Column: Charlottenburg Palace: Honoring a queen’s independence


Charlottenburg Palace, the largest and most elegant palace in Berlin, honors a royal wife known for her fierce independence.   

Sophie Charlotte was born to a German prince and his wife in 1668. Her mother’s plan that she marry either widowed King Louis XIV of France or his son, the Dauphin, failed. In 1684, just shy of her 16th birthday, she married Prince Frederick of the German House of Hohenzollern, whose 21-year-old wife had died the year before. Sophie Charlotte became queen of Prussia when Frederick became the first king of Prussia in 1701. Frederick adored his wife, reportedly never seeking the affections of his official mistress, a position he borrowed from Louis XIV. Sophie Charlotte was apparently not quite so enamored. She commissioned a Baroque palace for herself outside the city limits of Berlin, where she lived with her own court. Speaking four languages fluently, the queen frequently invited intellectuals and artists to her palace, where she entertained them by playing the harpsicord and singing in Italian operas produced in the palace’s theater. King Frederick could visit the palace only upon her invitation, which she usually extended on his birthday. When Sophie Charlotte died in 1705, the grieving king named the palace and the surrounding area “Charlottenburg” in her honor.

Succeeding rulers greatly expanded Charlottenburg Palace. Among the additions was a dome, topped by a gold statue of Fortuna, the Roman goddess of luck, which rotates with the wind. The palace was opened to the public in 1880 when it was no longer used as a royal residence. Today, Charlottenburg Palace displays the largest collection of 18th-century French paintings outside of France. The theater now houses a history museum, featuring artifacts brought back to Germany by archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann, who discovered and excavated the presumed site of Homer’s fabled city of Troy.