It was not least because of the alchemist Johann Kunckel's erstwhile use of the island for his secret laboratory, that the Prussian monarch, Friedrich Wilhelm II -- who had strong leanings towards the occult -- decided to make the island a part of his Neuer Garten in 1793. From the very beginning, the island's appeal lay in its confined secluded nature. A small castle and a Gothic-style dairy were built on opposite shores, but in keeping with the spirit of Rousseau, the island's interior, which was covered with ancient oaks, was left as a wilderness. Frederick the Great's nephew created his Tahiti, his Cythera, as a counterpart to his uncle's carefree world of Sanssouci. The "Otaheite Cabinet" in the Castle, the "Roman Villa", is a telling example of how the imagination was sparked by comparisons between this island in the Havel River and the paradisiac islands of the South Sea.
Linked to the genius loci of this woody island were two great preoccupations of the era: the healthy country life,as idealized by Virgil, and the apparent dreamworld of the recently discovered South Sea islands. This was all staged with a playful naivety and a sentimental evocation of the past through the ostensible ruins of constructions from bygone eras. In all likelihood the guiding hand here belonged to Grafin Lichtenau, the monarch's mistress and a woman with an innate sense of taste. Prompted in part by an old name for one of its meadows, peacocks were brought to the island, and it was named after them. The rich symbolism of peacock has been a part of our cultural history since the days of King Solomon and their exotic presence serves as a link between the natural conditions on the island and thecitations from antiquity, the Middle Ages and the New World that it contains.
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