Potsdam has an extensive history dating back to Frederick the Great and the court of the Prussian kings, through to the Potsdam Convention at the end of WWII when Allied leaders decided the fate of Germany at Cecilienhof Palace.
We spent a day wandering through the UNESCO world heritage listed site, taking an easy half hour’s train ride from Berlin.
Here are 10 things to do in Potsdam we found that you mustn’t miss if you are planning a trip to Potsdam
Church of Peace
The protestant church of Peace was commissioned by Frederick William IV in 1845. In a serene lakeside setting with the Sans Souci gardens, the Church is based on a drawing of the medieval Church of St Clementine in Rome.
Together with the courtyard sculptures and frescoed domes, you will find a 13th century Venetian mosaic above the apse. This was purchased from a disused church in Murano by the Prussian King and brought to Potsdam.
St Nicholas Church
St Nicholas’s Church in the Alt Markt replaced the original 17th century church on the site in 1843. It partially collapsed under allied bombing and Soviet fire in 1945, and was reconstructed over several decades. Today it is the largest church in Potsdam, still retaining many of the original architectural designs. The dome has a diameter of 24 metres and the interior of the church if 52 metres high. Outside the church, the obelisk commemorates the architects who designed the church and surrounding “Old Market”.
Old Market Square Centred around St Nicholas Church, the Alt Markt square was once the centre of Potsdam. Nearby was the City Palace constructed in 1666 under Elector Frederick William and the Old Town Hall. Most of the historic buildings were destroyed during WWII bombing. All that remains today is the old carriage houses, now a museum which blends with surrounding modern theatres and administrative buildings. The obelisk outside St Nicholas church commemorates the original architects of the square. Relax in the sun and enjoy a meal or an ice cream sundae and browse through the many shops and craft stalls.
Old Town Hall Situated on Alt Markt Square, the old town hall was completed in 1755. The Baroque architecture of this and the surrounding square reflects Frederick the Great’s love of art and Italian architecture. The dome is surrounded by 8 pilasters and is topped with a statue of Atlas. The gilded statue of Atlas, together with the internal stairase leading to the dome were the only features of the original building which were not destroyed during WWII bombing. The building has been restored to original design and is now a cultural centre.
Brandenburg Gate An exact replica of its larger, Berlin Cousin the Brandenburg gate stands at the beginning of the avenue leading to Sans Souci Park. The triumphal arch was erected in 1770 to celebrate the end of the seven year war
Glienicke Bridge Crossing the river Havel, the Glienicke Bridge connects the Federal capital of Berlin with the State Capital of Potsdam. During the cold war, the bridge was reported to have been a hotspot of espionage. Today it is a perfect vantage point to take in the river and parkland scenery
Known as “little Amsterdam” the old Dutch quarter has four squares and over a hundred two story homes, made exclusively with red dutch bricks and white trimmings.
Frederick William I originally commissioned the buildings to attract skilled workers to the area to assist with the expansion and development of Potsdam.
Today the area has a unique atmosphere, with pubs, cafes and craft shops.
Located in the northern part of New Garden, Cecilienhof Palace was the residence of Crown Prince Wilhelm, named after his wife Crown Princess Cecilie. The Tudor style wood and brick building has no fewer than 176 rooms and is opened to the public from Tuesday to Sunday. The palace was also historically the site of the 1945 Potsdam conference, where allied leaders met to decide the future of Germany. It was unfortunately closed to the public on the day of our visit.
Old Dutch millhouse
An unexpected find while wandering the grounds of Potsdam’s Sans Souci park is a reconstructed Dutch windmill. Flour milling was a major industry in the area over many centuries and the historic museum takes you back in time to the workings of an old dutch mill.
Located adjacent to Sans Souci Palace, you can hear the clattering of the mill blades as you approach the vine covered mill tower.
Many legends surround the original mill. One has the miller refusing Frederick the Great’s offer to buy the miller out as the sound of the mill blades were annoying.
Other accounts have the miller being a shifty operator an problematic tennant, whose lease was not renewed in 1835
Operating as a mill site since 1738, the original milll served as a museum from 1838 until its destruction in 1945. Rebuilt in 1983 on the original design, today you can explore 3 floors of the mill house, beneath the slowly turning wings of the mill.
Climbing the narrow wooden stairs you can see the traditional grain grinders and sifters, as you cross the creaking timber floorboards, giving the mill an authentic feel.
Sans Souci Park and Palaces
Set over 50 hectares of parkland, the seat of the Prussian court was once the powerhouse of Europe. Today the UNESCO world heritage site has no fewer than 17 palaces dating from 1730 to 1916.
We took the opportunity to visit the magnificent Sans Souci Palace, home of Frederick the Great and also the New Palace constructed constructed by Frederick II and home to Kaiser Wilhem II until 1918.
My next post will feature our tour of these two palaces.
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