Sanssouci Palace / 1998

Breaking a taboo – The dinner for U.S. President Bill Clinton

On May 13, 1998, at Sanssouci Palace a taboo in historical preservation was broken. After more than a hundred years, the Marble Hall of Frederick the Great’s summer residence once again became the scene of a festive dinner. Only once before, subsequent to the death of the last Sanssouci resident, Queen Elisabeth of Prussia in 1873, had the Prussian court made an exception: In June 1895, Emperor William II honored the painter Adolph Menzel with a dinner in the Marble Hall on the occasion of his approaching 80th birthday.

This time it was the Chancellor Helmut Kohl, who had prevailed against all of the preservation apprehensions. It had been his express wish to honor Bill Clinton, the president of the United States of America, with a luncheon at Sanssouci during his second state visit to Germany. Clinton was visiting the new federal states for the first time when he was in Germany to commemorate the 50th-anniversary of the Berlin Airlift.

None of the objections raised by the historical preservationists held up against Helmut Kohl. The suggestion to hold the dinner in the Ovid Gallery in the neighboring New Chambers of Sanssouci, which otherwise served as the festive setting when receiving state visitors was turned down by the American chief of protocol. The sensual scenes from the Metamorphoses by the Roman poet Ovid, set into the gallery walls in the form of gilded stucco reliefs were considered by the protocol chief as being too permissive. There was a fear that the press would make a connection to the Lewinsky affair, which had been a constant theme for the media since the beginning of 1998.

For this reason, the prominent state visitor dined in the main representational room of the vineyard palace. The dinner was oriented to the culinary preferences of Frederick the Great: guinea fowl as the hors d’oeuvre, pikeperch as the main course and fruit preserves from the palace garden for dessert. After the meal, the president and the chancellor descended the outside staircase to the Great Fountain. There Brandenburg’s minister-president Stolpe awaited them at a table where Bill Clinton entered his name into the state’s Golden Book.

Subsequent to this visit, Hans-Joachim Giersberg, director general of the Prussian Palaces and Gardens Foundation Berlin-Brandenburg at the time, was successful in gaining acceptance for the rule that such a third-party use of the delicate rooms would no longer depend on a politician’s wishes, but had to be approved by the foundation board.

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