Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Travelling round Berlin and Potsdam

The theatre at Berlin according to Jonas Hanway. 
(The image is copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral.) 

In this week’s cathedral library blog, travel back to the year 1753, so don your tricorn, pack your clay pipe and pair of extra large riding breeches, and join Jonas Hanway (1712-1786), English merchant and journal writer. Hanway later became a well known essayist, philanthropist, and apparently even was an early exponent of the umbrella in England. Some of his published views would not be accepted today. However, his travel writing is still of interest. He travelled on a trade route to Persia and back to England via Russia, Germany and Holland and recorded his experiences in detail.

Amongst his many adventures, in Volume 2 Chapter 31, Hanway arrived in Berlin, the entrance to which he described as: “airy and elegant; the streets are regular and clean, and the houses uniform.”

Hanway gave detailed descriptions of the court of the King of Prussia, his palaces, army, and society. After being shown around the royal palace he visited the library “which would be deemed a mean apartment for a common school.”  However, he was impressed by the treasures kept on the shelves including a Bible formerly belonging to King Charles I, which had been used at the King’s execution. It was given to the Elector of Brandenburg as a relic by Archbishop William Juxon. He also saw a copy of the first ever Bible printed in America, a medieval German Bible, and several manuscripts that had once belonged to Cardinal Mazarin.

After describing the beautiful Berlin Opera House, Hanway notes a night time court masque at which the participants dressed in various classical costumes and staged a mock battle at which the wind blew out most of the lamps lighting the show and a local prince managed to injure himself with his own sword. Hanway was much more impressed with a magnificent mock battle staged by the Prussian army outside the city, to which all the citizens had come to watch.  

Hanway noticed that Berlin was greatly influenced by Paris, with French widely spoken by the citizens. He liked how the Prussian capital had elegant structures and regular streets and was reckoned one third larger than London, and yet surprisingly had only one eighth of the inhabitants. Hanway also noted the exchange rate for future fellow travellers reading his book. At this time it was possible to get 6 Prussian dollars for 1 English Guinea. We can only wonder at what he would have made of travel in present day Europe.

The Arsenal at Berlin at the time of Hanway's visit.
(The image is copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral)

A mile from Berlin he was shown around the Charlottenburg Palace, and then went just beyond Potsdam to see the palace of Sans Souci. He was impressed with the interiors of both places. However the gardener at San Souci would not allow him to wander the grounds with his sword, commenting that even the Prussian king would not do this. The modern tourist undoubtedly no longer has such a problem.

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