Monday, October 3, 2011

Pfaueninsel

Pfaueninsel ("Peacock Island") is an island in the River Havel situated in Berlin-Wannsee, in southwestern Berlin, near the borders with Potsdam and Brandenburg. The island is part of the Palaces and Parks of Potsdam and Berlin World Heritage Site and a popular destination for day-trippers. Pfaueninsel is also a nature reserve in accordance with the EU Habitats Directive and a Special Protection Area for wild birds.
The island remained unused for about 100 years until, in 1793, the Prussian king Frederick William II acquired the island for the Hohenzollern dynasty and had the Pfaueninsel castle built for him and his mistress Wilhelmine Enke. The small Lustschloss, in the shape of an artificial ruin, was placed on the western tip of the island, visible from the king's residence at the Marmorpalaisin Potsdam with an adjacent English garden including a dairy.
His successor Frederick William III turned the island into a model farm and from 1821 had the park redesigned by Peter Joseph Lenné and Karl Friedrich Schinkel, who planned several auxiliary buildings. The king also laid out a menagerie modeled on the Ménagerie du Jardin des Plantes in Paris, in which exotic animals including peacocks were housed. The Palmenhaus ("House of Palms") erected in 1831 caught fire for unknown reasons in 1880 and burnt to the ground. It was suggested that the fire was due to a stray spark from the chimney, as the Palmenhaus had been built out of wood. It was not rebuilt, but stone columns trace the outline of the building.
In the post-war period the Pfaueninsel belonged to the western part of Berlin in the Zehlendorf district, what is now the district of Steglitz-Zehlendorf. The island had largely retained its intended character as an idyll of nature: in addition to several free-ranging peacocks, other native and exotic birds can be found in captivity, complemented by a rich variety of flora. 
The entire island is designated as a nature reserve and since 1990 has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site, along with the castles and parks of Potsdam-Sanssouci and Berlin-Glienicke.


I ventured here on my first outing to Berlin from Cottbus on a lovely Saturday.  In the process, I acquainted myself with the Berlin transport system, including the S-Bahn, the Bus and the U-Bahn, all reasonable and well planned networks.  


What struck me as particularly unique on this island was how far removed the nearby Hauptstadt seemed.  Even as I observed the shoreline on Wannsee, the marks of  a massive population seemed entirely obscure.  I thoroughly enjoyed walking the trails of the island and for visitors, it certainly serves as a rural retreat from urbanity.  The architecture is self-consciously not serious, and I think that this adds to Pfaueninsel's character as a kind of playground rather than a resort.  The unpretentious and non-commercial flavour of this place is what I will remember most, though the fauna and flora were also quite pleasant as well.



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