I know I often complain on here when I feel that museums in England are poor value, but after a recent trip to Berlin, I might have to rethink some of my grievances with British museums. I went to Munich years and years ago, when I was doing the whole backpacking thing, and I wasn’t terribly impressed, but I thought I ought to give Germany another chance, so we headed to Berlin a few weeks ago. In retrospect, going in the middle of July was a mistake, because almost nothing was air conditioned, something I wasn’t counting on because unlike Britain, Germany gets proper summers (and even though it’s only hot in London for a few weeks, most public places are still air conditioned, even if our homes aren’t). I completely wilt in hot conditions, and lose the will to do much of anything (as evidenced in my trip to Thailand), so making it to all the attractions I’d planned on visiting was always going to be a losing battle. However, I did head across town with my boyfriend (on the most awful sweltering train) to see Charlottenburg Palace, which was built for Sophie Charlotte of Hanover in the late 17th century (Sophie Charlotte was the sister of George I of England, and was by all accounts an extremely intelligent and cultured woman who sadly died in her prime, at the age of 36).
I implied at the start that I had some complaints, so here we go. Admission to just the palace was 12 euros, which I figured fair enough, it was comparable to other stately homes, and cheaper than most British palaces. However, they made it seem like the gardens weren’t included in the price of admission, so we paid the extra 3 euros for a Charlottenburg+ pass, which was good for entrance to everything on the site. After visiting the palace, we realised that the gardens surrounding it were public grounds, and we didn’t need to pay admission at all to visit them, much less a supplementary cost to our palace admission. All the extra cost of the + pass was to gain admission to a little bonus pavilion behind the palace that we couldn’t have cared less about visiting anyway, and the mausoleum, which was fine but not worth paying to see. So be aware that unless you want to see some extra art, the base 12 euro ticket will suffice. Another thing that riled me up was the fact that they charged 50 cents to use the toilet. I understand why they might charge for the toilets in the gardens, since they’re open to the public, but the only way you could access the toilets in the palace was if you paid admission, and if I pay 15 euros for something, I at least want to be able to use the bathroom free of charge. They also charged extra for information sheets (I mean, basic single sheets of paper that would be free to just stand there and read and then return in any other museum), and it was another 3 euros if you wanted to take pictures in the palace, which is why all of mine are of the grounds. I understand that the palace is probably enormously expensive to run, but if that’s the case, then just tack an extra euro onto the admission fee, don’t charge people to use the loo! It just felt really money-grubbing and made me instantly resent the place.
They offer a free tour, but only in German, so everyone else is dependent on the audio guide, which surprisingly was free of charge (given that they charged for everything else). It actually wasn’t that bad, as it had a fast-forward feature and most of the recordings were relatively short, so that you could hear all of it in the time it took to look at a room. That said, though I have awesome retention when I read something, I suck at remembering things I’ve only heard, so most of the history of the palace completely escapes me. My overriding memory is of room after room filled with portraits of bewigged men sporting hilarious “Dirty Sanchez” style mustaches that looked like they’d been Sharpied in over the painting as an afterthought. And some portraits of Sophie Charlotte herself, and her husband, Frederick I of Prussia. Whilst the palace was once home to the famed “Amber Room,” which was covered entirely with amber (obviously), it was given as a gift to Peter the Great of Russia (along with all Frederik Rusych’s finest specimens…man, I wish I could travel back in time just to see Peter’s baller collections), and “lost” after the Nazis stole it during WWII. The most famous remaining room is therefore the Porcelain Cabinet, which certainly has the most porcelain I’ve ever seen adorning the walls of a room – it was built to hold Sophie Charlotte’s collection, but she died before it was finished. There was also a small chapel inside the palace, with a pipe organ, and lots of rooms named after the colour of their panelling, which was usually some kind of ostentatious velvety looking number that certainly didn’t cool the place down any.
There were two floors inside the palace (though the audio guide kindly gave me the option of only seeing one floor and then leaving, I guess in case I couldn’t bear the temperature inside the palace anymore, or really needed a pee but didn’t have any change), and the upstairs was set up more like a museum rather than as a reconstruction like the downstairs rooms. I did like how when I was looking through some of the showcase rooms, the audio guide told me that they wouldn’t describe the pieces to me because then I’d linger in there too long and block everyone’s way, so they would just play some classical music for my enjoyment as I looked at the collections (I wish the English Heritage audio guides were so thoughtful and advised visitors to be considerate of other people trying to look at stuff…I’m looking at you, woman blocking the Horn Room at Osborne House). My favourite display in this section was a set of china that Frederick requested be decorated with “exotic animals,” so he ended up with a monkey and then a bunch of imaginary creatures. You could also see some of the Royal Jewels, though as the selection was limited to jewelboxes and one pair of diamond earrings, it was ultimately not that impressive.
We were already pretty tired when we left the palace, because of the heat and all, but since we stupidly paid extra to see ALL the buildings, we felt like we should at least check them out. The New Pavilion was directly behind the palace, and as I said earlier, is home to an art collection. I cringed a little when the man inside offered us the use of another audio guide, because I felt it would be rude to turn it down, but I could not bear the thought of listening to another full audio tour. So I took one, then fast-forwarded through most of it, but from what I heard, the guy voicing this one (which was entirely different from the one in the palace, which was split between a different man and a woman) sounded like the Crypt Keeper or Igor or something. He had this really creepy monotone voice, which amused me, but wasn’t conducive to learning about art. I gave all the paintings the most cursory of glances, and then thought it would be best to find the mausoleum, which was obviously more up my alley. After wandering for a bit through the gardens (which had rather nice flowers and a fountain), I spotted a rock pointing to the mausoleum, which turned out to be about four times the size of any mausoleum I’d ever seen (when we spotted it in the distance, I couldn’t believe that was it). The inside held stone effigies of four of the Hohenzollerns buried in there, and felt nicely chilled because of all the marble. In fact, that’s probably the only thing that made the extra admission even sort of worth it, the delightfully cool temperature inside.
After walking back through more of the gardens, I was ready to leave because the heat was just unbearable (I was hoping they’d have a stand that sold ice creams and maybe pretzels, like this one palace we went to in Vienna where I had the biggest and most delicious pretzel of my life, but no such luck), so we called it a day and headed back to the station, even though we never found the Gazebo, which was also included in the Charlottenburg+ pass. I still don’t know an enormous amount about the Prussians or House of Hanover (at least, the branch of the family that never made it over to Britain), as the audio guide mainly covered things like the furnishings and the layout of the palace. Even though it is the largest palace in Berlin, I’m not sure it was worth going to the outskirts of the city for. Those little extra charges just really got on my nerves, and other than the Porcelain Cabinet, and Sophie Charlotte herself, there was nothing particularly remarkable about Charlottenburg. 2.5/5 is a fair score, I think.