Daily Archives: 25/05/2011

Old Fritz and his dogs

Frederick the Great, King of Prussia, lies buried beside his dogs in a small plot outside his palace at Potsdam, near Berlin.  Frederick was homosexual.  Although married as a matter of state policy, he lived apart from his wife, and had no direct descendants.  It seems rather touching that he asked to be buried with his closest companions, his dogs.  He was also a religious sceptic.

I have lived as a philosopher and wish to be buried as such, without circumstance, without solemn pomp, without splendour. I want to be neither opened nor embalmed. Bury me in Sanssouci at the level of the terraces in a tomb which I have had prepared for myself…

Frederick II of Prussia - at Sans Souci, Potsdam

Flowers mark his grave – and potatoes, to celebrate the fact that he introduced potatoes to Prussia.  The dogs’ small graves are weathered and unadorned, except with their names and the dates of their deaths, but their little plot is close to the palace, and overlooks the glorious gardens of the palace of Sans Souci.

We have just lost our much-loved dog, Toby, who died suddenly last Thursday night.  Toby was a standard poodle, a very old German breed – ‘pudel’ comes from the same German word as ‘puddle’ – and I can attest that poodles love water, the muddier the better.

Poodles have been around at least since the 17th century.  This cartoon from the English Civil War alludes to their distinctive coat, worn long like a Cavalier’s hair, unlike ‘Peper’, the shorthaired Roundhead dog.  In fact poodles (and sheep) share with us an odd genetic anomaly: our hair doesn’t fall out, and we need to be shorn regularly.  In 8 years of cohabitation, Toby and I both had regular haircuts; adjusted for the Consumer Price Index, his always cost exactly twice as much as mine.

This means that poodles were always high maintenance dogs, especially before mechanized clippers existed.  King Charles’s General in the Civil War, Prince Rupert of the Rhine, kept a famous poodle, Boye, who was killed in the battle of Marston Moor in 1644.  Frederick, on the other hand, favoured greyhounds, another ancient and aristocratic breed.

Frederick’s plan to be buried with his dogs didn’t go smoothly.  After his death in 1786, his nephew Frederick William II inherited the throne.  He ignored his uncle’s wishes, and had him buried according to Christian rites in the Potsdam garrison church beside his father (even though father and son hated each other).  There he lay until 1943, when German soldiers took the two bodies to an underground bunker, then to a salt mine in Thuringia.  American soldiers carried them off in 1945, and they spent some time in Marburg church.  Then in 1952 they were transferred to Hohenzollern Castle, the ancestral seat of the Hohenzollern family.

Finally, following the reunification of Germany, on 17 August 1991, the 205 anniversary of his death, ‘Old Fritz’ was reburied at Sans Souci palace.  The ceremony caused some uneasiness amongst those who saw this as a sign of the revival of Prussian militarism.  20 years later, it seems only right that Frederick should return to the grounds of Sans Souci, where his dogs have been waiting all this time.  Look closely, and you can see that the dogs’ gravestones are more weathered than those of their master.

Sans Souci, Potsdam - Frederick II of Prussia's dogs

The Tomb of Frederick the Great