Ever an adventurer, Pückler traveled widely in Africa and the Middle East dressed as a pasha. While at a slave market in Egypt in 1837, he acquired a 13-year-old Abyssinian girl named Machbuba, who became his mistress. After teaching her to speak Italian, the prince escorted Machbuba to Viennese balls and introduced her to the composer Franz Liszt. Then he brought her home to Muskau, where she died.
Machbuba was but one of Pückler's hundreds of purported female conquests. In the garden at Branitz, he placed a gilded bust of the opera singer Henriette Sontag, with whom he was infatuated. Ardent correspondence piled up in his rooms—he kept copies for himself and labeled them "Old love letters, to be used again if required." But Pückler's correspondence was confiscated by the Soviet army after the defeat of Nazi Germany and hauled off to a library in Cracow, Poland. Two years ago, with the Cold War receding into the past, Polish authorities opened their archives so that copies of the letters could be made. Some of the books from his extensive personal library were recently returned from a state library outside Berlin, where they had been placed by the Germans during World War II.
Plaster casts made from one of Machbuba's tiny hands and one of her delicate feet, as well as her death mask, are on display in a glass case beneath her portrait. The portrait hangs on the second floor, in a suite of rooms decorated in vibrant colors and Oriental motifs, including several canopic jars, containers used to hold the internal organs of the mummified dead.
Egyptian burial rites were adopted by Pückler himself, albeit in modified form. In his will he requested that his heart be placed in a glass urn and his body be dissolved in chemicals. His wishes were carried out, and his remains were interred within the "pyramid"—now carefully restored to its original height and form—at the western end of the estate. Rather than build a stone burial mound like those he admired at Giza, Pückler erected a tumulus out of the soil he had dug up to create one of the artificial lakes on the grounds.
The tumulus, covered in grass and vines, is some 60 feet high and 120 feet wide. Its reflection in the lake's surface gives it the appearance of a diamond-shaped emerald. A short walk away stands a second grassy pyramid that can be scaled via a narrow granite staircase. It is crowned by a gilded fence emblazoned with the words GRAVES ARE THE MOUNTAINTOPS OF A DISTANT, LOVELY LAND.
The prince intended the monument to himself to last forever, noting that even though many of the wonders of the ancient world had vanished, "the tumuli to the kings of Crete and the Pyramids of Egypt still rear their youthful heads today." So, too, does Branitz, or as Pückler would have it, Bransom Hall.
Branitz is easily reached by a direct two-hour train ride from Berlin. After arriving at Cottbus station, take a taxi to Branitz Park. (Guided tour $2; 49-355/751-522.)