At the end of the Unter den Linden in Berlin stands a huge, imposing quadrangular building
known as the Old Palace. But the only palatial thing about it now is its appearance. After 1919 it
was turned over to government offices, and later became a museum. But once it knew great
splendors: Frederick, first King of Prussia, began to build it in 1699 with the aim of rivaling
Versailles itself. Here lived the powerful race of Hohenzollerns, and here flourished their courts.
They ruled by absolute authority-an authority that could proclaim to the nobles of the land: 'I am
king and lord, and will do what I wish! Holiness is God's, but all else must be mine!'
It is not surprising that in a place where passions ran strongly they should leave strong
currents behind them. Frederick, its builder, was a wild, vicious and cruel man. In a tower of the
Palace, known as the Tower of the Green Hat, he kept an Iron Maiden, that terrible instrument of
torture and death shaped roughly like a woman and lined with steel spikes, which pierced and
crushed its victims. These would often be innocent people against whom a court had not been
able to find sufficient evidence. Beneath the Maiden a trap-door let down the torn remains of the
Maiden's prey into the engulfing darkness of an oubliette.
But the phantom of the Old Palace, who is said to have come from the Tower of the Green
Hat, was not one of these victims. The White Lady who has appeared to so many Berliners is said
by some to be the model for the Iron Maiden, a beautiful woman whose likeness was used to
make that horrid travesty of womanhood. After her death, her mission was to visit the
descendants of Frederick, her inventor, and warn them of their coming fate. According to some
who saw her, she was dressed in the white robe and veil of the Virgin, because the statue had been
so made, and the victim, as he was pressed into it, had been told to 'Return thanks to our Holy
Mother.' So a profanation was punished.
There are other stories, however, of the White Lady's origin. Some say she was Anna
Sidow, the lovely, low-born mistress of Elector Joachim II, a half-mad ruler of the sixteenth
century, who squandered his people's gold on her. But the pious son who followed him had Anna
imprisoned in Spandau, and she died miserably there. It may be that her spirit traveled from the
royal dwelling on the outskirts of Berlin to the Palace built long after her time.
Also before the stones of the Old palace rose was the wrong done that caused the third
claimant to the White Lady's title to 'walk.' One of the early Hohenzollerns was Margrave
Albert, known as the Beautiful, who fell in love with a young widow, the Countess d'Orlamunde,
who had two children. Unthinkingly, he remarked to someone that he would gladly marry her, if
he were not held back by the influence of four eyes. Hearing of this, the widow took it to refer to
her children; and her way of disposing of these obstacles to her ennoblement was to kill them by
running a gold pin into their heads. It was only after she had done this that she found out the
Margrave's true meaning-he had been referring to his parents' opposition to the marriage. Nature
had its way-Agnes d'Orlamunde went mad, and wanders without rest.
But whoever she may have been-artist's model, unhappy prisoner, or crazed mother-the
White Lady has been seen by many, usually on occasions when tragedy threatened the
Hohenzollern princes. The first recorded appearance was in 1619, in the reign of John
Sigismund. A cheeky young page was sauntering down a corridor of the Old Palace when he
turned a corner and came face to face with a silent white figure, gliding towards him with a fold
of its veil drawn across its features. He knew instantly who-or what-it was; and knew that those
who had seen her in the past had drawn aside, trembling, to let her pass. But the page did not see
why he should be frightened by a mere white shadow. He stood in her way, checked her with a
hand on her arm, and inquired briskly, 'And where might you be going, madam?'
The White Lady lowered the hand with which she had been holding the veil over her face.
She held in it a great key-the key that was said to unlock for her each of the castle's six hundred
doors-and she brought it down heavily upon the page's head. He fell to the ground, dead; just as
two horrified fellow-servants appeared round the corner. They had more sense than the dead boy.
They stood back as the White Lady flitted past them and disappeared.
On the next day, Elector John Sigismund died.
There is no story of the White Lady's appearance in the reign of Frederick William, the
Great Elector, a strong ruler and a simple man. Nor did she visit his son and grandson, with their
extravagances and eccentricities; nor Frederick the Great, perhaps because he was well known to
be a sceptic.
Yet it seems that after death Frederick's scepticism must have been considerable modified.
His nephew, Frederick William II, had invaded Champagne, during the French revolutionary
period, with such success that he was able to announce his army's victorious arrival under the
walls of Paris. He himself was staying at a Verdun inn. Dissatisfied with the wine that had been
brought to him, he went down to the cellar of the inn to choose a better vintage; and there, to his
horror, slowly materialized before him, against an unlikely background of bottles and barrels, the
figure of his uncle, the Great Frederick.
'Unless you call off the Prussian army from Paris, nephew,' said the spirit, 'you may
expect to see someone who will not be welcome to you.'
The terrified Frederick William stammered that he did not know what was meant.
'I mean,' replied Frederick, 'the White lady of the Old Palace, and I am sure you know
what her visit implies.' And he faded away into a cloudy shape less substantial than the cobwebs
festooned from the cellar beams.