Schloß Monbijou – here its decorative gate captured by Hermann Rückwardt in 1885 – is one of Berlin’s lost palaces and sites. Built on the northern bank of the river Spree opposite today’s Museum Island, it started in the seventeenth century as a model farm.
In the 17th century the first wife of the Brandenburgian Great Elector Friedrich Wilhelm, Luise Henriette of Orange – Dutch and excelling at both gardening and horticulture – set up a model farm where Park Monbijou is today. After her death in 1667 her Vorwerk vorm Oranienburger Tor (Farming Estate outside the Oranienburg Gate) became one the Great Elector’s gifts to his second wife, Dorothea.
Her still rather modest summer house she had erected for herself and her family was later replaced by a “bijou” (only 400m²) palace built by the husband of King Friedrich I’s concubine, Countess Wartenberg. The King thanked his general for providing him with so charming a house and promptly gifted it to the latter’s wife to use it as hers and the monarch’s love-nest. A bit of a French twist in an otherwise very Prussian story.
But it was not her who eventually gave the place its immortal name: Friedrich II’s (The Great) mother, Sophie Charlotte, came up with “Monbijou” or “My Jewel”. Her son named his favourite palace in Potsdam “Sanssouci” (Carefree).
Refurbished several times over the next 200 years, in 1887 it became home to Berlin’s Hohenzollern Museum devoted entirely to the history of the last ruling house of Prussia. After the First World War and the collapse of German monarchy its collection remained in the hands of the by then former ruling family but both the site and the palace itself became the state property. The new republican government took it upon itself to maintain the museum and allow the citizens to take long sentimental trips down the imperial memory lane.
Hit by bombs during the November 1943 air-raid, Schloß Monbijou partly burnt down. Most of the collection had been removed by then and stored in one or several of the secret Nazi storage locations, only to be discovered by the Red Army troops and taken as war booty to the USSR. It is also possible that many of the objects were taken – effectively stolen – by other people and remain in private hands until today.
As for the palace, its remains were demolished in the late 1950s as an unwanted remainder of the Hohenzollerns and the role they played in the lead-up to both world wars. The park originally surrounding the palace – by then an empty site – was used to create a public park and (by now probably visited by millions of them) children’s lido. The lido, one of the most popular places for children in Berlin, operates until today.