Sunday, 3 April 2011

Potsdam - Ohne Sorge

Spring finally feels like it has arrived, and these past two Sundays we have been visiting a favorite place of ours, Potsdam, 24km SW of Berlin.

Potsdam is almost as far West as you can travel on the Berlin transport system*, and yet it is not even in Berlin. In fact, it isn't in the same federal state either, and is the capital of Brandenburg. For 30 years it wasn't even in the same country as most of Berlin, being then part of East Germany (the DDR).

Potsdam lies beside a string of lakes fed by the river Havel, and mostly owes its importance because it was chosen as a royal residence by the Hohenzollerns; the kings of Prussia and eventually emperors (Kaisers) of Germany. The architecture is hence grand in scale, with colossal neoclassical and especially baroque palaces, churches, and monumental gateways. It had also been a centre of immigration, encouraged by the Hohenzollerns who were not so much tolerant of different religious beliefs as canny enough to know that the Hugenots etc had valuable skills to offer a kingdom wanting to build up its power. So amongst the Italiante and the gothic, there are also areas with a distinct Netherlandish, French and even Russian style.

The Royal court also attracted the wealthy bourgeoisie, whose stucco town villas still crowd around the city centre, some of them unrenovated and in crumbling grandeur. And to protect the court, Potsdam was also a garrison town with military barracks, stables, and training grounds.

In the twentieth century, Potsdam developed into a centre for research and technology, including a number of observatories, the best known of which is the expressionist architecture of the Einsteinturm built between 1919 to 1921 as a solar observatory to prove (or disprove) Einstein's theories of relativity.

Without doubt though, it was Frederick the Great (Friedrich II, Old Fritz) who made the greatest contribution to Potsdam becoming in our time a World Heritage site, when he had the Summer Palace and landscape gardens of Sans Soussci ( French for 'without worries' ) created, so that he could get away from boring political life in Berlin (and his shunned wife Elizabeth Christine stuck away at Schloss Schönhausen) and rap with philosphers such as Voltaire.

Here are a few of my photos from the last couple of weeks to help you get an impression of the town. For anyone thinking of visiting Berlin, then a trip out to Potsdam is a definite must. Actually, you could easily spend a week there and still not tire of the many historical, cultural and leisure opportunities (disclaimer: I am not in the employ of the Potsdam tourist board).

(Copyright me, and click for bigger)

Alt Markt, next to the building site that is to become the rebuilt Schloss Potsdam and seat for the Brandenburg Government.

The recently restored St Nikolaikirche

Atlas on the dome of the Altes Rathaus

Assorted statues and military ware on the Potsdam skyline near Alt Markt.

Window on the side of the St Nikolaikirche
Detail of an angel on the Nikolaikirche.
Detail of a skull on the obelisk in Alt Markt.

The rebuilt carillion of the former Garrison church. The church was bombed during WWII and could have been rebuilt, but the church (and its bells) was a symbol of Prussian militarism and was also where Herr H. chose to be sworn in as Chancellor in 1933. The DDR weren't too happy to revive these memories, but there is now a plan underway to rebuild the church.

Brandenburg Gate. No, not THAT Brandenburg Gate, and in fact this was built before the Berlin one.
Busy Sunday on Brandenburger Straße

The fantastical Chinese House in Park Sans Soussci.

Gilded statues adorning the Chinese House in Park Sanssouci.

Gabled houses in the Dutch Quarter.

Another of the gates that were once into the town wall - the Jäger Tor or Hunter's Gate.

The Italianate Friedenskirche, or Peace Church, on the edge of Sans Soussci.

Underneath the lantern.
The French Church (Französische Kirche) erected in 1750 for Potsdam's Hugenot community.

The Marstall, or cavalry stables, now the Potsdam Film Museum.

Mural from the DDR era series of murals 'Der Mensch bezwingt den Kosmos' at a former Data Processing centre.

Is it a mosque? No, it is actually a pumping house (Pumpenhaus) that used steam engines to pump water to supply the fountains of Park Sans Soussci.

Das Pumpenhaus seen across the upper end of the Templiner See.
More Potsdam reflections in the Templiner See.

Schloss Sans Soussci Summer Palace.

Column in front of the terraces leading up to Schloss Sans Soussci. The terraces are planted with grape vines by the way - not at their best this time of year!

A nicely un-restored town house.

Another quietly diapidating villa, this time with a DDR Trabi parked in front.

French Crêperie. Old Fritz would have approved.
Final, parting shot of Sans Soussci before the statues are uncovered, the flowers are planted, and the tourists come in their droves from around the world.

* Werder is the furthest West

1 comment:

  1. Hi Andie,

    Just discovered your great blog.

    It took me a while to really "get" Berlin.
    I managed to visit for the first time just before the wall fell, and again just after, but by the time of my next visit, reconstruction was well under way, and although of course no one wanted the wall to continue, I was a bit disturbed by the nature of some of the development.

    Still, it's settling down now. Plus, I managed to get a much better feel for the place by hiring a bike and getting round on two unassisted wheels, and I can honestly now say I love the city and its surroundings, including of course Potsdam.

    Reminds me I'd like to spend a lot more time there.



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