Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Parlez-vous français? Schloss Rheinsberg

Today we took a Regional Express train up to Rheinsberg, and though it lies only 75km North-West of Berlin it felt like we'd arrived in France. The small town has grown up around Schloss Rheinsberg, a picture-perfect French Renaissance style moated château floating on the edge of lake Grienericksee.

The Schloss owes its French / Netherlandish look from its makeover by architects including Georg Wenceslaus von Knobelsdorff in the period 1736 to 1740. These years covered the acquisition by Crown Prince Friedrich of the formerly mediaeval Rheinsberg castle, until Friedrich's accession to the Prussian throne as King Friedrich II (later known as Friedrich der Große, or Frederick the Great). The redesign of Schloss Rheinsberg marked the beginning of a long association between Freddy and von Knobelsdorff, in which the architectural style known as Frederician Rococo was developed. This style can be further seen in projects such as Freddy II's Potsdam retreat Schloss Sanssouci, a makeover of Schloss Charlottenburg, and even in the layout of Berlin Tiergarten.

At Schloss Rheinsberg however, the development of rococo out of baroque architecture (think of the Palace of Versailles) hasn't gone as mad as the profusion of swirling ornamentation and over-use of gold leaf that characterises Sanssouci. And what a relief that is! (for me anyway; you might like all the twiddly bits and wild sweeps of the imagination that rococo goes in for). At Rheinsberg there is just enough neo-classicist sobriety and common-sense to keep things in check. The formality of the French parterre garden (again, think of the garden layout at Versaille) and the scattering of classical sculptures also tames the effect of the loud baroque/gothic towers. Anyway, here are some photos of the Schloss and gardens to give you an impression:

The formal garden transforms by degrees into a landscaped garden that extends all around the lake. As you might expect from palace gardens of the time, it includes an obligatory grotto dedicated to Bacchus:

And a temple reminiscent of the Temple of Vesta in Rome:

But it is an obelisk on a rise on the opposite side of the lake from Schloss, dominating its view, that is the real curio:

It was erected in 1791 by Frederick's younger brother Henry, to whom Frederick had gifted Schloss Rheinsberg after Fred became King of Prussia and moved to Berlin and Potsdam. The obelisk is dedicated to the achievements of Friedrich II's generals in the Seven Years War, during which Friedrich managed to expand Prussia and in particular occupy Silesia (part of Poland). So far so good. But then why are all the inscriptions to German military men in French?

The truth is that the German language at the time was considered uncouth. The language of culture, enlightenment, great literature, philosophy, and science was French. Friedrich II himself considered German only good enough to speak to soldiers and horses, and wrote most of his correspondence in French (he could also speak and write in Spanish, Portugese, English and Italian, as well as knowing Latin, Greek and Hebrew). He had his children taught in French, and only grudgingly allowed them a basic knowledge of German. He explained that German authors 'pile parenthesis upon parenthesis, and often you find only at the end of an entire page the verb on which depends the meaning of the whole sentence', something any student of German can sympathise with. By the way, his strict authoritarian father Friedrich Wilhelm I considered his son somewhat namby-pamby in his love for all things French.

Whilst at Rheinsberg, a period which Frederick II always described as the happiest of his life ('die glücklichsten meines Lebens' or maybe 'Le plus heureux de ma vie'), Frederick surrounded himself with minor philosophers and musicians, and was in correspondence with Voltaire (pen name of François-Marie Arouet - who was French, can't you guess) , with whom he formulated an 'enlightened monarch's' response to Niccolò Machiavelli's 'The Prince', which was published (in French) as 'Anti-Machiavel'.

After becoming King and leaving Rheinsberg he still preferred French, even if he was ruler of a largely German-speaking kingdom; after all, he named his new Summer palace he had built in Potsdam 'Sanssouci', which is French for 'without worries'.

We too enjoyed our day at Schloss Rheinsberg, and we also had to travel back to Berlin.
There the resemblance with Frederick II ends - we can't even speak very good French!

1 comment:

  1. Stunning shots of this beautiful location. My parents-in-law and I went up there in 2006, but were stupid enough to go up on a Monday... thus it was closed. But the grounds are fantastic, and your luck with that sky gives you WONDERFUL photos!


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