A Pyramid in a Park

Eine Pyramide im Park
What is it doing here, this structure associated more with desert than a German leisure garden? - <em>by SL Wong</em>

What is it doing here, this structure associated more with desert than a German leisure garden?

“It’s good to be the king”, I thought, as I stood before the pyramid in Potsdam’s Neue Garten (New Garden). Mel Brooks’ catchphrase came to me because the structure standing in the middle of the most European of parks seemed the sort of thing that could only result from the wanton whims of an 18th century monarch.

What’s more, the pyramid was actually a fridge.

The monarch in question was Prussian King Friedrich Wilhelm II and his structural choice might be more understandable by dint of his being a Freemason, specifically of the secretive mystical order of Rosicrucians.

Further manifestations of this belief system in said garden were a sphinx-adorned Egyptian gateway (entrance to the orangery), a partly-buried temple (the palace kitchen) and a two-level Gothic pavilion (the library).

[Friedrich Wilhelm’s architectural whims are of course, entirely eclipsed by the notable issuing during his time, of the Religious Edict of 1788, which guaranteed freedom of religion for the feuding Calvinists and Lutherans and which also gave security to Jews, among others.]

Back to the pyramid. It served to keep food fresh and in Winter, ice would be cut from the adjacent frozen Heiliger See and stored in the lowest level, which was 5 m deep.

Although I had read beforehand of its existence, it still stopped me in my tracks, squatting as it did in the midst of extensive green lawns, Autumnal vegetation and wetlands.

I examined the hieroglyphs keenly, the only section of the original that was retained. The current structure was actually one that had been rebuilt by Friedrich Wilhelm’s grandson three decades later.

The latter also had the Neue Garten updated by the great Prussian landscape architect Peter Joseph Lenné.

Today, the Neuer Garten is part of a sprawling series of parks and palaces in Potsdam and West Berlin that were designed and built by eight Prussian kings and German emperors between 1730 and 1916. Spreading over 500 ha and comprising 150 buildings, they are now collectively recognised as a Unesco World Heritage Site, one of Germany’s largest.

They are also testament to the various armies of architects, gardeners, builders and artisans who incorporated into their work undulating terrains and water bodies as well as the latest techniques and trends of their time.

These were obviously tailored to each monarch’s preferences and predilections, some of which showed that Friederich Wilhelm II was not singular.

The most celebrated assemblage is Friederich der Grosse’s Sanssouci, dubbed the Prussian Versailles. Completed in 1747, it is Unesco-inscribed for its association “with the monarchic concept of power within Europe”.

However, it was actually a departure from the Versailles model. Friederich designed it to be small and intimate and left his personal Rococo stamp all over the buildings as well as incorporated a ‘useful’ fruit and vegetable garden.

He also had a then-trendy Chinoiserie pavilion built in said flower and vegetable garden, complete with “Chinese” figures dressed in “fairytale-like” apparel. His waterworks north of the Sanssouci were decorated with fake ruins, including a pyramid.

Meanwhile, between 1829 and 1854, Friederich’s Italophile great-grandnephew, Friederich Wilhelm IV, drew heavily on medieval sacred architecture to build his Römischen Bäder (Roman Baths, an Italian villa ensemble) and Friedenskirche (Church of Peace).

In turn, his successor, Wilhelm I, had the neo-Gothic Schloss Babelsberg built in 1833, drawing from English Tudor architectural influences.

He also housed a then-state-of-the-art steam engine in a beautiful Moorish mosque Dampfmaschinenhaus (steam engine pump house) complete with arches and decorative tiles.

And the list goes on. In fact, the Unesco inscription commends how the whole landscape illustrates “opposing and reputedly irreconcilable styles without detracting from the harmony of a general composition that has been designed progressively over time”.

Considered a Gesamtkunstwerk (complete artistic work), it was actually Lenné, who in the mid-1800s, integrated many of the existing parks and buildings into an overall design, notably providing lines of sight to the landscape’s features. Lenné was at the time tasked with designing Potsdam.

As the decades passed, the parks and palaces became not just a popular but beloved destination for the public.

Then came WWII and thereafter, the Wall cut this landscape in half for 40 years. The only link between Potsdam and Berlin was the Glienicke Brücke, which was closed to everyone except high-ranking officials from the Eastern and Western Blocs.

Part of the outrage leveled against the Deutsche Demokratische Republik (DDR) by then West Berlin mayor Richard von Weizsäcker was the Wall’s denying West Berliners of these Potsdam hinterlands and Prussian cultural heritage.

This was pointed out by historian Beatrice de Graaf in her essay ‘Die Glienicker Brücke als “Gedächtnisort” in der historischen Erinnerung’ (‘The Glienicke Bridge as a “place of memory” in the historical memory’) [OST-WEST. Europäische Perspektiven, 2012].

So it was that a mere two months after the fall of the Wall, the area as a whole was designated a Unesco site, indicating its importance to the identity and heritage of a reunited Germany.

Since then, there has been continuous research-based renovation and restoration of the grounds and buildings that had fallen into disrepair through damage and neglect. Twice have new sites been added to the listing, securing yet more cultural and historical heritage.

Freemasonry in the 18th century was associated with Egyptian initiatory practices. This pyramid was constructed to serve as a cold-storage and sported hieroglyphs, the only part of the structure that was reused when it was rebuilt. - <em>by SL Wong</em>

Freemasonry in the 18th century was associated with Egyptian initiatory practices. This pyramid was constructed to serve as a cold-storage and sported hieroglyphs, the only part of the structure that was reused when it was rebuilt.

Set right on the water's edge, the neo-classical <em>Marmorpalais</em> (Marble Palace) has paths linking it to the 'sunken temple' kitchen and 'pyramid' ice cellar and stairs leading down to the <em>Heiliger See</em> for boating. - <em>by SL Wong</em>

Set right on the water’s edge, the neo-classical Marmorpalais (Marble Palace) has paths linking it to the ‘sunken temple’ kitchen and ‘pyramid’ ice cellar and stairs leading down to the Heiliger See for boating.

The intimate Rococo-style <em>Sanssouci</em> was a place where the king could get away from his cares and worries. Leading down to a Baroque garden are terraced vineyards, in modern times, a location of choice for tourists catching the sun. - <em>by SL Wong</em>

The intimate Rococo-style Sanssouci was a place where the king could get away from his cares and worries. Leading down to a Baroque garden are terraced vineyards, in modern times, a location of choice for tourists catching the sun.

The final design of the neo-Gothic/Tudor <em>Schloss Babelsberg</em> was the result of a tussle between Wilhelm I's wife, Augusta, who wanted a more elaborate English Gothic style and the great architect, Schinkel, who favoured a more modest one. - <em>by SL Wong</em>

The final design of the neo-Gothic/Tudor Schloss Babelsberg was the result of a tussle between Wilhelm I’s wife, Augusta, who wanted a more elaborate English Gothic style and the great architect, Schinkel, who favoured a more modest one.

The <em>Park Klein-Glienicke</em> boasts details such as these Atlas sculptures, abandoned from another project, and a Lenné line of sight of the <em>Heilandskirche</em> (Church of the Redeemer), styled after an early Christian basilica but also resembles a Mississippi steamship. - <em>by SL Wong</em>

The Park Klein-Glienicke boasts details such as these Atlas sculptures, abandoned from another project, and a Lenné line of sight of the Heilandskirche (Church of the Redeemer), styled after an early Christian basilica but also resembles a Mississippi steamship.

Inspired by the parental hunting lodge of the princess after whom it is named, the <em>Schloss Cecilienhof</em> is defined by half-timbered oak and bricks. Each of its 55 Tudor-style chimneys is unique. This was the home of the last of the Prussian monarchs. - <em>by SL Wong</em>

Inspired by the parental hunting lodge of the princess after whom it is named, the Schloss Cecilienhof is defined by half-timbered oak and bricks. Each of its 55 Tudor-style chimneys is unique. This was the home of the last of the Prussian monarchs.


Links:
>> Information on the Unesco listing is on the webpage of the Palaces and Parks of Potsdam and Berlin UNESCO World Heritage Centre 1992-2015. The Department of Geographical Sciences, Freie Universität Berlin (2007) has a nice summary of the Palaces and Parks of Potsdam and Berlin.
>> The area is managed by a foundation, the Stiftung Preußische Schlösser und Gärten Berlin-Brandenburg, which also manages visitor programmes.
>> In addition, the article draws from the German Wikipedia entries on the Neuer Garten Potsdam, Friederich Wilhelm II.Sanssouci, Park Klein Glienicke, Schloss Babelsberg, as well as Beatrice de Graaf ‘s ‘Die Glienicker Brücke als “Gedächtnisort” in der historischen Erinnerung’ in OST-WEST Europäische Perspektiven (OWEP 2/2012), Renovabis, 2015.
>> For a Cold War story that occurs within this landscape, check out the Bridge of Spies.
Experienced: 04.11.2011 || Recounted: 14.12.2015 Click here for bigger map
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