In the Western district of Charlottenburg, close to the river Spree, you find one of the most beautiful palaces in Berlin. It’s the largest royal residence in Berlin dating back to the Hohenzollern family and a great destination for a half day trip. The whole complex is about 500 meters/1,500 feet long, dominated by a green copper dome with the gilded statue of Fortuna, the Roman goddess of fortune and luck. Two orangeries, a theater, and several smaller buildings in the huge park – this palace looks like the residence of an important prince at least. Today, it’s also venue for classical music concerts and weddings.
You might also be interested to check out our self-guided Charlottenburg tour. If you enjoyed the stroll around Charlottenburg Palace gardens, you might also enjoy a visit to the Tiergarten which is located in West Berlin as well. Other famous sights and attractions that are a short bus ride (bus 109) away are the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Memorial Church and the Berlin Zoo.
Visit Charlottenburg Palace
The palace gardens are open daily from 6a.m till sunset. The interior places such as the palace, or mausoleum are open Tue-Sun from 10a.m – 6p.m.
Getting there by public transportation is easy: nearby S-train stations with the S41 and S42 trains are Westend and Jungfernheide, nearby U-Bahn stations with the U7 trains are Mierrendorfplatz and Richard-Wagner-Platz or with the U2 trains Sophie-Charlotte-Platz.
Tip: Some boat tours which start in the city center end/start nearby as well, so you can combine this visit with a Spree river cruise.
Admission to the palace is €12 (students: €8), admission for the palace and the other buildings is €15 (students: €11). It’s free for kids aged 6 and younger.
About the Charlottenburg Palace
A Small Summer Residence
But the building started smaller and more modest. Charlottenburg Palace was commissioned in 1696 by Sophie Charlotte, the wife of Frederick III, elector of Prussia (a specific kind of monarch in the complicated German system of princes, kings and emperors) who managed to become Frederick I, King of Prussia in 1701.
The small palace, which now forms the central part of the building under the dome (added 1709-1712), was Sophie Charlotte’s summer residence. Back then; it was in the middle of the countryside with only the small town of Lietzenburg nearby. Berlin was far away, given the means of transportation of the era. A lover of the arts, namely the performing arts, she had also a small opera house built. The garden was landscaped in the characteristic symmetrical way of the baroque period. One of the architects of the palace was Andreas Schlüter, famous for the City Palace in the historic city center of Berlin, currently under reconstruction. In 1701, another architect, Eosander von Göthe enlarged the palace. What was done around 1700 is now known as the “Alter Flügel” or “old wing”.
Sophie Charlotte died in 1705 at the age of 37 years. The king Frederick I added the first orangery for the hibernating of Mediterranean plants that stood outside in summer in large pots. This was a common practice in the 17th and 18th century in palaces in Central Europe and the dome. When he died, things changed in Prussia and in the palace.
King Frederick I had spent a lot of money to be able to rise form elector to king. And he admired the lifestyle of the French King, Louis XIV, and the “Sun King”. So he spent on prestigious architecture, lavish festivities and such. His son, Frederick William I, the so-called soldier king, was pious, dutiful and avaricious. He only spent on maintenance, rented out parts of the park and gave away his mother’s theater for demolition – a school was built of the bricks. He only used the building for some acts of state.
Rococo for King Frederick II
His son, Frederick II, the best-known king of Prussia (also known as “the Great”), rose to the throne in 1740. He liked his grandmother’s palace and used it as his residence. He commissioned his favorite architect, Wenzelslaus von Knobelsdorff, to ad the “Neuer Flügel”, the new wing with private rooms and rooms for festivities. All in the then fashionable rococo style. But in 1744 already, he felt he needed even more reclusiveness and opted for Potsdam where he enlarged the Potsdam City Palace and had the today well-known Sanssouci Palace built as his summer residence.
Frederick William III and Louise – the Dream Couple of the early 19th Century
His nephew (Frederick II didn’t have children of his own) Frederick William II added a new theater, a second orangery and private rooms. The architectural style of these additions changed from rococo to early neo classical. The park was enlarged and the new part was landscaped in the more natural English manner. His son and his daughter-in-law, Frederick William III and Louise actually lived in Charlottenburg Palace with their many children. They actually loved each other, this was not common among monarchs with their arranged marriages and thus led an almost middle-class lifestyle. Louise later became famous for her confronting Napoleon Bonaparte in 1807 and asking him for better conditions in a peace treaty (sent by the male politicians hoping she could charm him). Louise died in 1810 and was buried in a mausoleum in the park of Charlottenburg Palace. The fact that Napoleon hadn’t been very impressed by her and her early death at 34 as a mother of seven made her a martyr in Prussia and later in Germany and useful for anti-French propaganda.
Military Hospital, Damage and Reconstruction
The last monarch to use the palace was Emperor Frederick III, the “emperor of 99 days” in 1888. When he ascended to the throne after his father’s long reign, he was 57 years old and had been suffering from cancer for a while already. He then moved to Potsdam and died a couple of days later. During World War I, the Palace was used as a military hospital and in 1926 an administration to take care of the former royal and imperial palaces and parks was established. In World War II, Charlottenburg Palace was heavily damaged. The head of the West-Berlin administration for the palaces and parks, Margarete Kühn, opted for the reconstruction, which was finished in 1957.
During the German partition, Charlottenburg Palace hosted parts of the collections that are now on Museum Island, namely Early History. Today you can visit the castle and different collections inside: French paintings of the early 19th century in Frederick III and Louise’s residence, china of the famous KPM factory in the Belvedere (1788 under Frederick II) in the park, temporary exhibits in the theater (also 1788) sculptures in the New Pavilion (1825 by Karl Friedrich Schinkel). The renovations of the palace that started in the early 21st century are almost done, but expect to see some scaffolding here and then.
Written by Gundula Schmidt-Graute