Köpenick: a palace on an island and the “green lungs” of Berlin
Köpenick is a green district in the southeast of Berlin, located at the confluence of the Spree and Dahme rivers. Or, as a romantic Berliners’ saying goes, where the Dahme kisses the Spree (Dahme küsst Spree).
Köpenick is often called the “green lungs” of Berlin. The locals are amazed by the abundance of nature within the city. More than 70% of the district's territory is covered by forests and parks, rivers and lakes. The forest of Köpenick is the largest in Berlin; the district is also home to the largest lake (Müggelsee) and the highest hill (Müggelberge) in the city. On top of that, Köpenick is the largest district of Berlin, but at the same time the least populated one. Life here flows at a relaxed pace. In many places the hustle and bustle of the city seems far away.
The charming old town of Köpenick has a livelier atmosphere. The Köpenick Palace on an island (Schloss Köpenick) is the centre of the area's cultural life and attracts both tourists and locals. Walking along the promenade (Köpenicker Promenade) near the Dahme River one can enjoy a beautiful view of the old town hall, cosy cafes and elegant sculptures.
The middle class lives in the Köpenick district. Families with children predominantly choose this area for its ability to provide calm and measured way of living as well as for its closeness to nature. Another advantage is a convenient connection to the city centre, which can be comfortably reached both by car and by public transport.
Apartments in Köpenick cost around 3,800 euro per square metre on average, which is significantly cheaper than the prices in other parts of Berlin. However, in the most expensive Köpenick condominiums, the cost reaches 7,150 euro per square metre. On average, you can rent an apartment for 9.5 euro per square metre, according to the Immoscout24’s data for 2022.
Köpenick, together with Spandau and Cologne, is one of the oldest places on the territory of modern Berlin. Historically, Köpenick was founded as a Slavic settlement. In the 8th century, a Slavic tribe of the Sprevane settled in this area, and it was here that their main fortress was located. Not surprisingly, the name “Köpenick” itself has Slavic roots and means “island area.”
In 1245, the Margraviate of Brandenburg, after the six-year-long Teltow war against the Margraviate of Meissen, captured the fortress of Köpenick. Since that time, Köpenick has become part of the Mark Brandenburg permanently.
In 1558, Elector Joachim II Hector built a Renaissance-style hunting castle on the site of the old Köpenick fortress. Subsequently, in 1677, it was rebuilt into the Köpenick Palace by order of Elector Frederick III of Brandenburg, who later became King Frederick I of Prussia. Thus, Köpenick became one of the Prussian kings’ residences.
In 1920, the city of Köpenick became part of Berlin as a district. Under the administrative reform of 2001, Köpenick merged with Treptow to form the larger administrative district of Treptow-Köpenick (Treptow-Köpenick).
Interesting fact: in 1945, the Soviet marshal Georgy Zhukov lived in the southern part of Köpenick in the Wendenschloss area. There is a memorial plaque on one of the houses.
Köpenick Palace (Schloss Köpenick)
The Köpenick Palace is located in the old town area on Schlossinsel (or castle island), which has a bridge connecting the island to the mainland. The locals call this island “the cradle of Köpenick.” In the 15th century, the Hohenzollerns settled here — a dynasty, which ruled Germany until the end of the First World War.
The palace was built by order of Elector Frederick III of Brandenburg, the future Prussian King Frederick I. Its construction began in 1677 under the Dutch architect Rutger van Langerfeld’s supervision. The northern pavilion was built in 1679–1682. The Prussian architect Johann Arnold Nering added an outbuilding and a palace church to the residence in 1684. Frederick lived in the palace with his first wife Elisabeth Henriette of Hesse-Kassel.
The Royal Palace of Köpenick was largely unaffected by air raids during the Second World War. Restoration work began only in 1994 and the palace was opened to tourists in 2004. Nowadays, visitors can see how the royal family lived; view a collection of furniture from different eras, gold and silver items, a collection of porcelain utensils, as well as archaeological exhibits.
Köpenick hosts contemporary art exhibitions and classical music concerts. In the summer, in the palace park you can listen to live music, while sitting right on the lawn. Music bands of different genres — from jazz to rock — perform here.
Every year, thousands of people from all over Brandenburg come to the palace to take part in the traditional Köpenick Summer festival. During this time, the island hosts concerts, festivals and fashion shows.
Köpenick Town Hall (Rathaus Köpenick)
The Köpenick Town Hall was founded in 1905 for the independent city of Köpenick. It was built on the site of the former town hall from the mid-18th century. It is a beautiful red brick building with a 54-metre tower. The town hall is located in the heart of the old town with its pretty streets, the church and the Köpenick Palace.
The new town hall of Köpenick became world famous exactly one year after its opening, when the unemployed shoemaker Friedrich Wilhelm Voigt, dressed in a captain's uniform, arrested the mayor of the city, Georg Langerhans, and appropriated the city treasury. The story of “the Captain of Köpenick” has become a part of German folklore.
The town hall was expanded between 1927 and 1949. The building remained unscathed during the Second World War, having not suffered from bombings. Later, the German authorities recognised it as an architectural monument.
The facade is designed in the style of Brandenburg brick Gothic. The Köpenick coat of arms rises above the main entrance. The magnificent staircase and the large heraldic hall make this town hall one of the most attractive in Berlin.
The Captain of Köpenick (Hauptmann von Köpenick)
In front of the Köpenick Town Hall there is a monument to “the Captain of Köpenick.” In truth, Friedrich Wilhelm Voigt was not a captain at all; he was an East Prussian shoemaker and a grandiose swindler. He became famous when, under the guise of a captain, he captured the town hall and stole the entire treasury.
Voigt already had eight prison terms under his belt for theft and forgery. Having once again left prison in 1906, he conceived a brilliant scam. First of all, he bought the uniform of a Hauptmann (which is German for army captain) and went to Köpenick. On the way, he met two squads of guardsmen and promptly took command over them. He explained to them that it was urgent to carry out the “secret order” of the emperor.
The “Captain” was so convincing that the soldiers had no doubts. They occupied the town hall without question and arrested the mayor and the chief treasurer for embezzlement. The town hall’s employees were also sure that in front of them was a real captain, who was following orders from above. In the meantime, Voigt commandeered the city treasury and went to the railway station.
Ten days later he was arrested and sentenced to four years in prison. It is said that Emperor William II, laughing, commented on Voigt’s case: “That's what discipline means. No nation in the world can keep up with us!” After a couple of years, the swindler was pardoned by the emperor and released early.
Wilhelm Voigt is a real hero in Köpenick. Schools, hairdressers, cafes are named after him; songs and stories have been sung and written about him; films, inspired by his tale, are still being made to this day. The musical, telling the story of “the Captain of Köpenick” is successfully staged at the local town hall and at the famous Admiralspalast Theatre in Berlin.
Interesting fact: the statue of “the Captain of Köpenick” was created by the Soviet sculptor Spartak Babayan and installed in front of the town hall’s entrance in 1996. The same sculptor also made a new Frederick the Great monument in the city of Friedrichshafen based on a photograph of an old sculpture, which was destroyed during the war.