Photography by Emma Krasov
Formerly known as East Germany, this land of dense forests and flowering meadows, rolling hills and blue lakes, went from being a part of Prussia to becoming a part of Communist Bloc, and is now waiting to be re-discovered by the traveling masses. My visit started at Potsdam – the summer residence of the Prussian kings which boasts several UNESCO World Heritage sites. The most important one is Sanssouci (“carefree”) palace and park, built by Frederick II (1712-1786) who disliked the officious Berlin and preferred to spend his days among the Roman statues and wild grape terraces of his private Versailles.
Frederick II the Great had a somewhat ambivalent personality: hated the court but built gorgeous palaces, despised his “Soldier-King” father but strived to achieve military glory, was a patron of the arts but a known misogynist… To decorate his palaces, he chose antique plots depicting women as depraved and treacherous creatures or men’s toys at best. On a Pygmalion painting by the court artist Antoine Pesne in Sanssouci, a figure of Galatea was drawn after a famous ballerina La Barbarina, who had narrow boyish hips, and therefore was considered beautiful by the king.
A European ruler of Enlightenment, Frederick supported religious tolerance, banned torture, and barred his court from interfering with the justice system but was a lawless politician, invading neighboring countries and changing their borders.
His enormous New Palace, with 400 exterior statues and 20 thousand precious and semi-precious stones in the interior décor, was built to commemorate his victory in the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763), which established Prussia as a powerful European state. For this monument to himself Frederick chose opulent baroque style, which was going out of fashion with the advance of neoclassicism but still symbolized power and inspired awe.
Frederick’s grave by the Sanssouci Palace is steps away from Sun Pavilion, which holds a bronze statue of a young man from Rhodes. During Frederick’s rule, this statue was thought to be an image of Antinous – a deified lover of Roman Emperor Hadrian and a “rainbow flag” of the time. Frederick considered Christianity a fairy tale, and in his older years commented on how he preferred a company of his dogs to the company of men.
According to his will, Frederick the Great is buried next to his Italian greyhounds under a Roman statue of goddess Flora playing with baby Zephyr…After a tour of Sanssouci, I spent the night reading about Prussia and the house of Hohenzollern in Steigenberger Hotel Sanssouci (www.steigenberger.com) a short walk from the park. My jetlag and my firm and narrow “army” bed with only one skinny pillow kept me alert. Next morning, a lavish breakfast with freshly-baked breads, rich salads, cold cuts, and many-many kinds of herring set me off for the day of further discoveries.
In Brandenburg (www.brandenburg-tourism.com) a white-walled medieval Rheinsberg Castle on Lake Grienerick, surrounded by a vast garden, used to be Frederick the Great’s refuge when he was a crown prince. Here, young Frederick created “the court of muses” and hosted actors, dancers, and painters; played flute, and composed music in his happiest years.
Moving north to Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, a non-stop vacation world called Land Fleesensee (www.fleesensee.de) is materialized in a thousand lakes, sandy dunes, and green meadows, framed by majestic pines and oaks. Parks and swamps are teeming with wildlife – deer and rabbits, ducks, storks and eagles, fish and frogs, and there are no crowds, just random nature enthusiasts with their bikes, golf clubs, canoes, and kayaks.
Brand new Iberotel Fleesensee (www.iberotel-fleesensee.de) overlooks the lake and has private beach and marina. Inside, it is graced with: all modern conveniences, lake-theme decorated rooms and restaurants with great food, and even a free of charge personal trainer for the guests.
This night, I slept like a baby after a gourmet dinner at the hotel’s Lakeside Restaurant accompanied by crisp local wines.
Farther north, closer to the Baltic sea shore, there is the capital city of Schwerin famous for its fantastic castle situated on a small island in the middle of its namesake lake. Built and rebuilt numerous times from a Slavic fortress (year 973) to the five-wing Sleeping Beauty castle modeled on the Loire Valley Chateau de Chambord by the duke Friedrich Franz II in 1845-57, it is a magnificent structure surrounded by English landscaped gardens with statuary and flower beds.
Love is in the air in and around the Schwerin Castle. In some of its 653 rooms there are “love chairs” which allow a couple to sit sideways face to face with each other for easy kissing; there is Island of Love in Burggarten (castle garden), and there are “love trees” with their branches joined in a hug by clever grafting. Schweriners love their harmonious city – one third water, one third gardens, and one third buildings, and 95% of them wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.
A resort town of Boltenhagen on the southernmost shore of the Baltic Sea is called a cradle of the German bathing culture and the Berliners’ bath tub, and has a beautiful promenade leading from the main drag to a long sandy beach. I couldn’t help but take off my sandals and wade through the cool calm water. Then a white swan crossed my path, and was just standing there, next to me, looking at the horizon…
Staying at Schlossgut Gross Schwansee (“swan lake” http://www.schwansee.de) for the night seemed only natural considering the swan theme of the day. There are ten luxurious guest rooms and an upscale restaurant in the manor house, built in 1745, but as much as I like historic buildings, after a day of intense discoveries I prefer to crash in a comfy contemporary environment. The new building of the hotel provided simplicity, functionality, and a great room layout. Located on 900 hectares of serene fertile land, Schlossgut Gross Schwansee has its own agriculture and a lake with a swan house right outside the guest rooms’ balconies. In the morning, I watched two fat hares playing on a meadow by the lake in the first rays of dawn.
The last stop on my trip was the Free Hanseatic City on the Elbe – Hamburg, where there are more bridges than in Venice and Amsterdam combined. Despite the fact that Hamburgers (not beef patties) are extremely proud of their independence and cosmopolitan appeal, they have the most impressive town hall, Das Hamburger Rathaus (1897), which to me signifies their devotion to the local government. Behind the town hall building there is a fountain dedicated to Hygieia – a symbol of cleanliness, erected in 1892 during the cholera epidemics which claimed many thousands of lives. Since then, Hamburg went a long way toward improving the quality of life for its citizens. It is now one of the greenest cities in Europe – in more than one sense.
More information at http://www.cometogermany.com and http://www.germany.travel.