Thursday, September 22, 2016
It's Another Amazing City of Palaces...Potsdam!
I realize that I've been concentrating on Connecticut a lot lately, so I thought I would do something else for once. There's a city that I've always been fond of just outside of Berlin that is one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites that I love to visit. It's full of palaces and historic buildings and comes with some wild tales of royalty from times gone by. It's a stop on Berlin's public transportation and is one of the most popular day trips from the German capital. It's been home to Prussian Kings, was visited by Tsars and Napoleon. Welcome to Potsdam, Germany.
Potsdam is a historic city. There are many old neighborhoods to visit, and one of the most popular is the old Dutch Town. Back in the day, the Dutch did a lot of business here, and their empire was vast, so it was one of those areas that the Dutch used to keep people in the area and cement their empire. This era was followed by the Prussians and the Fredericks made sure that the city remained a military stronghold for many decades. There were palaces built to honor Tsars like Alexander, and the Potsdam Agreement was negotiated and signed there after WWII.
This place reminds me of St. Petersburg, Russia in a lot of ways. The palaces being the first way. Palaces were the way that leaders used to show their power. This area was ruled for a long time by the Prussians, and they built the bulk of the palaces in this town. But, out of towners who wielded a lot of power used to come and stay here with their armies. The one that always comes to mind, is the one that I've been studying lately...Napoleon. He used to come and winter with his troops in Potsdam and stay in one of the homes/palaces there. Since the city was set up for military use, it was an obvious choice. It became particularly important after Napoleon got into a power struggle with his old buddy Tsar Alexander and they started to fight on Russian soil. Potsdam was closer to the war than France, so Napoleon put it to use. Eventually the Prussians got uncomfortable with the situation and joined the coalition to dethrone Napoleon, and instead of palaces in Potsdam, Napoleon ended up on St. Helena in a rainforest.
Potsdam has an oriental palace, just like St. Petersburg, Russia. It isn't an exact replica, but the sentiment is the same. It comes from a time period where the Asian styles and art were popular, and all the royals had to have one.
These days Potsdam is a historical city and a university town. There are several colleges and universities there, so you will find your museums and palaces coupled with bistros full of hippie styled students. It's an odd combination of youth and history. But, Potsdam has always kind of gone with the times.
The palaces date back to the kings, but during WWII, Hitler used it for military training and parades. He held huge rallies there for his Third Reich. It was one of the few places that escaped heavy damage in WWII, which is amazing, because it is just a stone's throw from Berlin. And Berlin got bombed...heavily. The Potsdam Agreement was just one of many treaties and official peacekeeping documents that came from WWII. If only it would have kept this city open to the west during the Soviet times. That's right, Potsdam was in the east for a few decades before being set free when the wall came down. So, that kind of makes this a fairly new attraction full of ancient relics for those of us in the west. We've only been able to come here for 25 years.
So, what I'm trying to say is that if you are visiting Berlin, Germany; this is a side trip that you should not miss. If you love palaces, this is a spot for you. You can book a day tour and just go and have fun. You can also spend the night and see even more. To be honest, I love the modernity of Berlin, but the contrast that you get by visiting Potsdam is wonderful. It brings the past to life to go along with the present of Berlin. It's part of the story of the Germans, and it's an important chapter. So, don't miss out on Potsdam. Enjoy!