When completed in 1905, the magnificent neorenaissance Berliner Dom, on the northern edge of the city’s central Museumsinsel, was not only intended to serve as a protestant church – of equal standing 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 he would be interred inside the crypt of this impressive place of worship, alongside the founder of modern Prussia – Frederick I. Although, in outlining his desire for this monumental building to, in effect, serve as his tombstone – befitting his much addressed inferiority complex – Wilhelm was also highlighting a problem that had plagued the Hohenzollern family since their arrival in this region back in the 1400s – the lack of a dynastic resting place where all members of the family are gathered.
While Friedrich I and his wife Sophie Charlotte are both kept within the confines of the Berliner Dom, Frederick’s son and successor – Friedrich Wilhelm I – is to be found in the Church of Peace in Potsdam. His son, often referred to as Frederick the Great, is buried nearby outside his pleasure palace, Schloss Sanssouci. Contrary to his wishes, Frederick was initially buried next to his father in the Potsdam Garrison Church – before being moved at the end of the Second World War for safe keeping. For much of the Cold War period he resided at the Hohenzollern ancestral home, Burg Hohenzollern, before finally being laid to rest at Sanssouci in 1991.
Even for the most powerful of the German royal families, a final resting place was not always final; and the choice of location would speak volumes about the deceased. Perhaps no more so than in the case of Wilhelm II – who would not be buried in the Berliner Dom. Following his abdication, 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.
The man whose legacy he spent his entire life overshadowed by – his grandfather, Wilhelm I, the first German Emperor – sought no grand tomb or faux-Italian cathedral to spend eternity in. Instead, he rests silently tucked away in the intimate surrounding of the gardens of the Schloss Charlottenburg in West Berlin, inside a mausoleum originally built for his mother.
By the time Queen Luise von Mecklenburg-Strelitz died in 1810 – aged only 34- her reputation as the ‘soul of national virtue’, something that in her lifetime she had done much to cultivate, was already secure. 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, Friedrich Wilhelm III, 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 led to 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 and, 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 structure actually 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 also join her in this building – at least in part. Starting with her eldest son, Friedrick Wilhem IV, often dubbed ‘the romanticist on the throne’ for the many buildings he constructed in Berlin and Potsdam.
Friedrich Wilhelm IV’s reign until 1861 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, he was interred in the Church of Peace (Friedenskirche) in Potsdam, which he had personally designed – inspired by the early Christian Basilica di San Clemente in Rome. His burial here would be incredibly symbolic.
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 a reflection of this dedication to improving the relations of his subjects – his insistence that the Chuch of Peace should reference a pre-Luther era of Christianity was an attempt to provide an image of Christianity that could unite both Protestant and Catholic Prussians.
Despite being interred with his wife in the crypt of the Friedenskirche, Friedrich Wilhelm IV’s heart was removed from his body and buried at the feet of his parents in 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 January 18th 1871, 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.