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Home Page > Travelogues > Germany > Brandenburg > Potsdam


State of Brandenburg

Potsdam -- A Worthy Excursion from Berlin 


State of Brandenburg

Potsdam was an incredibly beautiful city, but perhaps suffered from being too close to Berlin to capture the attention of most travelers.  Tom frankly preferred it over Berlin because it was a smaller city and the renovation job on the various palaces was terrific.  After all, it was Potsdam that had most of the beautiful parks and grand palaces that survived the past century, and they were conveniently concentrated together.  It would be easy to spend a whole weekend there. 

This travelogue covers our two brief visits there only a couple hours each about three years apart. Tom visited Potsdam on a bus tour on a terribly rainy day in early spring 2001, then we went together in late spring 2004 on the way back from a trip to Poland.  Between the two visits, we barely scratched the surface of all the major attractions in Potsdam.  Someday, God willing, we will do it in full.  Potsdam has several major parks, each of which has multiple castles or palaces, gardens, and monuments.  The three that seem to attract the most visitors are the Park Cecilienhof, Park Sans Souci, and Park Babelsberg.  We've done the first one and just a little of the second, but not the third.

History buffs will likely want to visit the Cecilienhof Palace.  After all, it was the site of the famous Potsdam Conference from the end of the European theater in World War II.  This was the conference where the Allied victors divided Germany into four sectors -- American, English, French, and Russian -- that set the conditions for the eventual Cold War division of Germany into west and east.  The palace museum was wonderful, thoroughly describing the situation at the end of the War and political game playing that occurred, eventually providing the conditions for the later Cold War. The main attraction in Potsdam was Sans Souci, the retreat built by Kaiser Frederick Wilhelm IV of Prussia.  Sans Souci was roughly translated as 'without care', a perfect name for the retreat.  The access path was cobblestone, bringing visitors to a series of teal-green vinecages with huge golden suns mounted on the sides.  When Tom went in 2001, the bus group was greeted by a floutist dressed in stylized 18th century clothing playing a classical melody.

This photograph shows the historic windmill (Historische Muehle), a replica of the common Dutch windmills of the era.  We presumed it was for decorative purposes only. 

This picture and the next were both of the main palace building.  This taken from an angle to show its immense size.  At the far end was a monument to Frederic Wilhelm, comprised of a casket-shaped stone, which we thought was rather odd.
This shot shows the front with the words "Sans Souci" inscribed across the front.  The palace museum was terrific, and it took only a short while to view. The interior had lots of color and elegance, old portraits, antique furnishings, and in-laid wood flooring. The next two shots shows the garden.  This was taken from the same spot as the previous, but facing the exact opposite direction.  This angle of the round pool obscured some of the sculptures along it.
Columns such as these were located to the sides of the main garden in the previous photo.  Clearly the center column once held a statue of some important figure.  These decorative monuments marked pathways through the trees to other parts of the palace grounds, primarily those that led to another major structure.

This was the scene from the road leading to the parking lot.  It shows the colonnade connected to the back of the Sans Souci palace.  Two arcs of columns met at a small pavilion (at left in photo) that faced across to a set of fake Roman ruins.  Fake ruins were a common decoration on German palace grounds as it conveyed a sense of long history to guests.

From the front of Sans Souci, this structure was the next one to our left.  We crossed through a set of hedges to get to it.  It included in its courtyard a set of well-sculpted bushes shaped like large mushrooms.  There were other buildings on the complex that we did not have time to visit.  The orangerie was a massive golden building fronted with a terraced vineyard that we saw from the road.  What we did not see was the Neues Palais at the far end.  The Sans Souci complex also has plenty of restaurants and cafés around. We then took a drive around the city, which had plenty of other sights to see.  As we left Sans Souci, we came upon the Obelisk, a tall concrete pillar that resembled some of those from ancient Greece.  Near one of the bridges is a colorful Turkish mosque, striped in red and green brick.  Finally, the fourth photograph shows the Altes Markt, a massive market complex with green dome that looked like a palace in itself.  The dome was the one structure that can be seen from far outside the city.
Crossing over the Havel between Potsdam and Berlin was another significant landmark.  This was the Glieneckerbrueck through a dirty bus window in the middle of a rainstorm.  It was at this bridge that supposedly clandestine communications between western and Soviet agents would take place (this was taken from the West Berlin side, Potsdam residing beyond).  With its old-style lamps, and gloomy appearance, one can almost imagine a film noir moment happening on this bridge in the middle of a foggy night (or perhaps I'm just letting my imagination get the better of me again?). Potsdam also has a Brandenburger Tor, sharing the same name with the gate in Berlin, but they are not to be confused -- they didn't resemble each other. 

Other features of Potsdam included the Havel, a series of wide shallow lakes formed by the runoff of the Spree River out of Berlin.  It was perhaps because of these lakes that the Kaiser and other nobles elected to build so many palaces on this site rather than within Berlin.  Another feature of Potsdam that we failed to capture in pictures was the physical evidence of Potsdam's on-going revitalization project after the Soviet days.  In 2001, Tom noted the a number of two-family buildings where only one side was restored since the collapse of the Soviet Union.  Such buildings provided a spectacular before-and-after view between the blackened and crumbling unrestored side and the freshly painted and rebuilt side.  The differences were just amazing.  Such views might soon no longer be available as the city was quickly working to revitalize all the historical structures.  Potsdam, after all, was the capital city of Brandenburg, and strongly desired to put on a fresh face.

Indeed, the period of 2001-2004 seemed to have done a lot of good for Potsdam.  It was a beautiful city with so much to see outdoors.  Some day, maybe, we will get to do the whole thing.

Trip taken 15 April 2001 and 23 May 2004 -- Page last updated 12 April 2006 -- (C) 2001,2004 Tom Galvin


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