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Schönhausen Palace

  • Schloss Schönhausen
  • Schloss Schönhausen
  • Schloss Schönhausen

    After the façade renovation, Schönhausen Palace in Berlin-Pankow has a new baroque look.

  • Schloss Schönhausen
  • Schloss Schönhausen

    View of the renovated former study of the first GDR President, Wilhelm Pieck, in Schönhausen Palace.

The baroque Schönhausen Palace in Berlin-Pankow has been the scene of important historical events on several occasions.

Located in the north of Berlin, Schönhausen Palace is a special museum that documents the changes brought about by its changing owners in an unusual way. It recalls the beginning by the Prussian noble family zu Dohna, the style-defining half century under Prussian Queen Elisabeth Christine - wife of Frederick the Great - and the four decades during which the palace was the presidential residence and guest house of the GDR. Last but not least, there are also traces from the time of Elector Frederick III, who negotiated a historic change in the European power structure with the Emperor's negotiators at Schönhausen Palace: his coronation as "King in Prussia".

History of Schönhausen Palace

The first building of the palace was erected by the Burgrave Christian Albrecht von Dohna (1621-77) and his wife Sophie Theodore von Brederode (1620-78). Their "petit palais" was built in 1664-65 and was most likely located opposite the present castle. The couple had a very friendly relationship with the sovereign, as they were both related to the House of Orange in the Netherlands.

Palace Museum

Today, the palace museum exhibits the precious inventory of the important noble family Dohna from their former palace in Schlobitten (East Prussia). Valuable furniture, paintings and textiles as well as arts and crafts from three centuries are on display.

Building History of Schönhausen Palace

According to the latest research, the building history of the palace building begins in 1685, when High Court Marshal Joachim Ernst von Grumbkow had a new building erected on the Dohna estate acquired years earlier. This small, horseshoe-shaped house is still hidden in the palace today, recognisable by the seven central window axes on the garden front. The Brandenburg Elector Friedrich III. (1657-1713), who had assumed the electoral dignity in 1688, probably remembered the family reunions with the friendly Dohnas in Schönhausen and bought the three-storey manor house in 1691 after Grumbkow's death.

Schönhausen Palace under the Hohenzollerns

From 1691 on, the palace remained in the possession of the Hohenzollerns until 1918. The ruler, who was eager to build, had his architects Johann Arnold Nering and Johann Friedrich Eosander von Göthe develop the newly acquired palace into one of his 20 pleasure palaces. The stucco ceilings on the first floor were designed by Nering, and both architects were involved in the design of the garden façade. The three round-arched windows, divided by pilasters, strongly resemble the façade of Charlottenburg Palace, where Nering and Göthe were employed at the same time.

Secret Meetings at Schönhausen Palace

Around the year 1700, Schönhausen Palace was the scene of important diplomatic proceedings: secret negotiations for the creation of a new crown in Europe took place here. Since a Kingdom of Brandenburg was impossible on the territory of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation, an agreement was reached with the imperial emissaries on the title of "King in Prussia" because Prussia lay outside the Empire. Thus, on 18 January 1701, Elector Frederick III crowned himself King Frederick I.

The Prussian Queen at Schönhausen Palace

The tactical label "Prussia" had long since become the brand of the entire Brandenburg territory when Queen Elisabeth Christine (1715-97) moved into the palace in 1740. Schönhausen Palace owes its present size and design to Frederick the Great's wife. The Prussian queen suffered much disrespect, bordering on humiliation, from her husband and the royal family. After his ascent to the throne in 1740, Frederick II (1712-86) no longer allowed his wife to take part in his life and literally deported her to Schönhausen Palace. In his own kingdom of Sanssouci Palace in Potsdam, she did not even have rooms available.

Frederick the Great and the Queen of Prussia

As a couple, Frederick the Great and his wife only appeared on official outings. Elisabeth Christine, daughter of Duke Ferdinand Albrecht II of Brunswick-Bevern, was cut from a different cloth than her husband Frederick: she was described as shy, conservative and pious - which was why her religious father-in-law had chosen her to be the wife of his headstrong heir to the throne. However, Frederick the Great had a deep aversion to the female sex. He called his powerful adversaries in Vienna, Paris and St Petersburg - Empress Maria Theresa, Madame Pompadour and Tsarina Elisabeth - the "three arch-whores of Europe". And of his own marriage he later judged: "(King) Solomon had a harem of a thousand wives and thought he did not have enough; I have only one, and that is still too much for me." Frederick derisively called his wife "the mute".

Renovation Work at Schönhausen Palace

The palace, which Elisabeth Christine received as a gift from Frederick in 1740, was very modest to begin with. Contemporaries turned up their noses, and guests mocked that the measly estate in faraway Schönhausen was unworthy of the Queen of Prussia. Even accommodating the sovereign's entourage of 50 people during the summer months was a minor feat. However, Elisabeth Christine achieved the greater feat over the decades by achieving the greatest possible effect with meagre funds and imaginative improvisation. The palace received the splendour befitting a queen after the end of the Seven Years' War, during which the summer residence had been plundered. From 1763 onwards, the old building was doubled in size to its present size by the chief building director Johann Michael Boumann the Elder (1706-76). The staircase with its elegantly curved, double-flight staircase was also created in the course of this conversion work. With the help of outstanding architects, Elisabeth Christine created her own personal retreat.

Role of Women in the Construction of Palaces

Noblewomen were important players in the construction of palaces in Europe. They were primarily responsible for the interior design, and were free to furnish and decorate their own pleasure palaces according to their own ideas. In doing so, it was important to keep up with the latest international fashions in architecture and art, for the interior was always a prestigious figurehead in absolutism. Thus, what the soft tones of the façade do not suggest unfolds in the palace: the lively play of forms and the lively ornamentation of the Rococo.

Interior Design of Schönhausen Palace

In the ballroom on the first floor, created in 1764, the young stucco artist Johann Michael Graff conjured up an excellent late Rococo room decoration. The talented modeller later also worked on Warsaw Castle. The Queen's living quarters were on the ground floor, which today has been completely reconstructed in Elisabeth Christine's style. Next to the central garden hall, where dinners and small concerts were held, were the queen's private rooms. These included the Cedar Gallery - an elongated hall, completely panelled with the precious wood and furnished with mirrors in silver frames The antechamber at the other end of the palace wing shows the taste of the 1790s with French wallpaper and classicist furniture. The trendy Elisabeth Christine had some of the rooms decorated with precious Chinese wallpaper while still an aged widow. The extravagant wall decoration from the late 18th century is still preserved today and can be seen in the palace.

Schönhausen Palace becomes Niederschönhausen Palace

Another part of the palace museum is dedicated to a chapter in Germany's recent history. Many Berliners still remember the building as "Niederschönhausen Palace", the guest house of the GDR leadership,. synonymous with the unrestricted rule of the Socialist party (SED). In 1949, the Socialist rulers chose the building as the residence for the first - and last - president of the GDR, Wilhelm Pieck (1876-1960). The palace became a sealed-off sovereign domain of the political authorities. While the GDR's head of state settled in Schönhausen, the SED destroyed the legacy of the Hohenzollerns elsewhere: the cityscapes and historically valuable city palaces in Berlin and Potsdam were razed to the ground in the post-war period.

Wilhelm Pieck at Niederschönhausen Palace

Pieck's originally preserved workroom on the upper floor of the palace has an air of conservative coziness. As a co-founder of the Communist party KPD, Pieck belonged to the radical forces that fought and destabilized Germany's first democracy from the beginning of the Weimar Republic. As an obedient protégé of Stalin, he created the GDR along the lines of the Soviet dictator. The massive desk of the SED functionary conceals not only a radio, but also a telephone system with a direct connection to the Ministry for State Security.


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Tschaikowskistraße 1
13156 Berlin
0331/96 94-200
Opening Hours
November-March: Saturday & Sunday from 10 AM till 4 PM
April-October: Tuesday to Sunday from 10 AM tull 5.30 PM
Elevator and accessible restrooms available. Touch station for blind and visually impaired visitors. Schönhausen Palace was awarded the certificate "barrier-free" for people with limited mobility and "partially barrier-free" for wheelchair users.
Admission Fee
€6, reduced fee €5

Public transportation

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Last edited: 8 April 2022