Solo Travel Journal
Yesterday I visited Potsdam, capital of the State of Brandenburg fifteen miles south of Berlin. Scenery during the train ride changed from graffiti tagged concrete walls to colorful autumn trees and stately mansions in Berlin’s west suburbs. October weather is mild with warm sunny days, but it’s getting colder. Light rain didn’t hamper the beauty of the area, but it wasn’t great for photography.
I talked with people on the tour – mostly Millennials from other countries who were interns or employees of German film and video game companies. They shared their challenges learning Berlin’s public transportation system and said it took them six months to acclimate. They thought it would take a long time to learn German in Berlin – versus a small German village – primarily because of the many versions spoken within diverse cultures. I’m slowly picking up German words and phrases – important because many Berliners don’t speak English.
Get Your Guide, a group I’ve used in other cities, led the tour. Potsdam is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with baroque architecture, world-famous palaces, gardens, historic quarters, parks, lakes, and estates. The area was once the residence and garrison town of Prussian Kings and German Kaisers. Our guide was from Lisbon Portugal, but he’s lived in Berlin for over four years. As with most tours, it was fast-paced and full of details – a good introduction to Berlin.
Potsdam’s palaces aren’t as grand as Versailles or Vienna, but it’s an impressive area with a fascinating combination of old and new. In the summer Berliners gather at the lakes and parks for swimming, hiking, biking, boating, and nude sunbathing. The gardens are more natural than those of most European palaces.
Brandenburg has a chain of beautiful lakes – Havel Lakes – that surround Potsdam and include Dampferfahrten, Schwielowsee, Griebnitzsee, Templiner, and Fahrlander. Boat trips with water views of the castles, churches, and parks are popular.
Sanssouci Palace – constructed in 1747 this palace was the summer residence of Frederick the Great. The name translates from French to “without a care”. Sanssouci and Potsdam were where Frederick escaped busy Berlin.
Dutch Quarter – is the largest Dutch housing development outside the Netherlands. Potsdam is surrounded by water, so Frederick brought builders from the Netherlands to construct his palaces because they were familiar with similar soil conditions.
Cecilienhof Palace – last castle built by the House of Hohenzollern – and the Historic Site of the Potsdam Conference. When fighting ended in Europe, the three major Allies of World War II – American President Harry S. Truman, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Clement Attlee (his successor), and Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin – met at Cecilienhof to establish a Council of Foreign Ministers and central Control Council.
Alexandrovka – is a Russian Colony in northern Potsdam. Frederick brought Russian singers and dancers to Potsdam to entertain his guests. Many of them decided to relocate permanently.
Filmmuseum – encompasses the entire media city Babelsberg. The film complex includes Studio Babelsberg – the oldest film studio in the world and the largest in Europe, as well as Film Park Babelsberg, Babelsberg Film School, Film University Babelsberg, Radio Berlin-Brandenburg (RBB), and the Film University Babelsberg Konrad Wolf.
Barberini Museum – a privately donated art museum in Old Market center housed in a reconstructed Baroque palace. Billionaire Hasso Plattner is the Barberini Museum benefactor.
Bridge of Spies
Bridge of Spies – Glienicke Bridge was built over the Havel River in 1907 to connect Berlin’s Wannsee District with Potsdam. During the Cold War, the US and Soviet Union exchanged spies over the bridge. Steven Spielberg’s 2015 film – Bridge of Spies – tells the story of lawyer James B. Donovan who negotiated the release of Francis Gary Powers, an Air Force spy plane pilot shot down over the Soviet Union in 1960. Powers was exchanged for Rudolf Ivanovich Abel, a convicted KGB spy held by the United States.
Einstein Tower – is home of an astrophysical observatory for studying magnetic fields related to solar spots. The tower is named after Albert Einstein. From 1929 to 1932, Einstein and his wife lived in Caputh, a village near Potsdam. The Leibniz Institute for Astrophysics manages the observatory.
Potsdam Brandenburg Gate – in the centre of Luisenplatz is an original mock-up of Berlin’s grand gate on Pariser Platz.
Church of St. Peter and Paul – restored Catholic church that suffered serious damage during WWII bombings.
St. Nicolas Church – the beautiful neoclassical Protestant church on the Old Market in Potsdam is listed as a sacred building.
Due to their “uniqueness, influence on art history, and proven association with historically significant events” the “Palaces and Parks of Potsdam and Berlin” joined UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 1990.
Marble Palace © Ulf Böttcher
The Berlin-Potsdam World Heritage area extends from Peacock Island on the Havel River in the east to beyond the New Palace in the west. It includes the Brandenburg, Berlin, and Saxony-Anhalt areas with their villages, castles, and parks – Sacrow, Glienicke, Babelsberg, Sanssouci, Charlottenhof, Lindstedt, and New Garden.
There’s so much to explore in Brandenburg and the tour peaked my interest. I’ll be returning. Unbelievably :(, I got lost on the way back to my apartment in Kreuzberg. Our train from Potsdam stopped in Charlottenburg and it was difficult finding the hidden U-Bahn connection (a 10-minute walk). The train, underground, S-Bahn, bus, and tram connections are still confusing – at least to me.
Frederick William I Hunting Lodge