Dr Julien Drouart
Peacock Island: Towards the romantic castle
Updated: Jan 12, 2022
The Peacock Island with its romantic castle is a must-see on a Sunday outing. The old-fashioned charm of the island and the peacocks that roam freely in the parks make this excursion a highlight.
A visit to Peacock Island and its castle is optional. It is also a personal favourite.
The kings of former Prussia were always fond of rural retreats, far from the hustle and bustle of the city. The architectural ensembles they built for this purpose were for personal use. They were not intended for the exercise of power. In contact with nature, lakes and forests, the places were suitable for leisurely walks, hunting, in short, for idleness and tranquillity.
These holiday homes took the form of personal castles, the use of which was limited to the reign of the prince who built them. His successor then had his own building constructed. This permanent renewal allowed the enrichment and multiplication of princely places. One example is Peacock Island Castle, southwest of Berlin.
At the end of the 18th century, King Frederick William II commissioned an architectural ensemble to be built for his mistress. The codes of romanticism were favoured. The entirely white pleasure castle takes the delightful form of a bucolic Roman ruin. After the death of his father, the new king Frederick William III made it his summer residence. His wife Louise undertook the development of the island's natural areas into landscaped gardens. Outbuildings were constructed, including a palm grove and a menagerie for exotic animals. This initiative led to the creation of a zoo a few years later.
At one time used for social gatherings of National Socialist leaders, Peacock Island has been a protected nature reserve since 1924 and is administered by the Foundation for Prussian Castles and Gardens in Berlin-Brandenburg.
A journey to the edge of the Prussian idyll
The Peacock Island can be reached by ferry, for a fee that will partially compensate for the maintenance costs of the park. The crossing only takes a few seconds. This allows the number of visitors to be regulated and thus guarantees the peace and quiet of the site. Unfortunately, this peace and quiet is disturbed at the weekend by the noise of the engines of the many speedboats.
The island is largely made up of forests and wide meadows, which are home to exceptional flora and fauna. The shores are generally covered with reed beds. The paths are very well marked. It takes only 90 minutes to walk around the island.
On the way, visitors can see free peacocks. The wilderness is complemented by the gardens laid out in the 19th century by the landscape architect Peter Joseph Lenné. The clear perspectives give the whole a sense of balance and harmony. In addition, they offer remarkable views of the historic buildings.
The castle is the centrepiece of the complex and can only be visited in the company of tour guides on regular 30-minute tours. The relatively small size of the neoclassical rooms gives an impression of intimacy and closeness, reminiscent of the very personal use made of them by the Prussian kings.
A cultural and natural heritage
For modern Berliners, a trip to Peacock Island is still considered to be a relaxing recreational experience. This was already the case in the 19th century when the island was opened to the public. Sunday outings to the exotic and romantic island were very popular. This popular success was to the great displeasure of the king, who consequently lost the peace and quiet he so cherished. The crowds were so great that in 1842 the prince decided to part with his menagerie of reptiles, unknown mammals and colourful birds. He then donated them to the future zoological park, which opened two years later. At least he had stemmed the flow of overly intrusive visitors.
As a reserve, the island has become a haven of peace. The visitor communes with nature in a romantic setting where time stands still. The island is enigmatic and a visit is a personal journey. There are no attractions. This is all the more true as the castle has closed its doors to the public for renovations until 2024. Therefore, a visit to the island should be a pastoral and bucolic excursion on a sunny afternoon, as the former Prussian kings understood it.
Reasons to go
A great family or couple excursion
A complete sense of escape
The striking combination of cultural heritage and unspoilt nature
Reasons to avoid
Extensive renovation work and lack of heritage alternatives
Generally very high local prices (except for the guided tour of the castle)
The noise of the boaters on the ships