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Imagine a charming university town with little street cafés and a nice shopping zone surrounded by idyllic lakes and forests - that’s Potsdam, definitely one of the nicest cities in Germany. Architectural styles of different epochs, historical districts (Dutch Quarter and Russian Colony) which couldn’t be more different and numerous monuments telling an exciting history the capital of the state Brandenburg has been affected by.
In the 17th and 18th century it was summer residence of Prussian Kings and German Emperors. On their orders the best architects and artisan-craftsmen of their era produced outstanding pieces of art, whereas Sanssouci is the most famous one - an ensemble of baroque castles and marvellous buildings in a huge park complex.
Fortunately those escaped undamaged on April 14th in 1945 when Allied bombers destroyed the historical center (Altstadt) of Potsdam. Only a few months later Potsdam became the focus of international publicity when the victorious powers of World War II met at Cecilienhof Palace (Schloss Cecilienhof) for the Potsdam Conference. Truman, Stalin and Churchill signed the Potsdam Agreement and the future fate of Germany, the division of Berlin and Germany into occupation zones.
It’s only a stone’s throw from the Federal Capital Berlin - Potsdam shines with new splendidness, it flocks tourists of the whole world and is an special insider’s tip even for the German high society.
Potsdam’s charm is that it comes up with a great mix of countless historical sights and the great nature around. Also the Prussian rulers have been impressed by that city just next door to the metropolis Berlin. In the 17th century Elector Friedrich Wilhelm of Brandenburg started to create a unique cultural landscape with castles and parks representing the glory of Prussia. The town was expanded, representative buildings were constructed and Potsdam got its own nice flair. So for example the Dutch Quarter arose, formerly a settlement for Dutch immigrants, today a special attraction for tourists. His son Friedrich II ‘Frederick the Great’ continued his work and started in 1745 his most famous creation - the park and palace of Sanssouci. The palace with 12 glamorous rooms including concert hall is located on top of a terraced vineyard, beautifully decorated in rococo style. He called it Sanssouci - in French “without worries” - because here he could leave the formalities of the royal court behind and had time for his hobbies music and philosophy.
Frederick’s preferences for different styles of architecture were fulfilled by the architect G.W.v. Knobelsdorff in the finest way. By the time the park was extended and buildings like the marvellous Chinese Tea House, the Orangerie Palace in renaissance style and one of the most imposing buildings, the New Palace in late-baroque architecture were added. It’s a must to see those three peaces of art but remember to take a map along or you’ll find yourself up the wrong path on almost every turn. The park is huge (e.g. 2km between Sanssouci and New Palace!) but it’s worth a walk passing fountains and many marble sculptures.
Over three centuries Potsdam was beautified and almost everything was granted World Heritage status by UNESCO in 1990. That includes the Sanssouci Park, New Garden with Cecilienhof, Babelsberg and Glienicke with their castles, the wonderful Peacock Island (Pfaueninsel) and also the palace and park of Sacrow with its Church of the Redeemer (Heilandskirche). In 1999 fourteen further places were included, among them are the Russian Colony Alexandrovka, the hill Pfingstberg with the Belvedere palace and the astronomical observatory (Sternwarte) in the Babelsberg Park.
Thinking of a vacation in Germany most people would love to have an all-in-one-package filled with historical sights, museums, palaces and bustling city flair full of culture but also nature to relax far from the crowds - Potsdam offers it all. Starting in the city center almost everything is reachable within half an hour. The following tips show you what’s to see and to do and how to combine some highlights in a trip.
* Museum Schloss Cecilienhof (Neuer Garten) - this is where German history was written after the end of World War II. On a guided tour you see the rooms in which the Potsdam Conference took place
Meierei restaurant and brewery has a nice beer garden with a great look over lake Jungfernsee
One of the biggest Events take place in August every year - it’s called the Schlössernacht (Night of castles). It’s really spectacular when thousands of people come to the park of Sanssouci Palace to watch baroque music, dance and theatre - it ends with huge fire works