King Frederick the Great of Prussia, who played the flute, argued with Voltaire, conquered parts of Poland and attacked Austria, would have turned 300 yesterday.
The Fritz frenzy of anniversary events planned for this year in the Berlin and Potsdam region reflects the fascination the king still exerts, even if not all Saxons and Bavarians are convinced (they fought on the other side.)
Frederick (1712-1786) is today remembered more for his cultural than military achievements -- he wrote poetry and history as well as composing music for the flute. The beautiful rococo Sanssouci palace complex in Potsdam bears witness to his love of architecture and garden design.
It was his favorite refuge -- the place to which he retreated between wars to recuperate, relax and plan the next one. After the particularly arduous Seven Years’ War, he built the Neues Palais in Sanssouci park. This is where the biggest extravaganza of the year is to take place.
Too ostentatious even for the king, the palace was used for guests. A mega-exhibition called “Friederisiko,” extending over 70 newly restored rooms, will present Frederick as a risk-taker. It runs from April 28 to Oct. 28. For information and tickets, go to http://www.friederisiko.de.
Frederick treated his favorite sister to a sumptuous dressage display with 200 extravagantly adorned horses at Sanssouci in 1750, accompanied by music and dance. The palace is reviving the king’s “carousel” on four nights in July.
For more information and tickets, go to http://www.carrousel-de-sanssouci.de.
Frederick traveled fast -- he used to gallop from Potsdam to Berlin in an hour. These days, it takes 40 minutes in the S-bahn commuter train. Just opposite where his old Schloss is being rebuilt, the German Historical Museum on Berlin’s Unter den Linden is exploring how the king’s image has changed over the years.
Various German regimes have adapted Frederick’s image to suit their needs. In the days of the Kaiser before World War I, he symbolized German national unity. In the turbulent Weimar Republic, he came to represent order and conservative values. During World War II, he was held up by the Nazis as a model soldier, steely and unyielding.
After 1945, Frederick was reviled as a warmonger in both East and West Germany, and it is only in the last decades that he has regained stature. The exhibition opens on March 21 and runs through July 29. For more information, go to http://www.dhm.de/.
As a child and adolescent, Frederick suffered at the hands of his father Frederick William I, a bad-tempered, gouty despot nicknamed the “Soldier King” because of his fondness for square-bashing. He had no patience with a son who liked music and reading, described him as an “effeminate fellow” and beat him regularly.
At 18, Frederick made a failed attempt to flee his father’s joyless court and the physical abuse. His accomplice Hans Hermann von Katte was arrested a few days later in Berlin. Frederick William ordered Katte to be beheaded in front of his son, who fainted on the spot.
In 1733, his father forced Frederick into a marriage with Elisabeth Christine von Braunschweig-Bevern. The marriage -- which he bitterly resisted -- allowed the crown prince to set up his own court at Rheinsberg, north of Berlin, and his happiest years were spent there preparing for the throne.
He took up his four-decade-long correspondence with Voltaire, played music, wrote poetry and history and enjoyed the company of well-traveled, educated young men.
The palace at Rheinsberg, which Frederick extended to make more symmetrical and grander, is hosting an exhibition about his time there, focusing on his passion for building and gardening, his vision and strategy, and his role as a husband.
The exhibition opens on Aug. 5 through Oct. 28. For more information, go to http://www.spsg.de/index_10139_de.html
As king, Frederick minted thousands of coins, including some to reward brave soldiers. These are on show at the Bode Museum on Berlin’s Museum Island to Oct. 14.
One of the most famous portraits of him, Adolph Menzel’s “Flute Concert” showing Frederick playing, was painted long after the king’s death. It will feature in an exhibition at the Alte Nationalgalerie on Museum Island opening March 23.
His porcelain, at first obtained by military occupation of the Meissen factory in Saxony before he set up his own factory in Berlin, will go on display at Schloss Koepenick from June 15.
For more information on all three exhibitions, go to http://www.smb.museum
There’s even a show exploring Frederick’s relationship with the potato, opening on July 27. The House of Brandenburg-Prussian History in Potsdam will examine the myth that the king introduced the potato to Brandenburg to save his people from hunger. The truth is that he did promote its cultivation -- fighting religious concerns that this heathen food from America would replace biblical bread.
For more information, go to http://www.hbpg.de/
(Catherine Hickley writes for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are her own.)