Potsdam is a city southwest of Berlin. With a population of about 140,000, Potsdam is the capital of the state of Brandenburg (which surrounds the city-state of Berlin). The city was home to Prussian royalty, and Frederick the Great (1712-1786) spent his summers at Sanssouci Palace here. Before the war, neighboring Babelsberg was the home of Germany’s “Hollywood,” the famous Ufa Studios. The studios are again in business, and the Film Park is a popular tourist attraction. In July 1945, the Allied leaders Winston Churchill, Harry Truman, Joseph Stalin met in the great hall of Schloss Cecilienhof for what became known as the Potsdam Conference. Potsdam can easily be reached by auto or S-Bahn (commuter rail) from Berlin. (The same BVG ticket that gets you to Potsdam on the S-Bahn is also valid on the buses that run from the train station to Sanssouci Park.)
POTSDAM AND BABELSBERG | Palaces and more
Continued from Berlin City Guide – Part 2.
- Sanssouci Park | Once the private grounds of the Hohenzollern royal dynasty, this large park containing several palaces and gardens is one of the most beautiful in all of Europe. Don’t miss the following palaces in the park:
- Schloss Sanssouci – With its formal terraced vineyard, Sanssouci (French for “without cares”) is the oldest palace – and the crowning jewel of them all. Sitting atop a terraced hill overlooking the park and a large fountain (see photo above), the rococo palace was completed in 1747, and served as the summer residence of Frederick the Great (1712-1786, King in Prussia from 1740 to 1772, King of Prussia after that). Frederick was a contemporary of George Washington and a friend of Voltaire.
- Orangerie – This small palace was built to house royal and other guests.
- Neues Palais – The New Palace is also the largest. Strolling through it gives you a good idea of how royalty lived in the 18th century. The baroque building was completed in 1769, 22 years after the rococo Sanssouci Palace.
- Schloss Charlottenhof – The smallest, neo-classical palace
- See Web links for the park below.
- Brandenburg Gate | Potsdam has its own, smaller version that is older than the one in Berlin. It is one of three surviving Potsdam city gates (out of five).
- Altstadt | Potsdam’s Old Town with its Old Market Square (Alter Markt) is a key attraction. The Stadtschloss (City Palace, 1662) that once stood on the square fell victim to World War II bombs (like much of Potsdam) and the East German government, which finished the job by pulling it down. Today the square is dominated by the classical Nikolaikirche (Nikolai Church).
- Schloss Cecilienhof | Once home to the Hohenzollern royal family, Cecilienhof Palace, built between 1913 and 1917, hosted the 1945 Potsdam Conference attended by Harry Truman, Winston Churchill (later Clement Atlee) and Joseph Stalin. (See photo below). The world leaders met to decide how to divide up Europe after the defeat of Hitler. The last palace built by the Hohenzollerns is today a UNESCO World Heritage site, as well as a conference center and four-star hotel located in the Neuer Garten (New Garden) park. The museum portion of the palace is open to the public. Visitors from all over the world can tour this historic site and its conference rooms with headset audio in many languages. See the Web link for the palace below.
- Dutch Quarter | The Holländisches Viertel is a two-block section with about 150 red-brick Dutch-style buildings. It dates back to 1734.
- Alexandrowka | This former Russian colony is now a small enclave of Russian architecture and a UNESCO world heritage site.
- Marstall – Filmmuseum | Potsdam’s film museum is housed in former royal stables. It documents the history of the nearby Babelsberg (Ufa) studios. See Web link below.
- Einstein Tower | Originally built in 1921 as a solar telescope to verify Albert Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, the Einsteinturm now functions as a working solar observatory as part of the Leibniz Institute for Astrophysics Potsdam. Designed by Erich Mendelsohn, the unique tower, located in the Albert Einstein Science Park, was badly damaged in the war, but was restored in 1999. It is one of the few existing examples of expressionist architecture.
- Filmpark Babelsberg | A theme park with stunts, exhibits, and film sets. Most adults will find it much more interesting to tour the actual Studio Babelsberg (film and TV) next door, where Marlene Dietrich and other film stars once worked. See the Web link for the park below.
- FCC Turbine Potsdam | Germany’s top women’s soccer team comes from Potsdam. (See web links below.)
- Schloss Marquardt | This modest palace, just a short drive northwest of Potsdam, belonged to the wealthy Ravené family of Berlin before World War II. Originally built as a manor house (Herrenhaus) in the 1600s and later expanded, today the somewhat run-down palace stands in a wonderful park (Schlosspark) that is one of the best-kept secrets of the Berlin region. (The village and palace name comes from Marquard Ludwig von Printzen, a later owner.) In the 1930s the palace was part of a Kempinski luxury hotel. From its garden terrace restaurant guests had a wonderful view of the Schlänitzsee (Lake Schlänitz) and a beach created by importing sand from the Baltic Sea. Several members of the Ravené family are entombed in a special vault in the nearby church, which Louis Ravené had built in the village of Marquardt in 1901 on the occasion of the 125th anniversary of the founding of the Ravené steel company. Tours of the grounds and its buildings are available with prior arrangements with local historian Wolfgang Grittner.
WEB: Marquardt – Nature and History from potsdam.de
WEB: Schloss Marquardt from schloss-marquardt.com – A very informative site, but in German only
- Stahnsdorf Cemetery | The German-born Hollywood director F.W. Murnau (1888-1931) is buried in a cemetery in the town of Stahnsdorf (pop. 14,300), 12 km (7 mi) east of Potsdam. Murnau, whose real name was Friedrich Wilhelm Plumpe, had gone to Hollywood in 1926, after directing in Germany – his most famous German film being Nosferatu (1922). His US films include Sunrise (1927) and Taboo (1931). His notable career was cut short when he was fatally injured in an auto accident near Santa Barbara, California in March 1931 at the age of only 42. Besides Murnau, the Südwestkirchhof (“southwest church cemetery”) is also the resting place of the composer Engelbert Humperdinck (1854-1921) and industrialist Werner Siemens (1816-1892). The Berlin-born actor Conrad Veidt (Major Strasser in Casablanca) was also supposed to join Murnau in Stahnsdorf, but his ashes ended up in London instead. See The Urn Chronicles for more.
- House of the Wannsee Conference – Haus der Wannseekonferenz | This “memorial and education site” is not in Potsdam, but in Berlin-Wannsee, a stop on the S-Bahn line between Berlin and Potsdam. Located in a section of upscale mansions lining the shore of the Wannsee (lake) at Am Großen Wannsee 56-58, the former villa, built in 1915, was the site of the infamous 1942 “Wannsee Conference” at which Nazi leaders drew up their detailed plans (the “Wannsee protocol”) for exterminating the Jews. The villa is now a museum and research library devoted to educating people about this horrifying bit of Nazi history. A permanent exhibit documents the terrible results of the Wannsee protocol. As you gaze out the windows at the lake, it can be disconcerting to experience the contrast between what went on here and the beautiful setting in which the house lies. Admission is free; open daily (except holidays) 10:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m. Donations are welcome. See the Web link for the museum below.
- More > An alphabetical list of sights in Berlin at a Glance
More | Berlin City Guide
AT THE GERMAN WAY
- Berlin City Guide – The sights and history of the German capital
- Berlin at a Glance provides a good overview of the top sights to see in Berlin.
- Berlin’s “Boulevard of Stars” is similar to Hollywood’s “Walk of Fame.” Marlene Dietrich was honored with the first star in 2010.
- The East Side Gallery in Berlin (The Berlin Wall)
- City Guides: Germany – More cities
- Potsdam.de – The city’s official site (English)
- Cecilienhof Palace was the site of the 1945 Potsdam Conference (English)
- Sanssouci Palace – Official site, in English
- Potsdam Tourist Information
- Filmmuseum Potsdam – Site in English or German
- Einstein Tower – Wikipedia
- Filmpark Babelsberg
- Potsdam – Wikipedia (English)
- FCC Turbine Potsdam – Official team site (German)
- FCC Turbine Potsdam (Wikipedia)
- Haus der Wannseekonferenz – Site in English and German
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