Southwest of Berlin, not far away from the town of Potsdam, embedded in the wonderful landscape of the “Havel”-river, lies an island which is less known than the world-famous gardens of the Sanssouci-Palace, but is also part of the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage.
This island is called the “Pfaueninsel”, the island of peacocks, because if you take a walk on a hot summer afternoon in the garden of this island, you might find some real peacocks crossing your paths.
Besides, if you are interested in ancient architecture, you can find something very special on this island: an old house, which looks like a small gothic castle with a tower with battlements at its top. This house is called the “Kavaliershaus” and it has a very interesting story:
Some historians claim that parts of the building were produced in Venice/Italy in the middle of the 14th century. Later, in 1360, the stones were transported to Nuremberg/Germany where they were intended for a bishops palace. There is not much known about what really happened to them.
In 1480 they were transported to the Baltic sea to be a part of a late-gothic patrician house in the “Brotbänkergasse” (polish: “Ulica Chlebnicka”) in the midtown of Gdansk (today’s Poland). There, the old storefront of the building stood for over 300 years.
In the beginning of the 19th century the house was in a neglected state.
The owners had lost their interest in it and finally wanted to tear it down.
In 1824 the prussian King Friedrich Wilhelm III decided to extend his guest house (built in 1804) on the island of peacocks, which had been used since 1795 as a pleasure ground for the prussian kings. He engaged the famous architect Karl Friedrich Schinkel to create the plans for the new part of the building. Schinkel and Friedrich Wilhelm III were fascinated by history and ancient architecture, gothic architecture included. Both were travelling through Europe a lot and both were looking for incitations for new styles in art and architecture.
Friedrich Wilhelm III used to collect some smaller parts of gothic and renaissance architecture, particularly from southern european countries. He bought them, brought them home to Potsdam and embedded them in some of the new buildings. This was a kind of souvenir-culture.
When Friedrich Wilhelm III heard in 1824 that the house in Gdansk was to be torn down, he and Schinkel reacted quickly. They decided to buy the storefront of the building and to ship the whole front on a boat to Berlin and to make it a part of the new guest house, the so-called “Kavaliershaus”! Every single stone of the front was disassembled and numbered in order to put it back together on the island of peacocks.
In 1825 the house was completed. The storefront had ended its long journey through several countries and epochs.
But its story went on in Gdansk: After 1824, in the place where the old house stood, the owners had built a new house with an unspectacular new front. It stood there until 1945.
In the last days of World War II, during the battles between the Nazi-soldiers and the Red Army, Gdansk was hit by strong artillery. A very big part of the old town was burned down and destroyed.
When the new People’s Republic of Poland was formed, the government decided to rebuild some of the old towns of the new Poland. Gdansk was one of them.
But the conservators in Gdansk did something special: when they reconstructed the old houses they didn’t choose the storefront from the time right before it was destroyed. They chose the nicest storefront in the whole history of the building. So when they came to rebuild the house in the Ulica Chlebnicka they didn’t choose the “new” front, they copied the former front from 1480!
Now, this is the reason why this special storefront exists twice today!
And it’s a brief anecdote about the relevance of fake or original as well.
If you would like to see for yourself, you’re invited to visit both places: The island of peacocks (Pfaueninsel) in Potsdam and the Chlebnicka-street in Gdansk.
And, if you are a polite person, maybe one of the small stone-lions at the door of the house will tell you a detailed story about it…
Pictures by the author
Photos and Text: Jarek Sierpinsk