Baroque Berlin & Brandenburg: Schloss Charlottenburg & Schloss Sanssouci

When one thinks of baroque landscape architecture, one thinks of the castle gardens of Versailles, and of the prominent French landscape architect Andre Le Notre. As I learned last week, the greater Berlin area has two fine examples of the baroque castle garden itself.

Andre Le Notre, once called the “father of landscape architecture” by one of my old University of Florida professors, had clearly inspired Siméon Godeau when he designed the castle gardens of Schloss Charlottenburg. He proceeded to construct his garden from 1697 onwards, commissioned by Sophie Charlotte, the wife of Frederick III of Brandenburg (Frederick III would later crown himself as King Frederick I). The garden is characterized by a formal design, featuring geometric shapes and visual axes, and is often referred to as the “Versailles of Germany”.

Main axis of the castle garden of Schloss Charlottenburg

Main axis of the castle garden of Schloss Charlottenburg from across the carp pond

Baroque landscape architecture: Ornamental gardens of Schloss Charlottenburg

The second ruler after King Frederick I- Frederick II, the first king of Prussia, also known as Frederick the Great- would then transform the garden at the end of the 18th century, to more closely resemble the English Garden-style gardens at Worlitz he admired so much. This is hardly surprising, given the fact that English Garden landscape design was widely popular at the end of the 18th century. It was only after the second world war that the original designs were appreciated again, perhaps due to the fact that by that time there weren’t any baroque gardens left in Berlin. So in 1950, finally, the gardens were restored back to their original state.

A typical feature of Baroque gardens: flowers and trees planted along axes with mathematical precision

Another rival of Versailles is Potsdam’s Schloss Sans Souci, not coincidentally build by Frederick the Great as a summer palace where he could escape Berlin. The terraced vineyards were constructed first; only when Frederick the Great learned that the view from atop the terraces was so stunning, he ordered his summer residence to be built there, about a year after the construction of the terraced vineyard. Below the terraced vineyard lie the typical baroque ornamental gardens. Contrary to the Schloss Charlottenburg, Schloss Sanssouci itself was designed more in rococo-style, rather than baroque.

Frederick The Great's summer residence, "mein Weinberghäuschen" (my little vineyard home); Schloss Sanssouci, sitting atop the terraced vineyard

After the terraced vineyard and the summer residence, the larger park was realized.  Sanssouci Park features an impressive, 2.5 kilometer axis, running from the obelisk at its east end to the New Palace on the west end.

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The 2.5 kilometer axis in Park Sanssouci

The New Palace was added 20 years after the construction of the summer retreat. Contrary to the humble Schloss Sanssouci, this palace was built purely to show off.

The Baroque-style Neues Palais (New Palace) at the western end of the 2.5 kilometer axis was meant to symbolise the strenght of Prussia, even after its defeat during the seven years' war. It is Potsdam's interpretation of France's Versailles palace.

In the era of Frederick the Great’s successors, the baroque garden was no longer in fashion. The (English-garden type of) landscaped garden gained in popularity. However, even Frederick the Great himself deviated from the typical, aesthetically-shaped baroque garden, himself combining beauty with utility when shaping the larger grounds of Park Sanssouci. This demonstrates his belief that nature and art can be united.

A follie in the landscape- the rococo-style Chinese teahouse

Both gardens are the Prussians’ own interpretation of French formalism, featuring typical baroque landscape design elements. They also show a progression from the formal French baroque castle garden towards English-garden style landscape design, as initiated by Frederick the Great. Though they are to be appreciated in their own right, they are but one historical layer of Berlin, the city whose built environment is much like a history book covering the full spectrum of the last 3 centuries.

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