While we were in Berlin we took the train to Potsdam, a city southwest of Berlin and the capital of Brandenburg state. It’s a charming town, with plenty for tourists like us to see and do.

Potsdam is well known for its parks, including their largest. It was the grounds of the summer home of Frederick the Great (1712-1786), with his stunning Sanssouci palace (completed 1747) as its centerpiece. The name comes for the French word for no worries or carefree. What a perfect name for a place to which to retreat in the summer!

Sanssouci is a short walk northeast from the city center. Enter the park through this gate.


It’s a long, tree-lined walk back to the palace.


You pass this ivy-covered house and statue of Frederick the Great on the way.


As you round a corner, the palace comes into view with its terraced approach. I’m not given over to gushing, but even I was wowed by this scene.


You walk around the central fountain, which is lined with statues.


Women are heavily represented in these statues, and every last one of them is naked from at least the waist up.


So. Many. Bare. Breasts. This statue was the strangest, depicting a half-woman, half-animal with children crawling all over her. I can’t say what this was meant to convey in Frederick the Great’s time, but I don’t love the imagery now.


The artist’s preference seemed to be for perfectly round breasts with a central nipple. Even in the 1700s, depictions of women set impossible standards.


Moving on. Margaret and I had been doing a lot of walking in Europe over the preceding week and a half and our middle-aged hips were starting to crab at us. All of these steps were not welcome. But notice the iron gates spaced out on the terraces.


We’re not sure what they were originally for, but Margaret envisioned large dinner parties on these terraces with tables at each of these gates. It might have been! But Frederick the Great had them built to grow figs, grapes, and plums.


From afar, Sanssouci looked cheerful and inviting as a wide, singe-story structure in bright yellow. As we ascended the last steps to the palace, I saw the many fussy, and at times odd or severe, details. They are a sharp contrast to the distant view.


The figures all strike dramatic poses. I’m not going to show any of them up close, but if you click the photo below to go to Flickr, you can move forward and backward through this album to see some close ups. I’ll just say that there are a lot more gravity-defying, perfectly round breasts, and leave it at that.


I don’t know what this is, what it is for, or what it was called. Google didn’t turn up anything quickly.


But its intricate shadows make it fun to walk through, and to photograph.


There’s one of these on each end of the building, with a gazebo at the end.


Around back you’ll find these twin colonnades.


They part in the middle, on the building’s north side.


From there you have a clear view of these castle ruins.


We lingered around Sanssouci for a long time before making our way back down the steps. We paused on a bench to rest and look back.


Even here we found surprising and intricate detailing, like this angry fellow spewing water.


I made these photos with my Nikon Df and a 28-200mm f/3.5-5.6 G AF Nikkor lens.

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23 responses to “Sanssouci”

  1. Juna Avatar

    I always very much enjoy your views of my home country and even city. Thank you for sharing these views. This time I was a bit amused about you noticing all the breasts on the statues, while for me it was of course normal with such statues all around – even in Berline. I never took even notice of it really, so that’s quite interesting.
    But what I wonder, very much understanding you walked much too much during your time here, please say, the both of you have seen more on the park and buildings than only Sanssouci, like for example the roman baths or the Charlottenhof or the Drachenhaus, just the little precious things away from the main trails.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Oh yes, we encountered many perfectly round breasts of stone in Berlin too! :-)

      We had only one day in Potsdam and so much to see while we were there. While in this park, we made our way to Sanssouci and back, and that was it. We spent probably 2-3 hours in the park in total, a big chunk of our day in Potsdam!

      1. Juna Avatar

        Ja, I can understand – so a reason to come back and explore the bigger part of the part and it’s palaces. :-)

        1. Jim Grey Avatar

          I think when I return to Germany I’d like to see Bavaria. I’ve never been in that part of the country! I’m a Hochdeutsch sprecher through and through, and I’m curious if I can make myself understood in the south with its very different dialects! I’m also very interested in the Bavarian beers. :-)

  2. Julius Oskar Feldt Avatar
    Julius Oskar Feldt

    The lattice tunnels might be originally built for growing roses, in German they would be called Rosentunnel.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Das macht Sinn! I’ll bet you are right.

  3. DougD Avatar

    I’d not heard of this before, so I did a bit of reading and apparently women were not entertained at Sanssouci during Peter the Great’s lifetime, so they didn’t have to feel weird around all the round breasts…

    Architecture sure is a fashion, it comes and goes.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Hunh. I looked it up just now and it turns out that Frederick was almost certainly gay and preferred the company of men at Sanssouci. TIL, as the kids say.

  4. marcusterrypeddle Avatar

    A nice set of photos. I wonder if the lion-lady is something out of mythology. Rufus Wainwright has a song called “Sanssouci” that seems to be set at this palace. It even has a reference to “the boys that made me lose my blues”. One of my favourite songs by him.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I was wondering the same about the lion lady. I’ll look up the Wainwright song!

  5. Shirley B. Avatar
    Shirley B.

    I thought I’d shed some light on the photo of the statue you describe as “a woman who is half animal, with her children”.

    The woman is a sphinx: half lion, half human. The children are in fact called “putti” (meaning “cherubs” in Italian). This kind of statue was much loved during the Barock era.
    (I just refreshed my memory by reading up on this statue. Found a German website explaining all of this.)

    As for naked breasts on a lot of statues: that style has been around in Europe for thousands of years. The sculpture “Venus of Milo” was probably made in 130 B.C., in Greece. They can be seen throughout Europe, in museums, parks or in cities. And they are so common that we hardly notice them ar all.

    Fun fact: during most of the Barock era, a woman showing a bare ankle was considered much more erotic than bare breasts.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thanks for filling in the blanks here. I wonder what it was that made breasts not erotic, but ankles erotic.

  6. Shirley B. Avatar
    Shirley B.

    Trying to find an answer to that question might make you get a PhD in history, anthropology, the development of clothing through the ages!

  7. brandib1977 Avatar

    What a beautiful place and a gorgeous day to explore! The lattice structure with interesting shadows – was it meant for growing roses or perhaps some kind of vining plant?

    Your observations on the statues made me giggle. Europeans have enjoyed their naked lady statues for centuries. What’s interesting to me is how perceived beauty has changed over time. During some eras, artist depicted the most beautiful women as fuller figured, soft looking. This makes me miss all those art history classes I took in college just for the sake of learning about something I enjoyed.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      It had to be for roses or something like it. But they’re just standing there like this today.

      Isn’t it strange how the standard of beauty changes? I was talking with the woman who cuts my hair yesterday about her curly-haired daughter and how badly she wants straight hair as it’s the standard today. What a shame society makes it hard for her to enjoy what God gave her.

      1. brandib1977 Avatar

        That is sad, especially for kids. Today it’s straight hair, a few years ago everyone wanted perms.

  8. Shirley B. Avatar
    Shirley B.

    I forgot: the lattice structure is a pergola. The idea is that climbing plants (e.g. roses, vines, wisteria or such) grow on it and provide shade to the ladies back then. Real ladies avoided the sun. They wanted their skin to remain white. Only the peasants who worked the land had brown skins and they wanted to stand apart from them.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thanks for filling in the blanks!

  9. Dirk Saeger Avatar

    Sanssouci was built in Frederician Rococo style along sketches of Frederic himself and planned by von Knobelsdorff.
    It was a palace on a vineyard. Behind the green iron gated doors on the terraces grew and grow vines. There used to be orange trees between the other trees in summer.

    For the bare breasts on the statues; that was Barock and later Rococo and a very common thing in Europe at that time. Note, how normal the bodies of the statues are, well nourished and beautifully shaped. I know that these “exposures” are uncommon for Americans with their puritanically influenced history.
    Frederic II, Frederic The Great, lived in that palace. He was an admirer of french culture. French was the spoken language in the palace.
    I have been there quite some times before the wall came down. It was a common destination for school field trips. We even had a class reunion in the parks of Potsdam a couple of years ago.
    You missed out on the New Palais on the west side of Park Sanssouci.
    Potsdam was the heart of Prussian culture.

    Many greets

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      While we were there I was wondering what Potsdam and Sanssouci were like while the Wall was still up. Sounds like Sanssouci at least was well maintained?

      My only exposure to East Germany was East Berlin, from Checkpoint Charlie to in and around Alexanderplatz, one day in 1984. That part of Berlin was in poor shape then.

      1. Dirk Saeger Avatar

        The park of Sanssouci was pretty well maintained, since it was something to show off with to the world.
        Checkpoint Charly was the only point were an American, not stationed in West Berlin as a military was allowed to pass to East Berlin. As far as I know, citizens of West Germany were not allowed to pass through Checkpoint Charlie. They had to use different border crossings.
        Even years after the wall came down you could tell wether you were in East or West Berlin just by the kind of trash cans.
        Shades of grey would describe it perfectly, hadn’t that not been used otherwise. You looked into the faces and façades of a declining economy led by stubborn old men.

  10. J P Avatar

    I remember that Sanssouci (or Sans Souci) was the name of a high end restaurant in Washington DC in the 70s. I only know it from being mentioned in an episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show. I had no idea it was the name of a palace.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      The phrase just means “no worries” in French, so I guess it’s not surprising it was applied to other things.

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