Potsdam – city of gardens and palaces
26km away from Berlin (around half an hour from the center with the S1 train) you can find the small medieval city of Potsdam, a must-see on every visitor’s itinerary. An extensive landscape of palaces, pavilions, beautiful parks and more than twenty lakes comprise the main attractions. The town opens its arms to show us its history and, most importantly, the enthralling architecture that makes us feel far, far away from the unstoppable pace of Berlin despite its proximity. Known as “the German Versailles” for the magnificence of its palaces, Potsdam is a great option to stroll, relax, dream and go back to the 18th century – as 500,000 visitors discover each year.
Peace, serenity and a unique charm that evokes vivid memories from the past is what we feel whilst walking through the streets. After leaving the main train station and crossing the bridge over the Havel River, we discover that Potsdam was originally a fisherman’s town. In the 18th century it enjoyed its golden age as home and former paradise of the Prussian Kings. It was also the habitual residence of famous historical characters such as Mozart. Later on, during the Cold War, it became a focal point of convergence. Today it is a medieval-style university town under constant development.
Leaving the tranquil streets behind us, we arrive to one of the three key gates of “the city of palaces”: Brandenburg Gate. Noteworthy is its bright yellow colour. Its columns are much less stylised than its namesake in Berlin. Despite the name you could perhaps say it more closely resembles the Arch of Triumph of Paris, or the central part of the Puerta de Alcalá in Madrid. This monument, resembling a Roman triumphal arch, was built as a symbol of victory after the Seven Years’ War. Many see it is as the real Brandenburg Gate as it was constructed 20 years prior to the famous European monument in Berlin. Next to the gate begins a pedestrian boulevard lined with diverse restaurants, cafés and shops. Following it, we finish in the Dutch Quarter. Despite its beauty there is a noticeable difference between the winter compared to the last time we visited during the summer – when the boulevard was full of music, tables, ice creams and people walking around in all directions.
This time our visit focused on the magnificent Sanssouci Park, with its royal residences and buildings providing a breathtaking experience. We see a green landscape, caryatids and several UNESCO World Heritage Sites including the Sanssouci Palace, probably the most important example of Rococo architecture existing in Germany today.
The Sanssouci Palace was built on the orders of Frederick the Great. The monarch wanted a place that could be used as a refuge, where he could forget about the problems of the outside word. Its name, in French, means “without worries”, and it was inspired by the Medici villas of Roma and Florence and is surrounded by vineyards.
We are entranced by its luminescence, with colours ranging from turquoise to emerald green, and pale yellow on the façade. Of special mention is the grand staircase, the design drawing inspiration from the palace of Versailles. It is the perfect place for relaxing, reading a book or walking as a couple.
Apart from the large number of stunning buildings scattered all around, we can also find the modest tomb of Frederick the Great. Visitors may wonder why it is crammed full of potatoes. The king helped relieve hunger thanks to the massive cultivation of this vegetable, even though he never even tasted it (considering it low-class). Regardless, people to this day continue to thank him for this great idea by leaving potatoes, instead of the flowers more traditionally seen at people’s graves.
Walking towards the opposite side of the park, the opulence of the New Palace awaits us. The luxury and grandeur of this majestic palace is truly remarkable. Consisting of more than 200 rooms and adorned by 400 unique sandstone statues, it is impossible to leave unimpressed. A curious mix of baroque style and neoclassicism, you sense the use of curves, the many columns, pillars and the predominant brick red colour of the façade – all elements working in perfect harmony to culminate in what is surely one of the most beautiful buildings of Western Europe.
There is so much that can be said of this beautiful city that a single article can never suffice. Witness to so much history and with its unique charm and breathtaking architecture, it is a place you will always return to given the chance.