LAST Saturday night, two men wearing the dress of the women of the 18th-century Prussian royal court sat face to face on the narrow benches of a German beer table. Their hooped skirts—nearly as wide as the men were tall—made this a tricky undertaking. Ornate wigs piled high on their heads threatened to tip them into their brimming beer steins. The balancing act drew the attention of a small crowd of amused onlookers, who pulled out cameras to snap the “ladies” as they bent over their beers and bratwursts.
Schlössernacht—or Night of the Palaces—is a summer festival held once a year in the grounds of Schloss Sanssouci, Frederick the Great’s extravagant summer retreat in Potsdam, just outside Berlin. Typically open only for daytime tours, the palace and its expansive surroundings are thrown open to the public for a good old-fashioned party night (which cost €46 a head this year). Tents selling traditional German fare stood in the shadow of Frederick’s salmon-pink palaces. An orchestra played Beethoven and Brahms into the night. As blood alcohol levels peaked, fireworks lit up the main palace: it was the magic of Disney, seasoned by the pomp and circumstance of imperial Prussia.