloss Tegel looks out over Tegeler Lake. on the northern Havel. The palace of Niederschönhausen was the residence of Wilhelm Pieck, first President of East Germany, and sports a fine marbled gallery.

A more visible building is Schloss Bellevue, seat of the German President, which is located in the Tiergarten, near the Reichstag. It has an English garden and is built on a piece of land where mulberry bushes for silkworms were cultivated.

But undoubtedly the most famous palace of all is Sanssouci - Frederick the Great's legendary retreat in Potsdam, 15 miles south-west of the Berlin's city center. Under the Hohenzollern dynasty Potsdam had already become a royal residence and garrison town, but it blossomed in particular in the mid 18th C. when Frederick commissioned the architect Knobelsdorff to build a palace where he could live "sans souci" - "without care". The French name as well as the style of the palace reflects Frederick's enormous admiration for Louis XIV of France and Versailles. The palace stands at the edge of Park Sanssouci, a landscaped pleasure park stretching 1 by 1.5 miles, to the west of Potsdam. The Schloß is in the highly ornate rococo style, with marble floors, painted woodwork, oriental wallpapers, and a vast collection of portraits, all arranged in a confusion of colour and pattern.

To the south, a number of terraces with the most northerly vineyards in Europe run down to the main level of the park. This contains a number of further palaces added over the following 150 years for other Hohenzollern relations, including the Neues Palais (New Palace) and the Charlottenhof (a villa celebrating a Hohenzollern princess). The park is also ornamented with an Orangerie, a Dutch garden, the Neptune fountain, a folly, a windmill, fake Roman baths and a wealth of statues.

Schloss Sanssouci itself is open daily from 9 to 5 (April-Oct), 9-4 (Nov-March), apart from Mondays, and can only be visited as part of a guided tour. English language tours can be arranged in advance, but notice is needed because the Schloß is a very popular tourist attraction.

See list of castles and palaces in and near Berlin.

Learn more about Potsdam and its castles and palaces.

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