The Hohenzollern dynasty built some of the most beautiful castles and palaces in Germany. Their residence in Berlin’s Western district of Charlottenburg has become one of the landmarks of the city. Interestingly, it was originally constructed as a simple summer residence, but today, the magnificent palace is the largest in the city.
The construction was initiated by Sophie Charlotte, the wife of Frederick III, in the 1690s. With the help of the architect Johann Arnold Nering, the modest county house was completed in a couple of years. However, once Frederick III became King Friedrich I of Prussia, the couple decided to transform it into a Baroque palace.
And so, supervised by architect Johann Friedrich Eosander von Göthe, they enlarged the house by adding two additional wings. The architect had recently visited Rome and Paris and returned impressed by the architecture he encountered there, so he decided to build the iconic dome. On top of it, he placed a sculpture of Fortuna, the Roman goddess of luck and fortune.
Sophie Charlotte, who was now the Queen of Prussia, wanted to completely redesign the gardens and entrusted Siméon Godeau, a pupil of the garden designer André Le Nôtre, known for his work at the Gardens of Versailles. He built an orangery that was home to many exotic plants and reshaped the park in the symmetrical patterns characteristic of a French garden. The theatre was also built for the queen, who was known for her passion for arts and literature.
The rooms of the palace were lavishly decorated and although they were all beautiful, one in particular was the most impressive, adorned with amber panels and gold ornamentation. The construction of the Amber Room lasted for six years, and once it was completed, the room was considered an “Eighth Wonder of the World.”
The queen was very pleased with the final result and hosted many celebrations at the palace. They named it Lietzenburg Palace, but, after the untimely death of the queen at the age of 37, the king renamed it the Charlottenburg Palace in her honor. After the death of the king, his son Frederick William I inherited the palace. The new king showed no interest in improving the palace or desire to continue the glamorous lifestyle of his parents. On the contrary, he was quite pragmatic.
He used the palace only for state matters and spent only the money required for its maintenance. The king even demolished the theater of his mother and used the material to construct a school. Also, he gave the Amber Room as a gift to the Tsar of Russia, Peter the Great. Little did the king know that during World War II, this masterpiece would disappear, never to be found again.
The Russians treasured the gift of the Amber Room and installed it in St. Petersburg. In 1941, when the Nazis invaded, they were intent on claiming it. The disassembled the Amber Room and took it back to Germany, where it was restored in Konigsberg. But then, when the end of the war loomed, it vanished. The leading theory is that the Germans tried to protect it by disassembling it and sending it out of the country in a submarine–which was torpedoed. If the 180-square-foot could be found today, it could be worth as much as $500 million.
As for the palace, improvements were made when Frederich the Great became king in 1740. He decided to use the palace as his residence and built an additional wing with private apartments and ballrooms according to the designs of the architect Georg Wenzelslaus von Knobelsdorff. The interior was decorated in the then-fashionable Rococo style. Later, Frederick William II continued with the improvements, building a theater, additional private chambers and another orangery in the gardens, which had a new English landscape garden appearance.
King Frederick William III and Queen Louise continued to use the palace as their residence. In 1810, a mausoleum that resembles a Greek or Roman temple was built in the garden for Queen Louise that afterward became a burial site for Frederick William II, Emperor William I, and other royals. The palace remained property of the monarchy until 1888 with the last owner being the German Emperor Frederick III.
During World War I, the palace was used as a hospital, while in World War II, it was heavily damaged during the bombing of Berlin. The reconstruction began in the 1950s and was only recently finished.
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The palace was restored to its former glory and the gardens were redesigned in their original form. The most lavishly decorated rooms in the palace are the chambers of Frederick the Great and the apartments of Queen Louise. The statue of Frederick William I in the courtyard welcomes visitors from around the world to the spectacular residence of the Prussian monarchs.