Express News Service

Famous as the site of the Potsdam Conference in 1945, when the UK, US and the Soviet Union decided the fate of Germany after World War II, there’s more to this tiny cosmopolitan town than just history. Founded around the seventh century and situated 24 km from central Berlin, Potsdam was the hunting quarters of the Prussian king Frederick William I. Three hundred years ago, it was transformed into one of Europe’s most splendid royal cities by Prussian rulers. The palaces and parks, which cover about 500 hectares and encompass 150 buildings dating from 1730 to 1916, were awarded UNESCO World Heritage status in 1990.

A perfect day trip from Berlin, a good place to start exploring the city is the picture-perfect Alter Market square, which has a baroque-style marble building built in 1753, with Corinthian stone columns; it used to be the Town Hall. The St. Nicholas Church looms large on the opposite side—it was heavily damaged by artillery fire during the war. It took many years to rebuild, and was finally reopened in 1981. The building draws inspiration from St. Paul’s in London and St. Peter’s in Rome. In front stands a majestic Egyptian obelisk.

the Dutch Quarter

Most tourists visit Potsdam to see the Sanssouci complex—the largest World Heritage Site in Germany—built in 1745 on the top of a terraced hill. It houses over 500 hectares of parks and a maze of gardens with lawns, marble statues, fountains, meadows and flowerbeds. Terraced gardens carpet the hillsides with vines from Portugal, Italy and France, besides 300-year-old oak, chestnut and beech trees. 

Whimsical and playful, Rococo art adorns the walls of this 12-room villa whose marble hall glows white and gold. It was the main royal reception hall and concert room, where Frederick, a talented musician himself, played the flute for his guests. A room is named after the famous philosopher and writer Voltaire, who was a frequent caller. The palace is a sensory overload of fine damask and silks, porcelain and Italian Carrara marble, gilt, paintings by masters, crystal chandeliers and frescoes. The favourite armchair of the king, who died in 1786, evokes royal contemplation.

The Brandenburg Gate

Not far from the Sanssouci complex is the Neues Palais built between 1763 and 1969 after Europe’s Seven Years’ War involving Prussia, Austria and Saxony. Rumours had spread that the royal treasury was broke. Kings have eccentric ways to show off their riches, and building palaces was one of them. Frederick built an edifice more extravagant than the Sanssouci Palace so that he could demonstrate to the people that the kingdom’s coffers were still full. 

The show-stopper here is the Grotto Hall, whose walls are encrusted with an intricate pattern of shells, marbles, minerals and semi-precious stones.

The ornate gates suit the splendour of a royal city. The baroque Brandenburger Gate, modelled on a Roman arch, leads to the Old Town and the pedestrian-friendly Brandenburger Strasse, which is filled with cosmopolitan boutiques. The medieval gate—Nauener Tor—takes you to the charming Holländerviertel (Dutch Quarter), the city’s own piece of Holland, which is home to 134 red brick houses with gables and white borders, constructed in the 18th century in typical Dutch style. Built on reclaimed swamp land, these buildings were originally accommodation for Dutch settlers who came to Potsdam as craftsmen hired to decorate the palaces. 

Not many people know that the city is home to Babelsberg—one of the oldest film studios in the world. Alfred Hitchcock trained here, and films like The Pianist, The Grand Budapest Hotel and Inglorious Basterds were shot on location. Today the former royal stables house the Film museum where you can watch retro films and see how movies are made through props. Heading back to Berlin, Potsdam’s fairy tale vibe lingers awhile as a short break from high-energy Berlin.

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