The Interior of the Palm House (1832/1833) by Carl BlechenAlte Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin
No time to travel to far off lands but still lots of money? Why not just bring the far off lands to you?
In 1793, Prussian king Frederick William II decided to turn Peacock Island, 68 hectares of wilderness in the middle of Berlin’s Haver river...
...into something of a personal Neverland for himself and his mistress, Wilhelmine.
He built gardens and a fantastic summer palace, constructed of white-painted wood but designed to look like a ruined marble villa.
Other quirky Wanderlust features included a dairy shaped like a gothic church, a cold store that looked like a pyramid, a bark-clad hermit’s hovel, a peacock coop resembling haystack and...
...within the palace at the top of a tower, a room called the Tahitian Cabinet decorated to feel like a straw hut in the South Pacific...
...complete with magnificent painted views over a palm-fringed, pale blue ocean; a fantasy within a fantasy.
But it was the next king, Friedrich Wilhelm III, who brought the real exotic to the island, importing a veritable menagerie of wild animals from monkeys to kangaroos to bears...
...and building the massive glass Palm House, immortalised here by German master-painter Carl Blechen, to bring a taste of Bengal to Berlin.
"What works for me," said a reviewer of the time in the magazine Museum, “is the harmonious warmth of the whole… the soft spicy haze captures the mild scent of the greenhouse."
In order to make room for the huge fan palm tree in the middle, the floor of the building was lowered and an Indian-style dome added.
Friedrich’s son Friedrich Wilhelm IV didn’t share his passion for animals, though, so they were moved into what would become the Berlin Zoo in the 1840s.
Staatliche Museen zu Berlin – Preußischer Kulturbesitz