Up until quite recently, Berlin was relatively small; a diminutive conurbation of around 60 square metres. Then, in 1920, in an effort to compete with the likes of sprawling metropolises such as Paris, the Prussian government signed an act which effectively expanded the city’s borders to encompass surrounding towns and villages. Overnight, the area of Berlin increased 13-fold and the population more than doubled. One particularly pleasing result of this move is that today, the city is home to no fewer than eight grand palaces, once belonging to those old rural communities.
The very first neoclassical building in Germany, Bellevue Palace, was erected in 1786. Located on the edge of Tiergarten, the magnificent three-winged palace was, like many structures in the city centre, badly damaged in WWII and underwent substantial reconstruction in the 1950s. For the past two decades, it has been the official residence of the President of Germany, and as such, it’s not easy to get inside. Still, the structure can be enjoyed in all its bright white glory from the grounds of the equally immaculate palace garden (Schlosspark Bellevue), which is open to the general public.
Berlin’s largest palace and probably its most famous, Charlottenburg was built in 1699 by Friedrich III as a summer palace for his wife Sophie Charlotte. Surrounded by a stunning baroque garden, the palace is home to old royal apartments, oriental porcelain collections and silverware chambers, as well as the rococo New Wing, which was added by Friedrich the Great.
One of the few palaces to survive WWII in tact, thanks to its situation away from the city centre, Schönhausen Palace has nonetheless seen its fair share of 20th century drama. Adopted by the Nazi government as the official art department and store for so-called “degenerate art”, it was then used as a state residence for the GDR, before being handed over to the new German government at unification. In 2009, Schönhausen was reopened after a multi-million euro renovation project, and today hosts a number of permanent exhibitions about its captivatingly long and varied history.
Once the manor house of a country estate, Britz Palace was built in 1706 on the site of a medieval half-timbered house. The estate is located in Neukölln, a district of the former West, and renovated during the 1980s to feature an exhibition of life during its heyday. Arguably, however, the main attraction is the 1.8 hectare palace garden (Schlosspark Britz), with its winding paths, lime tree colonnade, and a bronze copy of The Milkmaid, a neo-classical sculpture made in 1816 by Pavel Sokolov for the park of Catherine Palace near Saint Petersburg.
A short hop by car or public transport brings you to the ancient town of Köpenick, which though officially now part of Berlin, retains its rural atmosphere, with a large percentage still covered by water or forest. Built between 1677 and 1689 in Baroque style, the palace first became a museum in 1963, and currently hosts exhibitions on furniture and decorative art from the Renaissance, Baroque and Rococo periods.
Also known as Humboldt Palace, after being bequeathed to the eponymous noble family in the 18th century, Tegel Palace was built in 1558 and originally served as a manor house and hunting lodge for Brandenburg’s aristocracy. Rebuilt and extended by renowned architect Karl Friedrich Schinkel in the early 1800s, and unharmed by the war, the palace and grounds provide a rare glimpse into the layers of the area’s rich history. The palace is also the site of the world’s first psychoanalytic clinic, founded in 1927 by Ernst Simmel.
Far from the crowded centre but still easily accessible by public transport, Friedrichsfelde Palace today makes up part of Berlin’s Tierpark — the eastern and lesser-known of the city’s two zoos. Built in 1695 and bedecked with its eye-catching neoclassical facade over 100 years later, the palace is now a museum housing paintings, sculptures, furniture, clocks and neo-classical earthenware. Book a guided tour for a compelling insight into the history of the building and those who inhabited it.
Berlin City Palace
As the historical capital of Prussia, and subsequently Germany, Berlin had its own palace, right in the centre next to Museum Island. Berlin Palace was originally built in the 1400s and transformed over time to reflect the de-rigeur styles of each subsequent era. Heavily damaged in the war, the dilapidated building was torn down by the GDR in 1950, despite strong protests from the West. In 2013, the decision was taken by authorities to rebuild a replica of the palace at great cost — a source of continued contention among local residents.