When completed in 1905, the imposing neo Renaissance Berliner Dom on Berlin’s central Museumsinsel was not only intended to serve as a protestant church – equal in its appeal to that of St Peter’s in Rome or St Paul’s in London – but also a burial ground for the Hohenzollern royal family. German Emperor, Wilhelm II, intended that following his death that he would be interred inside the crypt of this impressive place of worship, alongside the founder of modern Prussia – Frederick I. There was no separation of church and state in Prussia, so Wilhelm II also served as the Supreme Governor of the Evangelical State Church, and certainly expected that his position in the dynastic tomb of the building was guaranteed – as monarch and head of the church he would have only have had to consult himself.
While the famous church organ inside this building fell victim to the First World War – as its pipes were melted down for the war effort – so did the last German Emperor’s ambition that his final resting place should be inside this building. Following the abdication of Wilhelm II, the disgraced monarch fled to the Netherlands, where he lived and died in exile at his estate in the town of Doorn. His body lies in a maroon-coloured coffin, in a small mausoleum in the gardens of this estate, eagerly awaiting his return to Germany upon the restoration of the Prussian monarchy according to the terms of his will.
His grandfather, Wilhelm I, who oversaw the unification of Germany in 1871 – and whose legacy he did so much to overshadow – is already in Berlin, in much more monumental surroundings – resting in a mausoleum originally built for his mother Louise in the gardens of the Schloss Charlottenburg palace in West Berlin.
Beyond the Berliner Dom, the Garrison Church and the Friedenskirche in Potsdam have also served as final resting places of the Hohenzollern royal family; this list as varied as the history of the country they once ruled over is complex.
When the highly revered Queen Luise von Mecklenburg-Strelitz died aged only 34 of pneumonia in 1810, she was initially buried inside the Berliner Dom. Dying at such a young age cemented her reputation as the ‘soul of national virtue’, something that in her lifetime she had successfully cultivated. Venerated for her generosity and fashion sense (popularising the neckerchief as an accessory), she occupied a much more prominent role than her predecessors – frequently advising her husband on matters of governance and war. A mother of nine children, her attempts to secure a more advantageous peace with Emperor Napoleon after Berlin was occupied by French troops in 1806, earned her the respect and admiration of future generations and the introduction of the Order of Luise (the female equivalent of the Iron Cross) following her death.
Following her arrival in Berlin in 1793, Luise was presented with Schloss Charlottenburg as a residence by her father-in-law, then ruling King Frederick William II. The palace would become a favoured location, although the princess would spend much of her time at the Paretz Palace near Potsdam it was here that her husband decided to construct a mausoleum to serve as her final resting place.
Finished by December 1810, and overseen by master architect Karl Friedrich Schinkel, this mausoleum utilised leftovers from other royal projects – such as columns from the Oranienburg Palace and steps from Schloss Sanssouci in Potsdam – and was set at the end of a dark avenue of fir trees. Sculptor Christian Daniel Rauch was commissioned to create a marble sarcophagus, that is today considered a masterpiece of 19th century German sculpture. Thirty years after the death of his wife, King Frederick William III would join Luise at the mausoleum – which would be structurally altered to make room and introduce a Christian style interior form.
The artist responsible for the original sacrophagi of Queen Luise, Christian Daniel Rausch, initially created a plaster version of the work that was sent to Rome to be made of Carrara marble. On the way back to Berlin, by boat, the vessel carrying the work was hijacked by an American ship, only for the work to be recovered by an English ship and eventually arrive in Berlin - five months late.
Of the nine children that Luise brought into the world, two of those would eventually join her in this building – at least in part. Her eldest son, Friedrick Wilhem IV, often dubbed ‘the romanticist on the throne’ for the many buildings he constructed in Berlin and Potsdam would serve until 1861. After suffering from several strokes he would be left incapacitated and succeeded by his brother, Wilhelm I – the second oldest son of Queen Luise and Fredrick William III.
Frederick Wilhelm IV’s reign saw him struggle to deal with the German Revolution of 1848 and turn down the title of Emperor of the Germans, eventually overseeing the conversion of Prussian into a constitutional monarchy. When he died in 1861, he was interred in the Friedenskirche (Church of Peace) in Potsdam – which he had personally designed to resemble a high Italian monastery and inspired by the early Christian Basilica di San Clemente in Rome. As the King of a mainly Protestant kingdom, Friedrich Wilhelm IV was faced with reconciling the Protestant majority with the newly acquired Catholic minority in his Rheinland province. The King’s involvement in the establishment of a civic association to fund and complete the Cologne Cathedral was also a reflection of this dedication to improving the relations of his subjects. Despite being interred with his wife in the crypt of the Friedenskirche, Frederick Wilhelm IV’s heart was removed from his body and buried at the feet of his parents at the Schloss Charlottenburg Mausoleum.
He would be succeeded by his brother in 1861, the most highly regarded of the Prussian Kings since Frederick the Great. By age 12, Wilhelm I was already an officer in the Prussian Army and fought alongside his father against Napoleon in the Wars of Liberation – participating in the defeat of the French Emperor at Waterloo, under Field Marshal von Blücher. As his brother left no heir to the throne, Wilhelm succeeded him in 1861 and – as was tradition – crowned himself in the East Prussian city of Königsberg at the Schlosskirche.
Commander-in-chief of the Prussian forces in the Second Schleswig War against Denmark in 1864 and the Austro-Prussian War in 1866, Wilhelm I became the de facto ruler of the northern two-thirds of Germany and in 1867 established the North German Federation, with himself as the Bundespräsidium – the presidium of the Confederation.
On 18 January, in the Hall of Mirrors in the Palace of Versailles, he was proclaimed Kaiser Wilhelm – German Emperor – following the defeat of Napoleon III at the battle of Sedan and the surrender of the French forces. His coronation and the unification of Germany would see Prussia – which at this time held two thirds of the territory that would be gathered into the unified country – transformed from one of the most important European powers to the principle leading part of one of the world’s most important states. Elevating the Prussian ruling family to the status of German Imperial royal family.
That such an important figure in world history now rests in the tranquil surrounding of the Schloss Charlottenburg park is a reflection of the tumultuous and irregular development of Germany since his reign. No great shrine or colossal monument marks his final resting place; but a relatively modest family crypt where he remains buried alongside his wife – Augusta – his mother and father, and the heart of the brother he would succeed.
Walk Through The Brandenburg Gate | Explore The State Museums On Museum Island | Visit The TV Tower – Fernsehturm | Cross the Cold War Border At Checkpoint Charlie |
Visit The Site Of Adolf Hitler’s Führerbunker | Explore The Topography Of Terror | Visit The Reichstag Cupola At Night | Explore The Forum Fridericianum |
Ride The Fastest Elevator In Europe | Journey Into The Memorial To The Murdered Jews Of Europe | Step Inside The Neue Wache |
Explore The Former Jewish Quarter – Spandauer Vorstadt | Explore Bernauer Strasse – Visit The Berlin Wall | Visit The Soviet War Memorial In Treptower Park |
Walk Across The Bridge Of Spies
Enter The Palace Of Tears – The Tränenpalast | Step Inside The Olympic Stadium | Explore Erich Mielke’s Office At The Stasi Museum |
Walk Along Karl Marx Allee | Visit The Oldest Church In Berlin – The Nikolaikirche | Visit The Grave Of Frederick The Great | Walk Through The Ruins Of Anhalter Bahnhof |
Stand On The Platz Des Volksaufstandes | Visit The German Resistance Museum | Visit The Soviet War Memorial In The Tiergarten | See The Georg Elser Memorial On Wilhelmstrasse |
Step Inside The Kaiser Wilhelm Gedächtnis Kirche | Visit The Gleis 17 Memorial | Visit The Schloss Charlottenburg Mausoleum | Explore The Interbau – IBA 57 |
Visit Cecilienhof – The Site Of The Potsdam Conference
Visit The Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp Memorial | Visit The Socialist Cemetery – Zentralfriedhof Friedrichsfelde | Visit The Seelow Heights Memorial |
Explore The Allied Museum In Dahlem | Visit The Ravensbrück Concentration Camp Memorial | Visit The Commonwealth War Cemetery |
Visit The Site Of The German Surrender In 1945 – Karlshorst | Cross The Bösebrücke At Night | Visit The Brandenburg T4 Euthanasia Memorial