On Saturday 27 August 2011, I woke up at 6 AM to a royal and imperial wedding day in Potsdam. Unfortunately the weather predictions were a little shaky and some rain showers were possible in the forecasts, so I packed not only my umbrella but also a rain poncho. It might sound slightly crazy to get up at such an early time on a Saturday, but I was in Potsdam for a reason and a day like this will never come again. Not since 1938 had the city seen a royal and imperial wedding, the orthodox ceremony of Prince Georg Friedrich’s grandfather Prince Louis Ferdinand and Grand Duchess Kira of Russia at Cecilienhof, and one as big as this is not likely to occur again in some time.
And so after an early breakfast we made our way out into the streets of Potsdam. On the day before, barricades had been put up around the cortège route and on the street near the church camera stands had been set up for the TV cameras. After receiving our media accreditation cards at a nearby hotel we immediately went to the media area in the church yard at Friedenskirche and reserved places. A little after nine o’clock it was possible to have a look inside the church where the colour theme was clearly white and blue. Place cards were being put out on the seats for guests, little cushions placed at the base of the christening font for the young bridal attendants and chairs for the wedding witnesses were placed on the left side of the altar.
The first guests started arriving a few minutes after ten and then they continued to arrive in small or large groups, and sometimes only a couple at a time.
The bride’s closest family, her mother and sisters with families, arrived about a quarter before noon, when the ceremony was set to start, and the groom together with his mother and sister arrived about five minutes before. Almost last to arrive (one couple arrived on foot after the bride had already entered, one woman came when the ceremony was over) was the bride, the Swedish silver Rolls Royce was sighted driving through the gates to the churchyard only one or two minutes before noon.
The bride’s father, Fürst Franz Alexander of Isenburg, stepped out of the car first and then it took a little moment for Princess Sophie to collect herself and come out of the car. It looked as if someone stepped on the train and it had to be re-attached by an assistant by the car. It was two or three minutes after noon when father and bride walked up the red carpet into the church and soon we could all hear The Prince of Denmark’s March by Jeremiah Clarke rise up to the sky.
Because some showers came down on us, but just a little drizzle and not very much, the wedding team initially seemed set on using the Rolls Royce to escort the bridal couple to their reception. The driver parked outside the door and remained there until about ten minutes before 1 PM when the driver drove off and the horses and carriage entered the church yard. The horses were all beautiful but did look quite nervous and there was a little accident with one of the back horses falling to the grown and having to be helped up. But after that things calmed down a little bit.
A few minutes after 1 PM we could hear the wedding march from A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Felix Mendelssohn and shortly thereafter the bridal couple appeared in the entrance vault right across the media area. They gave us a kiss and then stood there for a while so everyone got their photos and we could see the dress and details in all their finery. On their fingers were, we would later learn, the rings of the groom’s parents Prince Louis Ferdinand and Duchess Donata from their wedding in 1975.
Sophie, now Princess of Prussia, wore her hair in an elegant chignon. On her head was a beautiful Isenburg family tiara in floral pattern design consisting of diamonds and brilliants, partly mounted on hairsprings to create extra sparkle, made in Paris around 1860. The tiara has traditionally been worn by Isenburg brides through the years, and one this day it was Princess Sophie’s turn to wear it. The groom looked handsome in his hat and on his left lapel buttonhole was a very cute mini bridal bouquet.
The wedding dress was designed by Wolfgang Joop for WUNDERKIND and had taken months to create – from sketching to the actual making and then fittings. Altogether 60 meters of fabric from Italy and France was used to create the “whisper white” dress in silk taffeta with applications of pleated silk tulle. On top of the dress the bride wore a light, almost see-through, cloak of silk organza satin and on that rested the four meter long veil that was made in Brussels around 1830 and bears the coat of arms of the princely Isenburg family. Also this family heirloom is traditionally worn by Isenburg brides on their wedding day.
Around 1:10 PM the bridal couple left the church in the blue landau drawn by six sorrel Brandenburg warmblood horses from the Brandenburg State Stud at Neustadt, taking them on a cortège to Neue Kammern (New Chamber) in the Sanssouci park. After waving goodbye and exiting the gate the church yard was practically swarming with elegant wedding guests, everywhere one looked there were beautiful dresses, hats, jewellery – and many familiar faces. They had lots to talk about as they waited for shuttle cars to take them to the reception or find each other so they could walk on.
A few minutes before 2 PM I arrived at the Neue Kammern, a good while after the bridal couple and their guests had arrived. There were security staff standing at the entrance, buses and cars coming and going plus lots of flocking curious tourists wondering what was going on. This and the road that passes just by Neue Kammern, made it quite a confused place to be and perhaps not ideal from a security point of view, but all went well.
As I was walking up to the area near the Orangerie together with some friends, just to have a look around and see if there was any activity, we passed Fürst Alexander and Fürstin Nadja Anna zu Schaumburg-Lippe who were standing on a little path through a section of woods. The Fürst was taking photos of his elegant wife in her elegant outfit for the day and before I knew it, it was my task to take a photo of the couple together with the help of his iPhone.
After that funny incident I stood around Neue Kammern for a while, seeing guests come going in and out through the doors with their drinks or standing outside for a little chat, and then after a while beginning to leave the reception by shuttle car, buses or on foot. I didn’t get a chance to see the bride again as the bridal couple arrived before I came there and left through another exit than the one I was standing at.
It was a little funny when I saw the Fürst and Fürstin zu Löwenstein-Wertheim-Rosenberg leaving the reception at around 2:30 PM, as I moved closer from the other side of the road to get another photo of the couple she, Fürstin Anastasia, looked at me and waved for a few seconds. Perhaps I had been hanging around the events in Potsdam long enough for even some of the guests to start remembering us crazy royal watchers… The last guests I watched leaving were Lord and Lady Nicholas Windsor and their children around 4:20 PM, after that I decided to take a break after a long day and headed back to Potsdam downtown.
Fast forward past some rest and a little dinner, I think it was somewhere around 5:30 or 6 PM when we gathered at Luisenplatz to try to spot some guests leaving for the evening dinner and dance at the Orangerie. The dress code was said to be white tie so we were all very excited about the prospects!
After initially discussing if it would be worth trying to find a place to stand somewhere near the Orangerie but being told by a security guard that everything there would be closed off, the fact that the guests would enter the buses in public at Luisenplatz, around which the hotels of the guests were all located, and that the family would probably leave in chauffeured cars – we decided to opt for staying put there.
And we weren’t disappointed, what followed was quite a busy time looking in all directions to spot guests arriving for the buses – and that evening we got to see many bejewelled beautiful ladies and men in orders and decorations. Some kindly declined being photographed and others managed to get into the bus before us noticing them, but many of the guests did agree to stop for us.
Unfortunately I got to see so much more than I was able to photograph properly and share with you. In the beginning of the evening I was able to take a few decent photos of the guests arriving for the buses but by the time the family was leaving it was too dark for me to get any viable results as I don’t have a flash good enough to cope with such conditions.
Around 8:20 PM, following her parents and sisters, Princess Sophie of Prussia stepped out of the family hotel on the arm of her new husband Prince Georg Friedrich. The bride now wore a very impressive tiara from her husband’s family, the so-called meander tiara which was a morning gift from the groom’s great-grandfather Crown Prince Wilhelm to his bride Duchess Cecilie of Mecklenburg-Schwerin in 1905.
The tiara was made by court jeweller Robert Koch and is well known from a portrait of Crown Princess Cecilie and being on the head of Grand Duchess Kira of Russia when she married Prince Louis Ferdinand of Prussia in 1938.
As we watched the last cards drive off from the family hotel, our long day came to an end. Back at my hotel I had a look at RBB’s wedding report on the late evening news before it was time to turn out the lights and get some well earned sleep after a few hectic days in Potsdam.
PRUSSIA-ISENBURG WEDDING — QUICK FACTS
Church: Friedenskirche at Sanssouci in Potsdam, Germany
Ceremony: Ecumenical presided over by protestant pastor Michael Wohlrab from the Empress Augusta Victoria Foundation in Jerusalem and retired Abbot Gregor Henckel-Donnersmarck of Heiligenkreuz Abbey
Bride’s attire: Silk taffeta dress with pleated silk tuille applications by Wolfgang Joop for WUNDERKIND, 1860’s diamond and brilliant tiara and 1830’s four meter long veil, both from the Isenburg family, bouquet of white roses
Performers: Organist Björn O. Wiede, ensemble Royal Danish Brass, solo singers Aviv Weinberg and Amnon Seelig
Transportation: Silver Rolls Royce to church (bride), landau with six horses from (bridal couple)
Witnesses: Princess Sophie of Baden, Dr Stephanie Bermig, Dr Prince Johann Georg of Hohenzollern, Nicolai Nowak, Archduchess Katharina of Austria-Este, Duke Konstantin of Oldenburg
Flower children: Baroness Annunziata von Lüninck, Archduke Bartolomeus of Austria-Este, Archduke Emmanuel of Austria-Este, Countess Sophia von Schönborn, Princess Luise zu Wied
Number of guests: Around 650 in the church, around 300 at the reception at Neue Kammern, 370 at the Orangerie (last figure is according to Bunte)
To see more of my photos, please visit my Flickr album devoted to the wedding.