Residence of the Prussian Kings and the German Kaiser
Our second day of this quick weekend we spared to visit the beautiful city of Potsdam, just 24 kilometres to the south west of Berlin. This was for us the main reason for this weekend trip, and since we’ve already been to Berlin some years back where we got to spend 4 days full days, more than enough time to visit everything, it is why we took on this occasion Saturday only to remember a bit and walking along the major tourist areas and attractions without any rush.
Sunday, in the other hand was a very different story. Even the day was planned to start early, which it did, was definitely not enough time to visit every place I will be listing below in the next section of what to see and do. There are way too many places to see in Potsdam, and distances in between too vast, but it’s not only about visiting those places from the outside alone (which in any case for this first time in this city we did), but once you start entering the palaces and acknowledge the real size of them, time will fly away. As few weeks ago we got enough from spending the entire day in Versailles in Paris, and in matter of 2 weeks we will be in Schonbrunn Palace in Vienna, we decided to stick to the plan of see as much of the countless amount of palaces, pavillions, sculptures, fountains and parks just from the outside.
So what’s all this buzz about this place then that everyone talks about and ranks among the top 5 attractions in the whole of Germany? It is nothing else than the history that represents. The city became the full permanent residence of the Prussian royal family, who started to create such palaces, castles, pavillions and parks. The highlight came during the reign of Frederick the Great with the creation of Sanssouci Park and Palace in 1744 with its impressive Rococo architectural style instead of classic that was the norm elsewhere in Europe. The legacy after the centuries is what you can see today, all in its former glory after the vast long program or reconstruction and restoration that took place after the loss and destruction that happened here during the WWII and the Cold War afterwards.
I must say we’ve been a little bit unfortunate in the sense that absolutely everywhere in the city and within the UNESCO parks they are doing a lot of restoration works. This is as of September 2015. I only recall the Sanssouci Palace, Charlottenhof and Marble Palace as the only ones completely free of scaffolding. Every other where covered in some parts, but thankfully by parts so you can still enjoy at least one of two sides free of scaffolding but you won’t get the picture perfect you might wish to have. It appears their restoration project is going to go for some more years so bear this in mind.
Consider schedulling your time and plan of visiting ahead as this will save you time. For example, if you get by train to Park Sanssouci (note you will have to change trains as there are no direct ones here from Berlin central), then you can make all your way from west to east, then crossing the old town where you can step at any of the many restaurants that align the central street, then head north towards the Dutch Quarter, then the Russian Colony and end up towards the east by the entrance to the North Park. From here just keep going north by the lake shore passing by the Marble Palace and pavillions, and as last you would have come to Cecilienhof Palace. Right over there it is an exit to a small road where a bus to the city centre passes every 15 minutes. If you happen to be on the weekend here then it’s your lucky day because there is a bus directly to the central train station taking around 15 minutes only. Below i the next section you have listed the main areas pretty much as just mentioned and as we did. So except for the south of the city, everything else was possible in one day (without entering the buildings).
For more information about Potsdam check the Wikipedia and Wikitravel sites. Germany’s currency is the Euro. Please note that any price reference is true as from when this guide was created, therefore check prices in advance as with the time they change.
What to see and do in Potsdam
- Sanssouci Park Located to the north west of the city centre of Potsdam. Planned in similarity to the parterre gardens of Versailles, they are enormous and contain many fountains, monuments, pavillions and the famous palaces that form the UNESCO World Heritage Site complex. A 2.5 kilometres long main avenue crosses from east where the Obelisk is to west towards the New Palace, with the Orangerie at pretty much half way. In order from east to west are:
-Obelisk This monument and gates mark the eastern entrance to the park.
-Friedenskirche The Church of Peace as it is also known was completed in 1854 resembling a medieval Italian monastery. Here you will also find the mausoleum of King Kaiser Friedrich and his wife.
-Neptungrotte Right opposite the Church of Peace on the other side of the main avenue. Created by Frederick the Great between 1751 and 1757 to embellish the park. Intended as a fountain when created, due to the lack of knowledge in pumping it never got that use.
-Picture Gallery Bildergalerie in German, is the next importance construction just meters after the Grotto of Neptune. Built between 1755 and 1764 during the reign of Frederick II of Prussia for his private art collection.
-Sanssouci Palace It’s the main landmark and most known sight of them all. Built in 1744 upon orders of King Frederick the Great in rococo style, its interiors are some of the most exquisite of all the palaces in Germany, and it is often said to be the rival of Versailles in France. The name comes from the French words sans and souci, which translates as “without worries”. Over the pass of the centuries the palace has always been the preferred residence of the German Imperial Family until their fall in 1918.
-Terraced Gardens Located at the back of the palace on the down-hill were created as sloped vineyard.
-Great Fountain Built in 1748 and modelled upon the idea of Versailles one. From here you get the best view of the terraced vineyards and the palace at the top.
-Windmill Original from the 18th century it is now a small museum. You will easily see it towards one end of the Sanssouci Palace.
-New Chambers Located at the front of the windmill (a nice picture is the combination of both structures). Built between 1771 and 1775 it is a complement of the Picture Gallery.
-Chinese Pavillion Built to enhance the flower and vegetable gardens, in a blend of Chinese and rococo style, it is without doubt one of the most unusual structures.
-Orangerie This superb building and gardens make one of the nicest places within the park was built for King Friedrich Wilhelm IV between 1851 and 1864 in Italian Renaissance style.
-Belvedere Pavillion Farther ahead and straight from the Orangerie in parallel to the main avenue is this monumental pavillion designed by architect Georg Christian Unger who based his plans on the drawings of Italian archaeologist Francesco Bianchini as he tried to reconstruct the Imperial Palace on the Palatine Hill in ancient Rome.
-New Palace Built under the rule of King Friedrich II was completed in 1769 becoming the largest ever Prussian baroque palace. The interiors are splendidly heavy decorated and include a marvellous theatre. It marks the west-end of Sanssouci Park.
-Communs This twin building with the curved colonnade connecting both was meant for the New Palace kitchen, servants homes, gardening and guards and located behind the palace itself. Nowadays it is part of the University of Potsdam and not open to the public.
-Antique and Friendship Temples Both located at each side of the main avenue at the front of the New Palace.
-Charlottenhof Palace Heading southeast from the New Palace is this, the last of the major palaces that form the entire UNESCO complex. Former summer residence of Crown Prince Frederick William built between 1826 and 1829.
-Ruinenberg Although this area is not located within the Sanssouci Park itself, it is however important part of the entire complex. It is located to the north of the Sanssouci Palace. The ruins, though not ancient, were created to look as that, as if it would be part of a Roman amphitheatre.
- Old City Centre It is not only about the palaces but also about how beautiful is the old city centre that although not big, it is packed with nice buildings, some of which of recent reconstruction as they were still missing after they were destroyed in the war.
-Brandenburg Gate Marking the western entrance to the old city while at the other side is already the Sanssouci Park and Palaces. The old city walls once enclosing the perimeter are long gone. Built in 1771, resembles the Arch of Constantine from ancient Rome from Sanssouci side, while for the city side, however, is more austere and simple.
-Nauener Gate This monumental city gate on the northern edge of the old town sits on the site of the former city walls, now an avenue. Built in 1755 it became the first example of English Gothic Revival architecture in Continental Europe.
-Dutch Quarter The Holländisches Viertel lies meters to the east of the Nauener Gate. Was built in the 18th century by Dutch master builder Johann Boumann to be used by Dutch artisans and craftsmen. It’s unique in Europe (outside of the Netherlands).
-Alter Markt The most important and central square in the Old Town, the Old Market is where you will find the major sights in the city.
-Stadtschloss City Palace as it translates from German was originally built in 1662 upon orders of Frederick the Great to be the winter residence of the Prussian kings. Severely damaged in 1945 and completely demolished in 1961 was not until 2002 that the first section, the Fortuna Gate was rebuilt, and 2013 when the partial reconstruction finalised.
-Saint Nicholas’ Church Right behind the City Palace complements the square. With construction done in 1837 and the dome added in 1850, had to be partly reconstructed after the WWII.
-Old Town Hall At one of the sides of the square.
- North and east of the Old Town Where you will find all the other palaces that are also included in the UNESCO listing.
-Russian Colony Alexandrowka From the Nauener Gate towards the north following the main Friedrich-Ebert-Straße is this unique district, inscribed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 1999. Built in 1825 for a small group of Russian immigrants during the reign of The Soldier King.
-New Garden Located to the east of the Russian Colony and towards the Heiliger Lake. Ordered to be constructed in 1787 by Frederick William II of Prussia.
-Marmorpalais The Marble Palace was built between 1787 and 1792 in pure classicist style as the centrepiece of the gardens.
-Palace Kitchen Built in 1790 in the form of a partially buried temple overlooking the Heiliger Lake.
-Gothic Library This small pavillion contained the library of Frederich William II.
-Ice House Used as a storage of ice back then, was designed in the form of a pyramid.
-Orangerie With an Egyptian style entrance built in 1793 topped by a sphinx
-Cecilienhof Palace Is the last palace ever built from the Hohenzollern dynasty. The eldest son of Kaiser Wilhelm II, Crown Prince Wilhelm and his wife lived here until 1945.
-Dairy At the very north end of the gardens and by the shores of Lake Jungfern. Built in 1792 to supply the royal court with milk and manufacture of butter and cheese. Nowadays a brewery and restaurant.
-Glienicke Bridge Across the Havel between the Glienicker and Jungfern Lakes was the scene of some Cold War exchanges of spies as here met the once divided West and East.
- South of the Old Town Although there are great areas and places to visit, as a one day tourist the likes or chances you will have time to get here are limited hence only plan if you will be spending longer time in the city.
-Park Babelsberg This beautiful and smaller park compared to the other two is home to the Gothic style palace-castle which is also listed as an UNESCO World Heritage site. You will need to cross along any of the bridges from the Old Town or nearby areas as it’s in the other side of the Tiefer Lake.
–Einstein Tower This observatory was built in 1921 and it’s one of the best examples of expressionist style. The main purpose was to prove (or disapprove) the Theory of Relativity.
From downtown Berlin the best way to reach Potsdam is by train. Either the commuter trains S1 and S7 or the faster regional express RE1. The cost is the same for any service, so grab the first that comes instead of waiting. The ticket price is 7.20 Euros and you need a ticket that covers Berlin areas ABC which is the farthest you can get anyway.
For the Schloss Sanssouci the most optimal and time effective way would be taking the RE1 train direction Brandenburg and get off at Charlottenhof which is the next station following Potsdam Central. Once there it’s a few minutes walk towards the southern entrance (Charlottenhof), or change train at Potsdam Central for a train calling at Park Sanssouci on the west entrance of the park and then make your way towards the opposite east end exit near the old town.
Within the city there are several bus lines which can be handy for tourists since distances between the parks are a bit long, but can be easily done on foot. As mentioned above, if starting your route from the New Palace and making your way towards the Old City centre, then you can head northeast and continue walking from the Russian Colony onto the New Park and end your day there. That way you will end up visiting almost everything bearing few other minor palaces and buildings, but as you are highly likely to be on a day tour, there is really not much you can do to push for it unless you stay another day.
Since our base was at Berlin I cannot recommend any place here in Potsdam. But the likes you would be doing pretty much the same or similar to us in having your base at other city not Potsdam are quite high. This is included in any pre-planned tour operator trip to Berlin, where they set the base in Berlin and this is a day trip. In any case, there is a wide choice of accommodation of any kind as I could verify from a quick search in the usual hotel search engine websites. A good and reasonable point to start your search is by checking some of our preferred affiliate hotel search engine such as Hotels.com, Booking.com, Expedia, Otel.com, Agoda, Opodo, LateRooms or Ebookers.
The hotel we stayed in Berlin was the Novum Hotel City B Centrum in Potsdamer Strasse 129. Literally few steps away from Bülowstraße metro station on the southwest of the city and near Mitte. With so many buses, trams and metro line to everywhere, it could not be better located! The hotel was very nice and offered us a great deal on value for money. We only stayed there for one night hence why we did not go this time for something more grand or with facilities such as pool, jacuzzi, sauna and the likes. We knew we would not have time at all to enjoy any of these but what we definitely enjoyed was the great rest and sleep. Comfortable bed, large well kept rooms and very friendly staff, and great included breakfast.