A Birthday Fit for a King: Frederick the Great at 300
Enlarge image The compound word "Friederisiko," created for this year's main exhibition, combines "Friederich" and the German word for "risk" (Risiko). (© picture alliance / dpa) An absolute must for all visitors to Potsdam, the federal state capital of Brandenburg, is a stroll through the royal gardens of Sanssouci. They amble down many long paths past elegant fountains, sculptures, stepped vineyards, the Temple of Friendship and the Chinese House. At the heart of the huge property they encounter Sanssouci itself, the bright yellow Roccoco palace built by Prussian king Frederick II (1712-1786). It was this residence, whose name means “without a care” in the king’s preferred language of French, that Friedrich II made the center of court life during his 46-year reign.
But the legacy of Friedrich II, who during his lifetime was already called “der Große” (the Great), extends far beyond Sanssouci, geographically as well as through time. The monarch who transformed Prussia into a major European state was renowned not only as a powerful ruler, but for his talents as a musician, writer, and philosopher of the Enlightenment; for his tactical innovations in military affairs; for the economic development of his lands; and for his religious tolerance.
Enlarge image Eminent Swiss portrait artist Anton Graff painted this famous depiction of Frederick the Great in 1781. It was said to be highly accurate. (© picture-alliance / akg-images) He also holds a significant place in early American history, as signer of the Treaty of Amity and Commerce between the Kingdom of Prussia and the United States of America. The 1785 accord, negotiated by then-ambassador to France Thomas Jefferson and Prussian Prime Minister Count Karl-Wilhelm Finck von Finckenstein, created a commercial alliance between the two states and resulted in the Kingdom of Prussia's being one of the first countries to recognize the United States.
In 2012, Brandenburg is marking the 300th birthday of Frederick II, also called "alter Fritz" (old Fritz) or simply “F2,” with a host of events, including exhibitions, theater and musical performances, a film series, readings, cabaret evenings, and illuminations, in Potsdam and throughout the region. The “Friedrich 300” theme year kicks off with the “Fest für Friedrich” series of cultural programs, starting on January 12 and culminating with a big “Happy Birthday, Friedrich!” celebration on his birthday, January 24.
Enlarge image The New Palace (Neues Palais) in the Sanssouci park in Potsdam, built by Frederick the Great starting in 1763, will partially open to the public again in 2012 following extensive rennovations. (© picture-alliance / akg-images) The plan for January 24 includes a wreath-laying ceremony at Sanssouci; a formal observance at the Konzerthaus on Gendarmenmarkt in Berlin, hosted by Brandenburg Minister-President Matthias Platzeck and Lord Mayor of Berlin Klaus Wowereit; and a festive evening of cultural programs called “Friedrich's Nacht” (Frederick’s Night) throughout the historic center of Potsdam. This is but the beginning of the rich Frederick the Great-themed offerings scheduled during the year.
The largest and most high-profile of these is the exhibition “Friederisiko” of the Prussian Palaces and Gardens Foundation (Stiftung Preussische Schlösser und Gärten Berlin-Brandenburg). From April 28 to October 28, guests are invited to learn about the great king by exloring up to 70 rooms—many open for the first time—in the New Palace (Neues Palais), the grandest palace he built at Sanssouci. The exhibition’s title is a compound word made of “Friedrich” and the German word for “risk,” “Risiko,” and explores how Frederick’s accomplishments relate to his penchant for risk-taking.
Enlarge image Adolph von Menzel painted this popular depiction of Frederick the Great playing the flute at Sanssouci in 1852. (© picture-alliance / akg-images) Additional “F2” programming includes an exhibition “King and Potato” (König & Kartoffel), examining the mythos surrounding Frederick’s encouragement of potato farming to alleviate food shortages, at the House of Brandenburg-Prussian History in Potsdam; an exhibit on the transformation of the landscape of the Oderbruch region through the king's colonization efforts at museums in Bad Freienwalde and Prenzlau; a film and event series “The wrong Fritz” (Der falsche Fritz) examining the more than 40 films featuring the Prussian king made in the first decades of the Babelsberg studios, at the Film Museum Potsdam; and the musical “Friedrich: Mythos and Tragedy” playing at the Metropolis Hall in Potsdam.
The extensive cultural attention devoted to Frederick the Great in 2012 testifies to his enduring significance in Germany today. In the words of Minister-President of Brandenburg Platzeck:
“Frederick II was without doubt the most famous and important king in the long line of Hohenzollern rulers which Brandenburg and Prussia experienced. He is a multifaceted character: there are many different views of this king, and he is portrayed in many different ways. I’m very hopeful that this anniversary, his 300th birthday, will contribute to a more truthful picture of Frederick II. But also, we want to focus on what he can say for our present and our future.”