On Tuesday, I talked rather a lot about our presentation at the Deutsches Historisches Museum, which was very cool and I had a tremendous time, but I think the spiritual core of the trip had to be the excursion to Sans Souci. I think that most of my experiences in love are eminently capture-able through the medium of words, but in describing how I felt approaching Sans Souci, I have to acknowledge that there are swaths of that emotional experience that I’ll never be able to entirely explain to myself, even less to those who don’t happen to have their brain lodged inside my skull on a regular basis.
By way of preface, I’d like to say that ever since I was old enough to have fervent life goals, there have been two experiences that have topped the list – seeing a Wagner opera at Bayreuth, and going to Sans Souci. We approached through the gardens by Schopenhauerstrasse, and at the first sight of those yellow walls through the trees, my heart simply stopped in my chest. That it was Real, and not only Real, but Right There, struck me at the moment as the most impossible thing in the world, but my legs kept pushing me on, faster and faster, until finally we rounded the corner and there it was, the green dome rising above the fountain and terraces, everything exactly as in the old engravings and descriptions. It was difficult not to just RUN up the steps, abandoning our small party to its fate, but I’m glad that I let myself acclimate a while before actually entering. It takes no amount of imagination to picture Frederick walking these grounds – nowhere in Berlin is that really possible, but here, in this bit of ground, Fritz is there, walking through you on his rounds, only a mere matter of time separating you from him and the little bit of pleasure he managed to wring from life after the wars.
The setup for seeing the inside of Sans Souci is not one that I like. I suppose it is necessary, but it basically consists of an audio guide companion through 8 rooms while ushers stand impatiently behind you to Push You Through if you linger more than five minutes in a room. But that hardly mattered – everything, everything was dashed to the winds as soon as I walked inside and saw his beloved Rococo golden vines curling up the walls, his personal library where his volumes still live, just waiting for his hand to whisk them up for a morning’s read. The room redecorated in way unhip neoclassical style by his entirely unremarkable successor, but that contains the chair which he died in and the clock that supposedly stopped after his death – such simple things for the man who more or less single handedly made the entire massive city we had been roaming in for the past week spring forth from the harsh ground, and a nation with it. It was a humbling and profound moment, which lead to another as we saw the music hall, that same in the picture of him performing with Quantz leaning up against the wall, a flute of CPE Bach’s casually lying on the harpsichord – again, Frederick is THERE, playing while his guests are seated in the chairs arranged against the wall. The Marble Room where you can see him rushing up to greet the arrival at long last of Voltaire. It is a potent combination, each room offering something new to you of a man unlike any other.
At that point, they should really just take you directly to the guest room he designed for Voltaire, but you wander through a couple of the redecorated rooms from the time of Frederick William IV first, and they are quite all right, but it’s hard to find one’s grasp on Frederick there. Luckily you end in Voltaire’s room, where you get one last chance to take the air, looking into the eyes of the carved squirrels and monkeys, knowing that Voltaire paced these floorboards as he was putting together his history of Louis XIV. Upon exiting, you can wend your way around the edge of the building to the simple grave where Frederick, after much toing and froing, eventually came to rest, next to the graves of his beloved greyhounds. It is a beautiful thing, a simple stone under the open air next to the animals and plants he loved. The grave is covered in potatoes from visitors, which is as it should be. Brought in a spirit of warmth as a thank you to the King who cared enough about personally overseeing his lands that he traversed them, introducing people to this strange new crop which, in combination with his sensible state granary policies, kept the specter of starvation far from Prussia’s door.
Also, the gift store is very nice.
– Count Dolby von Luckner