A meeting with the Captain of Köpenick

The S Bahn to Köpenick was a revelation. The 20km journey from central Berlin winds its way through eastern suburbs and past industrial districts, and then into forests that make it feel like you’ve left the city far behind. Stay on the train beyond the suburban town of Köpenick and you’ll soon arrive close to the shores of the delightfully named Müggelsee, the largest of all Berlin’s lakes. Winter may not be the best time to visit the lake, but Köpenick makes for a pleasant day trip.

Schloss Köpenick, Berlin, Germany

Schloss Köpenick, Berlin, Germany

Schloss Köpenick, Berlin, Germany

Schloss Köpenick, Berlin, Germany

Captain of Köpenick, Berlin, Germany

Captain of Köpenick, Berlin, Germany

Köpenick, Berlin, Germany

Köpenick, Berlin, Germany

Köpenick, Berlin, Germany

Köpenick, Berlin, Germany

Köpenick, Berlin, Germany

Köpenick, Berlin, Germany

Köpenick sits picturesquely on an island where the Rivers Dahme and Spree meet and, despite damage during the Second World War, has an attractive historic centre that clusters around the Church of St. Laurentius. This was a relief after walking from the station through the uninspiring modern part of town. We came to a bridge that leads over the river to the old town, and which provides beautiful views over surrounding waterways to Schloss Köpenick.

If you’re not heading to the lake, the main reason to visit Köpenick is for its pretty 17th century palace. A baroque beauty standing on the riverbank, this was once the home of Prussian Kings. In 1730, the palace was the scene of a great scandal, when the future Frederick the Great and Hans Hermann von Katte were tried by a military court for treason. Frederick had recruited Katte, who was almost certainly Frederick’s lover, to help him escape his tyrannical father and flee to England.

Frederick was caught, personal letters implicating Katte were discovered and, as both were military officers, they were tried for treason. Both were sentenced to prison but, while Frederick was pardoned by his father, King Frederick William I, Katte’s sentence was changed to death. Despite the pleas of the Crown Prince, Katte was beheaded and Frederick was forced to watch. You can contemplate these delights on a stroll through the gardens behind the palace.

We made our way to the tourist information office to see what Köpenick had to offer, and received a walking map of the town. Luckily this took us past the Ratskeller. Every German town has a Ratskeller, a traditional beer hall-style restaurant serving hearty helpings of German food. The Ratskeller Köpenick is one of the very best I’ve visited, doing modern takes on culinary classics. German food is best described as pig-based and served in coma-inducing portions. This was light and tasty.

Afterwards, we wandered down the street and came face-to-face with the Captain of Köpenick, or at least a statue of him outside the red brick town hall. It was here in 1906 that Wilhelm Voigt, known to posterity as the Hauptmann von Köpenick, a convicted thief and forger, arrived masquerading as a Prussian military officer with some soldiers he’d commandeered en route. He proceeded to arrest the town’s mayor and treasurer, before stealing 4,002 marks in cash.

Voigt changed into civilian clothes and fled. It took the bewildered authorities only ten days to find and capture him, by which time his exploits had become the stuff of legend. Sentenced to four years in prison, public opinion was on his side and he was pardoned after less than two years. He became famous, touring Germany and Europe in a stage show, and later visiting the USA and Canada. A play and a film have lionised him, and he even appeared on a German stamp. None of which prevented him dying in poverty.

Schloss Köpenick, Berlin, Germany

Schloss Köpenick, Berlin, Germany

Köpenick market square, Berlin, Germany

Köpenick market square, Berlin, Germany

Köpenick market square, Berlin, Germany

Köpenick market square, Berlin, Germany

Köpenicker Blutwoche memorial, Köpenick, Berlin, Germany

Köpenicker Blutwoche memorial, Köpenick, Berlin, Germany

Köpenick, Berlin, Germany

Köpenick, Berlin, Germany

Captain of Köpenick street art, Berlin, Germany

Captain of Köpenick street art, Berlin, Germany

On our walk back to the S Bahn, we passed a Soviet-era memorial to the Köpenicker Blutwoche (Week of Blood) commemorating the arrest, torture and murder of political opponents of the Nazis in June 1933. Köpenick was considered a hotbed of anti-Nazi opposition, and was targetted by Hitler’s newly elected government to erradicate its enemies and consolidate power nationwide. Over 500 people were arrested, at least 23 were murdered.