Only the posh can party in Potsdam

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The Independent Online
IMAGINE a palace comparable in splendour to Versailles, a jewel so precious that it must be protected from the ravages of modernity, including the tourist hordes that flock there to catch a fleeting glance.

The number of visitors is limited, and those that make it in have to put on slippers before being allowed to tread on its famed marble floor. Not the sort of place, in other words, where one would want to organise a party nowadays, even if that was its original purpose in the time of Frederick the Great.

The palace is the New Chambers of the Sanssouci, part of the rococo complex built for the "Old Fritz" as his summer retreat in Potsdam. It is here that he played his flute, discussed philosophy with the likes of Voltaire, and from here he conducted wars against half the continent. Potsdam has not seen much glory since those days, but it is beginning to swing again. Two bashes in the past two months have put Sanssouci back on the party circuit, with punters queuing up for permission to organise the next knees- up.

Much to the dismay of the people looking after the greatest piece of Prussian heritage, but also to the disgust of those who are being turned away, many are being told: no, you cannot have a party at Sanssouci unless you are blue-blooded or filthy rich, and have connections in high places.

The first class of reveller comes as something of a surprise. The aristocracy was abolished with the Hohenzollerns after the First World War. The princes, dukes and the like can retain their titles only as a second name, and whilst these still open some doors, especially in the diplomatic service, in real life they might not even get you a good table at a restaurant. Germans see their society as reasonably egalitarian, with Berlin the least class-ridden of all. The only blue-blooded creatures that Germans find remotely interesting and glamorous are the Windsors.

So Germans were a little perplexed to learn of the wedding in May of Countess Tita von Hardenberg to Archduke Ferdinand von Habsburg-Lothringen. The Habsburgs need no introduction, and the Hardenbergs are also a well known Berlin family. What puzzled observers was not so much the merger of these two rarefied gene pools, but the manner of the act. The wedding reception, with 300 assorted nobles from all over Europe in attendance, was held at the New Chambers of Sanssouci.

It was the first such social event in living memory. Permission, it has since been disclosed, had not come from the cultural foundation that cares for the palaces and gardens of Berlin and Brandenburg. They were bypassed. The Hardenbergs had gone to the very top, to the political masters of the region. It was Peter Radunski, the "senator" in charge of Berlin's culture portfolio, and Manfred Stolpe, Prime Minister of the Land of Brandenburg, who had given the magic "yes".

On what grounds, everyone wants to know. "It's very difficult to say what the reasons were exactly, but it was considered to be an international event with a certain public focus," explains Thomas Kostlin, the foundation's administrative director. More he cannot say, and he prefers to keep his own views on the subject private.

Last month there was a second reception, all the more galling because the taxpayer footed this bill. The designer Wolfgang Joop was moving to Potsdam from Hamburg, and wanted to celebrate his arrival by launching his perfume "rococo" on the steps of the Sanssouci.

The authorities could not possibly condone such a brazen advertising stunt. So Mr Stolpe, a Social Democrat, instead invited Mr Joop to an official do at his government's expense. At the Sanssouci. Mr Joop brought a few models along, all dressed in rococo costume, and pictures were taken of him holding a bottle of perfume aloft.

To some Berliners, this is not acceptable. In Communist times, the Politburo treated the Sanssouci as their private playground. It would appear that the demise of the nomenklatura has merely opened the door to another privileged set, turning Frederick's fun palace into an exclusive resort for remnants of the ancien regime and the nouveaux riches.