By Christian Berndt

Poet and guide: Voltaire and Frédéric II in lively exchange. (akg-images)

At the invitation of Frederick II, the French philosopher Voltaire stayed at the Sanssouci palace. The King of Prussia is in contact with outstanding figures of the Enlightenment. But with his militarism, he turns his host against him.

A narrow, unadorned hallway leads to the small but beautiful library. Inside, the round room shines with light wood, and bronze reliefs shine above the shelves. The library was the King of Prussia’s retreat, right next to his private apartments.

Refuge in the world of books

“And when Voltaire Friedrich went here to Sanssouci in 1750 and stayed here for a while, they worked together here,” says publisher and author Bernd Erhard Fischer, who wrote “Voltaire to Sanssouci” in his People and Places series of publications. “brought out.

Frederick II had the Sanssouci palace built near Potsdam in order to escape court life. Voltaire wrote that he spent two hours a day with Friedrich in the library – which Fischer doubts:

“Friedrich will not have had time because he was very involved in his official affairs. That is why a lot of communication was linked to these legendary pieces of paper that they always sent to each other, with philosophical ideas, but also with jokes, poems, all kinds of things. “

Hope for a rule of reason

Voltaire’s bedroom was exactly on the other side of the small but magnificent chateau and opened directly onto the terrace with its picturesque view over the vineyard. Friedrich had succeeded in attracting Voltaire, the most famous intellectual of his time.

Crown Prince Friedrich had already contacted Voltaire by mail. The highly educated prince read the writings of the French scouts and had Voltaire correct his “Antimachiavel”. In this programmatic writing, Friedrich sketched out the ideal of a rule guided by human reason. Voltaire hoped that Frederick’s accession to power in 1740 would mark the beginning of a new era.

Magnificent apartments: Voltaire in his Sanssouci office. (akg-images)

“Voltaire himself regarded Friedrich as the torch of enlightenment,” says Bernd Erhard Fischer, “he also called him that at the time.”

Friedrich’s reign also got off to a promising start – against violent protests from the courts, but to the acclaim of philosophers, Friedrich largely abolished torture and relaxed censorship. But at the same time, soon after taking office, he began an unscrupulous war of aggression.

Shining heads in the marble room

Voltaire wrote to him with horror: “Will you never stop devastating yourselves, you and your colleagues, the kings, this land which you – you say – want so much to make happy?

There are the first upheavals between Voltaire and Friedrich. Despite this, they remained in contact, and in 1750 Voltaire, whose writings critical of religion are banned in France, followed Frederick’s almost pleading invitations to come to his court.

Bernd Erhard Fischer leads the way for what he says is Sanssouci’s “legendary marble hall”: “Friedrich surrounded himself with all kinds of great minds and famous writers, not all of them scientists, and of course he is adorned with Voltaire. “

The park of Sanssouci Palace still inspires visitors today. (picture alliance / CHROMORANGE / Karl-Heinz Spremberg)

Friedrich’s spirited group in the magnificent Marble Hall includes avant-garde free spirits such as radical materialist Julien de La Mettrie, who had even been driven out of the liberal Netherlands. In Prussia, he published revolutionary writings in which he even advocated the legalization of homosexual love.

Resistance is futile, mockery is allowed

Friedrich not only enjoys it, but he also shares the radical critique of the religion of his guests. Regarding his absolutist claim to rule, however, he prohibits interference. The king clashes with Voltaire again and again because Frederick openly criticizes the politics of war power as a contradiction to his enlightened ideals.

Bernd Erhard Fischer notes a striking quote from this argument: “’And then you will see, says Friedrich,’ that your works deserve to be erected in your honor, but your behavior deserves to be shackled ‘. “

Voltaire leaves Prussia after three years. Despite this, both remained correspondents for life, and Frédéric does not find it bad that Voltaire speaks in his memoirs of Friedrich’s erotic encounters with young soldiers. Friedrich was an autocrat, but personally insensitive to criticism. For him, all that mattered was the reason for being, you could laugh at him, but obey.

Royal asylum for a radical thinker

A lively audience emerged during his reign, Prussia was praised for freedom of thought – but Frederick’s regime was condemned as despotic. This contradiction between spirit and power would inevitably shape Prussia.

Friedrich adheres to the ideal of the enlightened autocrat and criticizes young scouts like Rousseau, who no longer attack only the authority of the Church, but also that of kings. But even though Friedrich saw Rousseau as a subvert, he offered persecuted asylum. An unrivaled attitude.