Potsdam, waiting to be discovered

July 6, 2016

Potsdam, just half an hour away by train from Berlin, is the capital of the German Federal state of Brandenburg. When you arrive at Tegel airport you can either take a bus or taxi to Berlin Central station (Hauptbahnhof). The taxi costs around 25 euro. There are trains every half hour from Berlin central station to Potsdam. You can buy a ticket online in advance, or from the ticket vending machines in the hall. (3,30 euro one way to Potsdam). The ride takes no more than half an hour. From the train station it is only 2 km to the centre of Potsdam, a 20 min. walk to the Brandenburger Tor, or a short taxi ride that costs about 10 euro.

We had booked a room at the Brandenburger Tor hotel, on the corner of Brandenburger strasse, just next to the Tor. The rooms are spacious, the bathrooms very modern with all necessary toiletries provided, a complimentary bottle of water and a bedside candy. Breakfast was not included in our rate so we decided to eat out the next morning. We arrived at 10 AM, and had to wait for the room until after 12 AM. We left our luggage at the check-in counter and each rented a bike form the hotel for 12 euro/day/bike.

We went out for coffee and a brunch, drove through the main traffic free shopping street (Brandenburger strasse), and had our first coffee at the Buena Vida Coffee Club.

Their cappuccino was very good. They have some breads and sweets like croissants and cookies  if you are happy with just a simple breakfast. We wanted something more sustaining. After some biking around the Holländisches Viertel, we ended up at Daily Coffee, just next to the Nauener Tor, built in Gothic revival style. The tower looks quite recent, but is rebuilt in its current form in 1755. We both had the Bircher muesli with fresh fruit and carrot juice and a cappuccino on the side. We went back to the hotel to put our bags in the room and to freshen up a bit.

We biked to the Sanssouci Park, and had a look at the Sanssouci Palace and the Chinese building (Chinesische Haus), but apart from the Neues Palace, everything is closed on Monday.

So we continued to the Neues Palais. Good thing about visiting on Monday is that you are almost alone in the New Palace!

We brought a ticket and visited the magnificent palace, sumptuously decorated with marble, shells and precious stones, silk brocade, wooden inlay floors, crystal chandeliers, gold and silver. The Prussian emperor, Frederick the Great was fond of the Rococo style and it shows. The recently restored Lower Royal Suite, with its Braided Room, Concert Room and Oval Cabinet, presents one of Europe’s most luxurious interior décors. And the magnificent Marble Hall has also reopened in April 2016. The entrance ticket includes an audio guide, but you have to pay extra if you want to take photographs (3 euro). (If you buy a ticket for taking photographs, do not throw it away, we reused it the next day in the Sanssouci palace since they do not check the date stamped on the ticket. If not just give it away to another visitor.)

We were really hungry by now, and had dinner at Maison Charlotte, where they serve French inspired dishes. They have a nice garden in the back if the weather allows. We ended the day with a drink at Matador, just next to the hotel, with views of the Brandenburger Tor.

We had breakfast at XIX hotel, restaurant and bar in the Dutch quarter. We took the Neunzehn breakfast: bread, croissant, fried egg, Serrano ham, cheddar cheese and salad, with a cappuccino. Just perfect! The place seems also to be quite good for lunch or dinner.

Since the weather was so sunny, we took advantage and drove our bikes to the Neuer Garten. On the way you pass the most beautiful houses.

In the Neuer Garten you can visit the Belvedère and  the Marble Palace, romantically situated on a terraced site directly on the lakeshore in the New Garden. The most important building in the Neuer Garten is Cecilienhof Palace where the Potsdam Conference took place. The Potsdam Conference was one the most important historical events of the 20th century. It is seen around the world as a symbol of the end of World War II and the beginning of the Cold War, which led to the division of Europe and the erection of the Berlin Wall. The conference was attended by the “Big Three” – the American president Harry S. Truman, the British prime minister Winston Churchill (followed by his successor Clement Attlee), and the Soviet head of state Joseph Stalin. The park is just next to some of the many lakes around Potsdam. Two buildings completely covered with oak bark have recently been completely rebuilt. I had never seen anything quite like it.

We continued to the Glienicke Bridge, one of the most renowned monuments of the Cold War up to the fall of the Berlin Wall. Until the political change in 1989, Glienicke Bridge was not only a prominent border line, but also a point of exchange for secret agents of both political systems who had been taken prisoner. (As in the movie “Bridge of spies” with Tom Hanks). The bridge is a beautiful vantage point with a views of Schlosspark Glienicke (castle grounds), Babelsberg Castle and Park as well as Sacrower Heilandskirche (church of the Saviour).

I was getting tired so we decided against driving to Babelsberg and instead replenished our energy with a piece of cheesecake from Gaum, famous fir its many kinds of delicious cheesecake. We chose the one with cherries. I have to admit that their cheesecake is good but not so good as to justify the raving reviews they get on Tripadvisor. Just so you are not too disappointed.

In the afternoon I made a second small bike trip to visit the Steam Engine Building ( in a mosque like building), which functioned as a pump station for the many fountains in the Sanssouci park. The Roman baths are based on an Italian country house in a 15th century style.

The Charlottenhof Palace built in the Neoclassical style is an architectural center point of the grounds that were added to Sanssouci Park beginning in 1826.

And I indulged in some shopping in the late afternoon. The shops are all concentrated in one street (Brandenburger street) and its side streets, and there were early sales! The shopping was celebrated with an ice-cream from Eis Manufaktur. We ended the day with an Aperol Spritz and a salad and pizza at Matador.

The next day we decided to visit the rest on foot. We walked to Backstoltz for breakfast. It is a quaint little coffee bar with a terrace in front. They have many delicious cakes on display outside. We chose a croissant each, muesli with milk and fresh fruits and yoghurt with fresh fruit and a cappuccino. Everything was super fresh, and the fruits were delicious, just perfect for breakfast!

We walked to the Sanssouci park and up to the Sanssouci Palace, through the terraced vineyards. The front of the palace looks out over a hill with a fountain and a Roman ruin at the far end. Fredrick the Great had it built after seeing paintings of Rome. He also had a historic wind mill built, based on a Dutch model.  At the ticket counter the tickets were sold out for the morning, so we decided to check out in the hotel first and bought tickets for the 1 PM audio guide tour. If you want to be sure, best to book your tickets online in advance. Be aware that most tour groups visit before lunch.

On the way back we stopped to visit the Friedenskirche (Church of Peace)  at the entrance of the park. The Church of Peace is thus modelled on the early Christian basilica of San Clemente in Rome.

After checking out at the hotel we walked through the park back to the Sanssouci palace which Frederick had built as his summer residence. About thirty people are allowed in at one time slot, which makes the visit in the quite narrow palace still comfortable. Flowers are everywhere in the decoration of the Frederician rococo style. Frederick used all the best materials, marble, silk, precious woods, silver and gold, and ordered his furniture to be made by the best artisans. Frederick the Great’s grave is located on the highest terrace of the Sanssouci palace. (often with some potatoes on top…) One one side of the palace you can visit the Picture Gallery, a structure built specifically to house an art collection, which is one of the most majestic 18th century buildings in Europe. It is also the oldest surviving gallery building in Germany. The collection includes works by Caravaggio, Anthony van Dyck, Peter Paul Rubens, Jacob Jordaens and others as well as French statues from the original 18th century interior design as well as ancient busts. We bought separate tickets for both palaces because we visited them on different days, but if you visit the two palaces and perhaps other buildings, it is wise to buy a combination ticket.

We had lunch at Chi Keng, a well reviewed Asian restaurant on Luisenplatz. I can really recommend the place, the dishes are delicious and the portions quite large. I had an infusion of lemon grass to accompany my salad.

We had a last coffee at Junick coffee bar, where they roast their own coffee beans.

We returned to Berlin by train, and took a taxi to Tegel airport to catch our plane home.

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