Why do people place spuds on Old Fritz’s grave?

My recordings in Berlin are almost finished, they have went well, but it means that my time in Berlin is drawing to a close, which means my Vanishing Berlin series will be concluding, or perhaps only paused, as I would like to return, perhaps with my Pops, as there is so much more to see and I know, he, being a boffin of Germany history could add so much to this Vanishing series. I know he could assist me with understanding Frederick the Great and all the Fredericks that came before him and the clan that they came from – The Hohenzollerns – they who defined Berlin more than anyone else. Alexandra Richie, in her beyond excellent Faust’s Metropolis writes, ‘The Hohenzollerns were the luckiest of the ruling families of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Europe. Of all the great houses theirs was the only one to produce a succession of four healthy male heirs, none of whom were inept or deranged. Three were truly outstanding monarchs. This enviable continuity began with Frederick William in 1640, extended to the first King in Prussia, Frederick I, to his son Frederick William II, the ‘Solider King’ , and finally to Frederick the Great, who died in 1786.’ Confused? That’s okay, that makes two of us, in fairness that is a lot of Freddies to get your head around.

Fritz’s bath

For now, until Pops comes back here with me, let’s make things nice and easy and just concentrate on Frederick the Great, thing is, the word ‘just’ doesn’t really work when it comes to Frederick De Grot, after all the chap is known as The Great. His father, ‘The Soldier King’ set about toughening him up, creating a child regiment for him to drill when Frederick was six. At age fourteen, he was placed in charge of the Potsdam grenadiers. However, the young Frederick was more interested in music and philosophy rather than the art of war, memorising Aristotle, Rabelais and Bousseut and dreaming of being a poet. He once planned an escape to England, but it was rumbled and The Soldier King beheaded his co-conspirator and soulmate, Hans Hermann von Katte.

New Palace, Potsdam

The Soldier King shuffled off to Valhalla in 1740 and Frederick immediately set about making Berlin an enlightened city. It’s epicenter became Sansoucci, the rococo palace sat on top of the terraces of Postdam. He filled it with books, artefacts, thinkers, musicians and artists, eventually even moving Voltaire, the man of the century in as a housemate. Peace beckoned, or did it? The apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree. Germany was a fractured monster of over three hundred states and principalities, and Frederick sought Prussia to bind them into the one. Leading his armies from the front like a madman, he galloped around but got gobbled up by the Habsburgs, French and Russians. At then the Miracle of Brandenburg, eh miraculously occurred, when crazy Peter III, obviously liking the cut of Frederick’s jib, changed tack and placed his soldiers under Frederick’s command. Prussia won. Frederick the Great changed the destiny of Europe.

Soviet graffiti behind portrait paintings in the New Palace, Potsdam – the black and white facsimiles are in place of missing portraits

However Berlin once again had suffered terribly, her streets were wrecked, her buildings were burnt, her insides were charred. Frederick settled it with himself that that was the price of victory and began rebuilding Berlin, as the capital of his new nation. He welcomed in over 300,000 colonists from France, Germany, Poland, Greece and other Mediterranean countries. All religions were tolerated, the building of a Catholic cathedral in the centre of the city was even permitted. Berlin was made great with monumental building structures featuring combined elements of baroque, rococo and neo-classical styles. Unter den Linden began to approximate what it looks like now with large palaces, new Academy buildings, the Royal Library, the Opera House and St. Hedwig’s Cathedral. The Tiergarten was redesigned in the Baroque styles with mazes, avenues of trees, benches and tents.

Back of the Garden facade at Sanssouci

Frederick represented the end of an era – the last of the absolutist monarchs, the Enlightenment had been good for him, he modeled his rule on its ideas but the Enlightenment was double edged, the people were no longer content to waddle after the dictates of a monarch. By the end, he cut a bizarre and lonely figure, waddling around Sansoucci in his tattered uniform, lonely and friendless.

Grotto Hall, New Palace

Napoleon knew his greatness, after destroying the Prussian army at Jena and Auerstadt, he rode through the Brandenburg Gate, dismounting at the Garrison Church, he stood beside Frederick’s tomb, telling his fellow officers, ‘ Hats off gentlemen, if he were still alive, we would not he here.’ Frederick had created Prussia by binding together the splintered Hohenzollern lands. Now, Napoleons troops stripped his palaces of his beloved spoils. Berlin would grow nostalgic for the old certainties. What would they fill the vacuum with?

Regarding his burial, the old Fritz wrote, ‘I have lived as a philosopher and wish to be buried as such, without circumstance, without solemn pomp, without splendour. I want to be neither opened nor embalmed. Bury me in Sanssouci at the level of the terraces in a tomb which I have had prepared for myself… Should I die in time of war or whilst on a journey, I should be buried in the first convenient place and brought to Sanssouci in the winter.’ It took while for that to happen – they placed the tired resisting corpse into the Garrrison Church, where he lay lying beside The Soldier King, balling him out of it, no doubt. He lay there until 1943 when German soldiers took him to the safety of an underground bunker in Potsdam, then to the saltmines at Bernterode, where the US Army found him and brought him to Marburg Elisabeth Church from where they he was carted to Burg Hollenzollern at Hechingem in 1952. Eventually in 1991, 205 years after they simply couldn’t do what he asked his remains were laid out on the front crease above the terraces of vineyards at Sanssocui.

Grave of Frederick De Grot

So, what’s with the spuds? Well, he introduced them to Germany and I guess they like them.

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