Just a few minutes’ drive from the very heart of the steamy city centre of Berlin in Germany, perched majestically on the banks of the Havel River, lies the glorious capital of Brandenberg – Potsdam. With a sensational history, delightfully colorful and seeped in regal heritage, Potsdam was once the glorious home to German Kaisers and Prussian Kings in its royal heyday up until 1918. Although royalty no longer swans through the sprawling parks and gardens alongside the manicured banks of glittering lakes, there is a distinctive imperial air about the city, where its lavish history is anything but forgotten.
Listed as a World Heritage site in the 90s, Potsdam is home to the legendary collection of parks and palaces known as Sanssouci – the brainchild of one Frederick the Great, or as his minions knew him – King Friedrich II. Sanssouci was the summer palace of the great King of Prussia and its surrounding terraced gardens, manicured parks, rolling lawns and interconnected lakes survived through some devastating WWII bombings.
Map of Potsdam
Host to the legendary Potsdam Conference in August 1945, the Schoss Cecilienhof Palace was designed to look like an English Tudor Manor and was built for Crown Prince Wilhelm of Germany by the Hohenzollern family. With such deeply cultural, political and royal roots, the city today is a charismatic blend where old meets new. A capital city of science and home to the Filmstudio Babelsberg, the added constraints of the city not being accessible from the city of Berlin until very recent times also makes it one of the most exciting German cities to visit.
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The Best Time to Go
Germany is one of those wonderful countries that is great to visit all year round; all it depends on is what kind of style of travelling and climate you prefer. Each season brings its own special delights and some parts of the year are busier than others. Summer is obviously the most popular time of the year to travel – between the months of June, July and August. The balmy warm weather brings in hordes of tourists all coming to enjoy the exciting open air festivals and great weather. But this tends to be a very busy time and you can expect long lines to all of the attractions and the highest prices for airfares and hotels.
If you are not a fan of the chilly winter weather, or a fan of high season prices, then the spring time will be the perfect time for you to go. The temperatures are getting warmer, Easter and spring celebrations are in full swing and the prices will be kinder to your budget. In addition, you won’t have to contend with masses of people either.
Autumn is a great time to go as well – once all the summer tourists have returned from whence they came and the heat of the peak of summer is simmering down. Prices are much tamer and you can enjoy one of the many local wine festivals in peace and quiet. But this is the calm before the Oktoberfest storm which happens in Munich, where mini season arrives again. So book early, arrive before Oktoberfest and leave afterwards, just don’t forget your brollie – autumn is rainy season.
If you are a winter sports enthusiast, then you are in luck, winter holiday season over December in Germany is a real treat. Very cold and full of festivities this is one of the busiest times as the run up to Christmas draws near. Lots of Christmas markets, mulled wine and snowmen make this one of the most romantic times to go.
Getting Around in Potsdam
The transport system in Potsdam is high tech and for the most part excellent, but can be very confusing at first. Consisting mainly of trams and busses, Potsdam, Berlin and some areas of Brandenburg are all part of the VBB transport network, so you can hop on and off where ever you want to, as long as your ticket has the correct zone validation.
The easiest way to buy tickets is to purchase a rechargeable Geldkarten card and swipe it at any tram or bus terminal, but keep some small change handy for when the ticket machines are out of order. There is a new cutting edge ticketless system that uses a smartphone app to deduct funds from your account when you pass through various zones.
Although it may be confusing, it is actually quite logical once you get going, and the staff at VBB are helpful, patient and speak English, which will be a great help when you get stuck. You can get all of your information, prices and times for any of the 5 main lines in and around Potsdam on the VBB website.
Major Attractions and Sights
With so many breathtaking UNESCO World Heritage sites throughout the capital city of Brandenburg, Potsdam is one of the most exciting places in Eastern Germany to visit. With the palaces being some of the biggest draw cards to the city, there is so much more to see and experience. it can be difficult to know where to start. Here are some places you must not miss when you visit here.
The Cecilienhof Palace is the historic site of the Potsdam Conference held in the summer of 1945, after WWII. The Great Hall was full of historic giants like Truman, Stalin and Churchill, as they sat around a giant round table, deciding the future of a post war Germany. See the original table, in the actual hall, lots of flags, authentic documents and fascinating photographs. This romantic English Tudor Manor style palace is set in the resplendent Neuer Garten. Tour the music salon, the original bedroom of the royal family and the smoking room.
The Sanssouci Palace – Sanssouci – meaning without worries in French – was the lavish summer palace of the King of Prussia, Frederick the Great. Built in the 1700s, the rococo designed palace is perched majestically overlooking some 700 acres of terraced vineyards, manicured royal gardens, marble sculptures, gushing fountains and sprawling promenades, as well as an original Chinese tea house. Be sure to book your time slotted ticket to tour the palace well in advance and get in well before lunchtime during the week. You can also see Frederick the Great’s tomb on one of the highest terraces closest to the palace itself.
The Bridge of Spies was renamed from its original Glienicke Bridge after an exchange of a Russian agent for a US pilot in 1962. Its origins go back as far as the Cold War and have a cryptic history. Straddling the Havel River, the Glienicke Bridge was the integral connection between West Berlin, which was occupied by the US and Potsdam in the East which was soviet occupied. The main function of the bridge was to exchange secret agents and Cold War spies between the two locations.
The Dutch Quarter or Hollaenderviertel is the community right in the very heart of the city of Potsdam, commissioned by Frederick the Great, who had the houses in the quarter built for Dutch craftsmen and artisans who were invited to make their home and settle here by the King himself. Built in the 18th century, there are some 130 houses built in traditional Dutch style – white shutters, red brick facades and distinctive Dutch gables, all nestled on the edges of curvy cobbled streets. Listed as a World Heritage site you can now enjoy some of the sidewalk cafes, boutiques and restaurants that have found homes here.
The Gedenk- und Begegnungsstätte Ehemaliges KGB-Gefängnis Potsdam is the former KGB prison in Potsdam and is now a memorial site to the same. It was occupied by soviet forces during the war and today is an exhibition showcasing the grounds as a prison for counterintelligence. A stark and harsh reminder of the consequences of dictatorships, it is open during the spring and summer months every year.
The Russian Colony Alexandrowka is just outside of the middle of Potsdam. Built by the Prussian King in 1827, the 13 wooden houses were residence to the Russian singers of the First Prussian Regiment of the Guards. What is fascinating is that some of the original family descendants continue to live in these historic homes today. Quaint fruit and vegetable gardens surround the homes and there is a Russian teahouse and Russian Orthodox chapel in the colony as well.
The Filmpark Babelsberg is an historic movie theme park, proudly showcasing the very first German expressionist film in the world that was made here at Film Babelsberg studios. Here you can enjoy a line-up of exciting shows and theatre throughout the year.
Shopping in Potsdam
There are some great shopping opportunities here in Potsdam. Check out the middle of Babelsberf and Potdam Alstadt and enjoy the baroque quarters. Plenty of places to meander around, lots of tucked away courtyards that are home to upmarket boutiques, high end fashion and quaint shops and stores. You can make your way on foot to the Dutch Quarter – Hollandische Viertel and enjoy a cocktail at one of the swish pubs or cocktail bars, stroll around the galleries, shop at the sidewalk stores or enjoy a meal at one of the many restaurants. There are plenty of malls in downtown Potsdam – exciting enough to delight the most discerning of retail enthusiasts.
If you like markets then don’t miss the weekly ones at Weberplatz and Bassinplatz. There are lots of seasonal gourmet delights from fresh pike, ripe cherries and asparagus.
Eating Out in Potsdam
Cuisine in Potsdam is distinctive of the simple, nutritious and delicious traditional menu specialties of Brandenburg. The unofficial national food staple is the potato, brought into the region by the King of Prussia – Friedrich the Great. There are many dishes that are potato based and almost all dishes have a side of something made from potatoes. Locally grown, sourced, produced and consumed, Potsdam cuisine is very much influenced by biodiversity, with more than 80% of their entire menus in restaurants and homes being home grown.
Potsdam is blessed with an abundance of nearby lakes and rivers, providing a fresh source of pike, lamprey, eel, crayfish, carp and walleye as some of the menu favorites throughout the city. Local forests are a lush source of porcini mushrooms, chestnuts and chanterelle. Be prepared to wash every meal down with a generous helping of mouth-watering German beer.
Feast on potato pancakes, sausage and sauerkraut and wash it down with a few frothy glasses of Bavarian beer while relaxing on a cobbled walk way in the Dutch Quarters which offers great Indonesian and Dutch food and watching the people pass by on the travels. And experience the very best Germany has to offer.
Nightlife in Potsdam
There is plenty going on here in Potsdam at night if you can haul yourself off the hotel couch after all that beer and sauerkraut at lunchtime. It is slightly less wild than the never ending parties of Berlin, but you can’t miss out a chance to boogie here in Potsdam. There are lots of pubs to chill out at, enjoy a few beers and a legendary burger or two, like the popular Hafthornm which has a great biergarten open in the summer time.
La Leander is a fantastic upmarket coffee bar, well known as catering for the gay scene, but a fantastic place to relax and enjoy early evening sun downers and everybody – gay or not, are very welcome. There are some traditional clubs where you can go dancing after dinner and drinks, complete with big name DJs and a good party scene that will take you into the wee hours.
The Baumbluntenfest – Werder – Every year in this quaint, gorgeous and charismatic little town complete with a small island and glittering lake, you could be forgiven for thinking you have walked into a fairy tale picture book. The Werder Wine Festival is held in Werder, just outside the city of Potsdam, to celebrate spring as the fruit trees blossom – rows and rows of sour cherry trees, from which the wine is made, has exploded into flowers and the party is on. Cobbled stone streets, some 700 000 people, a carnival and much, much sweet wine just waiting to be consumed.