The most interesting excursion to be made in the vicinity of Berlin is to the Prussian Versailles, - Potsdam, with its historic palaces, including Sans Souci, the favorite residence of Frederick the Great. The latter edifice is far from imposing, being a long, low building, erected on the summit of a terrace, reached from the park by a flight of steps.
The Hark Of Sans Souci.
All who have climbed this staircase from the fountains will recollect the orange-trees on either side. Frederick, who took great interest in this garden, complained once to the minister from France that in so cold a climate his oranges and olives would not thrive. The courtier hesitated for a moment, at a loss for a reply; for it was painfully evident that Frederick had told the exact truth. At last, however, he had recourse to diplomacy and answered: "Your Majesty may at least console yourself with the thought that, however it may be with your orange-trees, your laurels can never fade."
The Palace Of Sans Souci.
Above a window in the centre of this little villa is inscribed the name bestowed upon it by Frederick, - Sans Souci, " Free from Care " ; for here the Prussian sovereign, warrior though he was, desired to lay aside his sword, and become a royal poet and philosopher, dividing his time between music, literature, and the society of intellectual , friends and gay companions.
The villa of Sans Souci consists of merely a single row of apartments connected with one another, the central room being the dining-hall, the floor of which is of marble mosaic. Here, Frederick gave the dinner-parties which became so famous, not for the wines and viands that he furnished, but for the wit and intellectual discourse contributed by the King and his illustrious guests. In the Berlin National Gallery hangs a painting representing such a scene. Another apartment was used by Frederick for a music-room, and here were given the private concerts, at which Emanuel Bach would play upon the spinet, and other musicians on the violin and 'cello, while the King, with rare skill, played the flute.
On my last visit to Potsdam, the custodian of Sans Souci informed me that young Emperor William had given here, the night before, a private musical after the style of those which Frederick used to give, and that he himself had attempted to play the flute in imitation of his great ancestor, while the invited guests, as well as the Emperor, had been arrayed in the wigs and costumes of a century ago.
Among the distinguished literary men whom Frederick gathered about him, after being freed from the mad tyranny of his father, was Voltaire; and the traveler can still behold at Sans Souci the suite of rooms assigned to him during his famous visit to Frederick, which ended so unhappily for them both. The fascination which the genius of Voltaire exerted over Frederick is easily explained. On account of his unfortunate bringing up under a boorish father, who detested everything that was French, Frederick had learned to hate, on the other hand, almost everything that was German; and, being naturally bright, scholarly, and vivacious, he greatly admired the famous writers of France who then dominated the literary world. Hence, it is not surprising that the young Prince entered into correspondence with Voltaire, the most celebrated poet of his time. The latter was then fifty years of age, and, pleased with Frederick's admiration, knew how to increase it by skilful flattery. Thus, he wrote to the young Prince : " I believe that Berlin will one day take precedence over Athens; for Frederick is already greater than Socrates." With such a commencement their friendship rapidly increased.
The Orangery, Potsdam.
Interior Of The Orangery.