The Museum Insel (museum island) in the River Spree is the heart of Old Berlin, the site of the medieval towns of Berlin and Cölln, founded in the 13th century. By the 15th century, they had merged. Later, the construction of a castle had elevated the town to the "Seat of the Electors of Brandenburg" : the Hohenzollern , a family then just beginning its long climb up the ladder of imperial fortune.

Only during the reign of Friedrich I (r. 1688-1713) did the island's aspect change dramatically. Friedrich strove to realize his dream of an "Athens on the Spree" by spending on public buildings. From his time on, vigorous architectural campaigns by Friedrich after Friedrich and Wilhelm after Wilhelm steadily transformed the center of Berlin from an undistinguished North European trading town into an Italianate Renaissance and neoclassical metropolis.

Among these architectural adventures, that of the Imperial Palace was the greatest and most protracted. An enormous residence with eventually almost 1,200 rooms, it was continuously under construction from the 17th until the 20th century. Around it, the remains of medieval Berlin gave way in the 19th century to great temples of classical and modern secular culture : the Old Museum, the New Museum, the National Gallery and the Kaiser Friedrich Museum. This industrious acquisition of an artistic and architectural heritage was accompanied on the Museum Island by massive construction in the service of somewhat more typical princely and royal preoccupations : the monumental, high-Renaissance Berlin Cathedral, and the baroque Royal Stables.


Toward the end of October, the weather in Brandenburg, North Prussia, turns windy and cool. The transition from late summer to early autumn, characterized by mornings enveloped in fog and afternoons that turn hot and stagnant, eventually gives way to sudden arrival of refreshing winds blowing in from the west. This heralds the seasonal inland march of the Atlantic Westerlies across the Prussian plain. This flat landscape of forest, lake and farmstead offers the wind little resistance.

In Berlin, 200 kilometers inland from the Baltic Sea, the autumn climate is not much different from that of a coastal town like Rostock, though the imperial capital city is less cloudy. By early November, the daytime highs are only around 7° C and the nighttime lows hover near freezing. The sky is seldom completely clear. The rain, though less frequent than it was in the late-summer months, is cold and driven by a wind with a sharp edge.