The Marmorpalais Mystery


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If you happened to read carefully the preface of On War that Marie von Clausewitz wrote in 1832, you would notice that she emphasized the Marmorpalais (or the Marble Palace in English) as her place of work and residence.

Of course I wanted to see it, especially since this early classism building, after meticulous renovation, is open again for the public.

Yet when I mentioned to the guide the reason for my visit, she vigorously denied that On War was or could have been edited there. Oops! Now I have a mystery on my hands

Let me start from the beginning. Marmorpalais is a beautiful private residence commissioned by Frederick William II of Prussia and built at the end of the 18th century. It is located on the shores of Lake Heiliger Sea and is somewhat hard to reach from Berlin. If you ever want to visit, I sincerely suggest that you go first to Potsdam Main Station and then to switch to local buses. This will save you lots of walking in the heat and crossing the nude beach (no joke!). The palace is close to the famous Cecilienhof, the location of the Potsdam Conference in 1945.  

Marmorpalais suffered great damaged at the end of World War II when a bomb hit first the north wing and then a grenade the main building. The Soviets provisionally fixed ceilings and floors and used the palace as an officers’ casino. Later Marmorpalais became the East German GDR Army Museum. In the 1980s, the long process of restoration finally began.

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A team of historians, art historians, artists,and artisans did meticulous and marvelous job. Marmorpalais could be seen only as a part of a guided tour that takes about an hour. The price is 5 Euro. I cannot post pictures from inside since I need a special permission for publication (and I really don’t have time for the long bureaucratic process).

So here we come to my dispute with the guide who also turned out to be the museum’s curator. I saw a small cozy study (Schreibkabinett) somewhat isolated from the other rooms and vividly imagined how Marie worked on her husband’s manuscripts there. After Carl von Clausewitz’s death she became Oberhofmeisterin (Mistress of the Robe or the most senior lady in waiting in English) for Princess Augusta, the wife of the later Emperor Wilhelm I. In that position, Marie also cared for the couple’s first-born son, the future Emperor Frederick III (he, however, ruled the Reich for only 99 days). Marie used her free time to prepare On War for publishing.

Or at least this is how we knew the story so far. The guide at the Marmorpalais vehemently denied this course of events. She admitted hearing about Clausewitz, On War, and Marie von Brühl for the very first time; yet this did not matter because, according to my guide, only members of the royal family lived in the palace. Everyone else inhibited the surrounding living quarters. I pointed out that there was a certain level of intimacy between the royal family and Marie, and probably as a Oberhofmeisterin she had, when not a room at the Marmorpalais, then some type of office. My guide answered that there simply were not enough rooms for the staff.

To my argument that Marie named Marmorpalais as the place where she worked on the manuscripts, the guide waived her hands and suggested that many people wanted to be associated with the palace. Touché!

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Some of the surrounding houses for the staff

 

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Does it really matter where exactly Marie worked on the manuscript? Not really. To describe that small cozy cabinet, of course, would have been a nice detail in my book. But the story of Marie and Carl von Clausewitz is very compelling and full of many, many other beautiful details.

The positive outcome from my dispute with the guide is that she decided to open the archives and show me that I am wrong. Very wrong! I left her my email address and really hope that she does what she promised. I ran out of time on this trip in Germany to check myself (who would’ve expected that after a bomb and a grenade, missing ceilings, and Soviet occupation, the archives would be still in tact?)

At the end, this adamant guide might do me a great favor……

  1. #1 by Johannes Allert on August 12, 2013 - 10:25 am

    Score Vanya 1. Guide 0.

    The best thing was that you were able to follow in the steps of history. Great detective work, but then again, you’re a journalist! 😉

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