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  • Writer's pictureMatti Geyer

How did the tip of Mount Kilimanjaro end up in Potsdam's New Palace?

Updated: 2 days ago

Nestled within the majestic Sanssouci Park lies the New Palace, a testament to Prussian opulence and imperial grandeur. Constructed in the late 18th century under the reign of Friedrich the Great, this baroque masterpiece exudes power and sophistication, serving as a venue for royal receptions and dignitary gatherings.

The Enigmatic Grotto Hall: An Unexpected Connection to Kilimanjaro

One of the New Palace's most intriguing secrets resides within the Grotto Hall. Adorned with vibrant stones and shells that bedeck its walls and ceiling, one particular rock steals the show – a lava rock with an inscription: "Spitze des Kilimandscharo 1890" - or in English: "Tip of Mount Kilimanjaro 1890". How did a stone from Africa's highest peak find its way to Potsdam's regal abode?

Hans Meyer's Kilimanjaro Expedition: A Tale of Imperial Ambition

In the late 19th century, geographer Hans Meyer embarked on an ambitious expedition to conquer Kilimanjaro. His goal: to become the first European to reach the summit. On 6th October 1889, Meyer and his team triumphed, planting the German imperial flag atop the mountain, calling it "Kaiser-Wilhelm-Peak."

Controversial Legacies and Hidden Truths

Meyer attributed naming rights to European climbers, renaming local peaks, disregarding the indigenous Chaga people's nomenclature. This Eurocentric approach resonated even in the gesture of presenting a rock from the peak to the German Emperor, symbolizing colonial possession.

The Unraveling Truth: A Discovery and Reflection

The stone that Hans Meyer carried down from Kilimanjaro and presented to Kaiser Wilhelm found its place within the Grotto Room, accompanied by a plaque designating it as the peak of Mount Kilimanjaro.

In the 1980s, examinations revealed that the initial "Tip of the Kilimanjaro" had been substituted after World War II with a regular stone, suggesting the original might have been misplaced or stolen. A substitute stone from Hans Meyer’s collection at the Berlin Central Institute of Geology was later installed in its spot. However, this rock doesn't originate from the top of Kilimanjaro, and its precise location on the mountain remains unknown. It's certain it isn't the summit, despite the sign below still claims it to be.

Tanzanian Independence and Decolonization

Post-World War I, colonial territories shifted hands, and Tanzania gained independence in 1961. The summit, formerly "Kaiser-Wilhelm-Peak," was aptly renamed "Uhuru Peak," symbolizing freedom and marking the end of colonial rule.

Reflections on a Faux Summit Stone

While the Grotto Hall's "Tip of the Kilimanjaro" may not hold the true essence of the mountain, it serves as a tangible link to Germany's colonial past. It prompts reflection on historical truths and the need to acknowledge and address colonial legacies. The New Palace's Grotto Hall stands as a testament to intertwining histories – a fusion of opulent Prussian grandeur and the subtle echoes of Africa's untamed peaks, revealing a story of power, conquest, and the complexities of history.

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