Potsdam Germany UNESCO World Heritage Site

Schloss Sanssouci Potsdam – http://www.isango.com

Yesterday I took a day trip to Potsdam, capital of the State of Brandenburg 15 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 wealthy west suburbs. October weather has been phenomenal 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.

St. Nicholas Church

I talked with people on the tour – mostly English-speaking 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 6 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.

Russian Orthodox Church Alexandrovka © Hans Bach

Get Your Guide, a group I’ve used in other European 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 4 years. As with most tours, it was fast-paced and full of details – a good introduction to the area.

Potsdam Church of St. Peter and Paul

Marble Palace Near Sacred Lake New Garden Potsdam

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 visit the lakes and parks for hiking, biking, swimming, boating, and nude sun bathing. The gardens are more natural than the manicured ones embellishing most European palaces.

St. Nicholas Church Dome

Potsdam Attractions

These are summaries of Potsdam’s best known attractions. During our six-hour walking tour we passed by attractions but didn’t view interiors – that’s a separate trip. My favorite park was once a royal hunting ground near Grunewald Hunting Lodge.

Hunting Lodge

Brandenburg has a chain of beautiful lakes – Havel Lakes – that surround Potsdam and include Dampferfahrten, Templiner, Fahrlander, Griebnitzsee, and Schwielowsee. A boat trip with a water view of the castles, churches, and parks sounds interesting.

Museum Barberini – Museums Heritage

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.

House Potsdam

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.

Cecilienhof New Garden

Alexandrovka – is a Russian Colony in northern Potsdam. Frederick brought Russian singers and dancers to Potsdam to entertain his guests. Many relocated permanently.

Dutch Quarter

Filmmuseum – encompasses the media city Babelsberg, including Studio Babelsberg – the oldest film studio in the world and the largest in Europe – Film Park BabelsbergRadio Berlin-Brandenburg (RBB), the Film University Babelsberg Konrad Wolf, Babelsberg Film School, and the Film University Babelsberg.

Potsdam Windmill

Barberini Museum – a privately donated art museum in Potsdam’s Old Market center housed in a reconstructed Baroque palace. The museum’s benefactor is billionaire Hasso Plattner.

Bridge of Spies

Bridge of Spies

Bridge of SpiesGlienicke 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.

Lindstedt Castle and Park

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. Today, the Leibniz Institute for Astrophysics – part of the Leibniz Association – manages the observatory.

Potsdam Old Market © Barbara Plate

Potsdam Brandenburg Gate – in the centre of Luisenplatz in downtown Potsdam is an original mock-up of Berlin’s grand gate on Pariser Platz.

Alexandrovka © Michael Lüder

Church of St. Peter and Paul – restored Catholic church that suffered serious damage during WWII bombings.

Schloss Sanssouci

St. Nicolas Church – the beautiful neo-classical Protestant church on the Old Market in Potsdam is listed as a sacred building.

Hunting Lodge

Berlin-Potsdam UNESCO World Heritage Area

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

Sculpture Sanssouci

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 Berlin, Brandenburg, and Saxony-Anhalt areas with their villages, castles, and parks – Sacrow, Glienicke, Babelsberg, Sanssouci, Charlottenhof, Lindstedt, and New Garden.

Boat House Near Hunting Lodge

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

Berlin’s Light Festival from River Spree

Berlin Festival of Lights from River Spree

Berlin’s autumn Festival of Lights is a spectacular 10-day show with creative displays by talented artists from all over the world. During the festival, landmarks and historic buildings are elaborately illuminated from dusk to midnight. It’s an exciting time with vivid visuals and a happy atmosphere!

Every night I’ve checked out light shows in different parts of Berlin. The weather has been clear with unseasonably warm temperatures in the 70s providing ideal viewing conditions. There are 58 different light shows presented in 60 locations (including the US Embassy). Participants include 66 artists from 25 countries!

Light Halo Anyone?

Some of the shows use projection mapping, a “presentation technology becoming increasingly popular in media art and at concerts”. The process involves projecting customized images onto three-dimensional objects. It’s spectacular to watch!

There are many fun ways to view the festival, including by hot air balloon. Saturday night I decided to watch from a different vantage point and boarded a cruise to see the colorful light projections from River Spree. The tour began at 7 pm. from Jannowitzbrücke and floated along the Spree for several hours of fun!

There were 200+ people aboard the double-decker barge-like boat. I enjoyed talking with two fun guys from Australia. According to our tour commentator, the three of us and two Italians were the only non-Germans on board.


“Berlin has more bridges than Venice. Together, the German capital and the surrounding state of Brandenburg comprise Europe’s largest network of inland waterways.”



Boat traffic backed up on a busy Saturday night, so it took us some time (both ways) to pass through Mühlendamm Lock in the canal. The historic Lock is part of a causeway built in the center of the then medieval city during the 1200s.

Boats on River Spree

During the Light Festival or anytime, Berlin is amazing at night! Having experienced the nighttime view from River Spree, I’m looking forward to a daylight tour along the same route.

Brandenburg Gate Festival of Lights


Some of the light shows use projection mapping, a “presentation technology becoming increasingly popular in media art and at concerts”.


A surprising fact about Berlin is that in addition to River Spree it has 6 other rivers and an unbelievable 1,700 bridges! The rivers account for an astonishing 80 kilometers of navigable waterways within Berlin’s city limits:

  1. Bäke River
  2. Dahme River
  3. Kindle River
  4. Havel River
  5. Panke River
  6. Tegeler River

Passing Under a Low Bridge

Passing under the lighted bridges was a giddy treat! Some of them were so low, the Captain asked people on the top deck to remain seated as the boat slipped underneath.

Berlin Cathedral Festival of Lights


“It’s said that Berlin has more waterways than Amsterdam, Stockholm, and Venice COMBINED.”


Berliners participate in the festival by making a charitable donation to Aktion Augenlicht and picking up a “Lekker Lichtbox”. Aktion Augenlicht facilitates shared experiences for blind and visually impaired people. During the light-fixed period (7 pm – 12 am), LED boxes shine in windows throughout the city. Even though my apartment faces a courtyard, I put a small light in the window :o).

Food Vendor

Light Balloons

Viewing the Light Shows from a Bicycle Taxi

Scary Reptilian

Festival of Lights from River Spree