It’s my last day in Berlin. I considered heading out to Potsdam yesterday, but I don’t know any Prussian history beyond mentions in various historical fiction books. I’m a European history junkie, so I want to know everything about everywhere… so I joined a group again. It’s nice to have this casual group option when solo-traveling.
A short train ride later, we enter Potsdam, first popping through the Old Market Square and into Saint Nicholas Church for a bit. Our guide, Paul, then leads us to the pretty Havel River, with Glienicke Castle in the distance. I’m admiring how peaceful it is, completely oblivious to the fact we are standing at the foot of the Glienicke Bridge. During the Cold War, the Soviets and Allies used this bridge to swap captured spies; hence, it’s more commonly known as the Bridge of Spies. I’m surprised to learn the Berlin Wall even extended this far. One can still see traces of the Soviet occupation on some of the obelisks. They’ve cleared many faces and words, not wanting people to remember their powerful Prussian heritage; communism. Wandering along the lake, we come to Cecilienhof, the last Prussian Palace to be built (interestingly in the Tudor style.) This palace-turned-hotel hosted the Potsdam Conference, where the US, UK, and Soviet Union gathered to determine punishment for the defeated Nazi regime and sign the Potsdam Agreement. Paul discusses the role the Allies played and how different history might be today if not for their participation. I’m intrigued to know more about it; it’s a shame that I don’t already… but this is why I travel. I travel to experience cultures and learn history… even surprisingly, my own.
We venture up a hill in a wooded area called Pfingstberg. This area hosts a variety of international surprises; we explore Belvedere, a Renaissance-inspired palace, a Jewish cemetery dating back to 1763, and a Russian Orthodox chapel (a tiny, bright pink structure with one room along the pathway). The chapel was built for the King’s preferred Russian musicians; he was able to keep them in Potsdam by providing them a colony of housing for their families and an Orthodox church for them to worship. The little settlement was called Alexandrovka. We came across many seemingly random things like this around Potsdam along with a blend of architectural styles. Baroque, renaissance, rococo, oriental… and even Netherlands-inspired housing, cafes, and pubs that make up the Dutch quarter in town.
We spend the rest of the day touring the primary sites of Prussia’s 17th-century Kings and Kaisers, in Sanssouci Park. Sanssouci Park features sprawling lands with gorgeous statues, fountains, gardens, and multiple palaces. My favorite spot, and one of the most popular, is Sanssoucci Palace. Frederick the Great’s summer palace is appropriately painted a bright yellow. This palace, which is more like a sprawling villa, was intended to be a pleasure palace built for the purpose of relaxation. Besides the vineyard, gardens, and fruit trees, the grounds host a beautiful gilded gazebo, the Temple of Friendship, and a small pavilion called The Chinese Tea House. The info provided along the tour gives me a new-found interest in Frederick the Great and his father, the “Soldier King”, an eccentric royal with a passion for military. In complete opposition to his father, Frederick, growing up in the Age of Enlightenment, found his passion in the arts instead. He sounds like a bit of a Renaissance man. Strolling beyond the rococo Sanssouci though the area, we spend some time at the Orangerie, a 19th- century renaissance palace before walking down a long, tree-lined road to the 18th- century baroque Neues Palais.
Frederick had built this “New Palace” to celebrate Prussia’s success after the Seven Years War. I think my favorite thing about the palace is the 450 historical and mythological statues surrounding it. The best of these statues is definitely the cheerful cherub, giving us thumbs up! A proper way to seal the day on palace-loaded Potsdam.