The vast Neues Palais in Potsdam stands in imposing contrast to the small, intimate Sanssouci. Its lavishly decorated banqueting halls are as fascinating now as they were when it was built.
Friedrich II built the imposing Neues Palais as a symbol of prestige at the opposite end of the palace gardens. After the Seven Years’ War from 1756 to 1763 it was designed to show his neighbours and enemies that they had better take Prussia’s new power seriously.
Unlike the small and intimate Sanssouci, the new palace was therefore a bombastic edifice with long suites of rooms, and lavishly decorated banqueting halls and galleries. The builders worked in record time, unconcerned about cutting corners here and there. In cash-struck Prussia, they also had to imitate expensive brickwork. Even so, or perhaps precisely because of this, the Neues Palais as something you simply must see.
The history of the Neues Palais
Friedrich II himself called the Neues Palais a vainglorious boast. He preferred the intimacy of Sanssouci, and used the impressive new palace to house his guests and hold lavish banquets. He had apartments furnished for members of his family – but not for his wife. Queen Elisabeth Christine was not welcome at court and lived separately from the king – although officially performing her role as queen – at Schloss Schönhausen. After the death of Friedrich II, his successors gradually installed more modern conveniences such as electric lighting, bathrooms with toilets and in 1903, a lift. Kaiser Wilhelm II, well-known as a lover of bombast, liked to use the Neues Palais as a summer residence. In winter, the huge building was cold and draughty, so his wife Auguste Viktoria had to bathe in the cupboard to avoid the chill.
After the fall of the monarchy in 1918 and the abdication of the Kaiser, the Neues Palais became a museum. The interior furnishings were looted in 1945 by Soviet troops.
The architecture of the Neues Palais
The large, three-winged palace looks impressive from the outside, but the red-brick façade was a painted imitation to save money. It was built in the Late Baroque fashion, even though that style was already outdated. The roof is decorated with a dome and many sculptures – 292 all told.
The dome is also pure decoration, with no dome-roofed hall under it.
Behind the palace building are the Communs, utility buildings connected to the palace by an underground passage.
The Schlosstheater is a particularly fine example of Rococo theatre architecture. The building is red and white, decorated with gilded ornaments. Plays are still performed on the small stage today.
The Schlosstheater is currently closed for renovation.
Banqueting halls and galleries
Inside the huge palace, its two hundred rooms, royal apartments and four galleries are decorated in the exuberant Rococo style. The most eccentric of the halls that Friedrich II used to impress his guests is probably the Grottensaal (Grotto Hall), where, following extensive restoration, more than 24,000 seashells, minerals, fossils and gemstones glitter and sparkle in all their original glory.
The Marmorgalerie (Marble Gallery), with its marble cladding and gold-framed ceiling paintings is a particularly fine example of Prussian Rococo, that you shouldn’t miss. The opulent marble hall is open to visitors again after extensive renovation.
UNESCO world heritage site
The Neues Palais belongs to the UNESCO world heritage site known as the Parks and Palaces of Potsdam and Berlin. The cultural landscape in Potsdam and the south of Berlin is an assembly of incomparable beauty and harmony – no wonder that they call it Prussia’s Arcadia.
At the Neues Palais you can also find the Café & Restaurant Fredersdorf, where you can enjoy fresh, contemporary cuisine in majestic surroundings.
With the sanssouci+ tickets, available in all Berlin Tourist Infos, you can visit a wide selection of Prussian palaces and parks, including the Neues Palais in Potsdam.
Apr-Oct, Wed-Mon 10am-6pm; Nov-Mar, Wed-Mon 10am-5pm; Grand Tour, Mar 29-31, 10am–5pm; King's appartment, Apr-Oct, Wed-Mon, 10am–6pm
Find further information here