Prussian Chic

James Sheehan

  • Frederick the Great: King of Prussia by Tim Blanning
    Allen Lane, 648 pp, £30.00, September 2015, ISBN 978 1 84614 182 9

On 17 August 1991, the 205th anniversary of Frederick the Great’s death, his body returned to Potsdam. It was the end of a circuitous journey that began in 1943, when, as allied bombing raids reached deep into the Reich, the king’s remains were moved from Potsdam’s Garrison Church to the safety of a potash mine in the Thuringian forest. This is where American troops found the coffin in May 1945; in Operation Bodysnatch, they discreetly transported it to Marburg and then, seven years later, allowed it to be quietly buried in the chapel of a castle near Hechingen. Following the reunification of Germany, Frederick could finally be interred where he had always wished to be, under a simple marker on a terrace near his favourite palace, Sanssouci, surrounded by the graves of the Italian greyhounds who were among the few objects of his unwavering affection. Choosing to be buried among his dogs seems a typically Frederician touch, perhaps intended as a posthumous insult to his wife, Elisabeth Christine of Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel, who was clearly not supposed to share his final resting place. In death, as in life, Frederick wanted his body to be as far from hers as possible.

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