Not long ago this town was laying in the shadows of nearby Berlin, today it is the most precious place to live, when it comes to eastern Germany. We’re talking about Potsdam, which is now enjoying its second youth. There are more and more people who want to live there and there are more tourists coming from Berlin for visits longer than one day. Potsdam can offer much more than the famous Sanssouci Palace. There are 20 palaces here. Some of the most interesting places here are the Russian and Dutch district. Potsdam is not only beautiful and dignified, but mostly it is enjoyable, tasty and peaceful. It is best to visit it by bike, especially if you have such beautiful weather as we had.
The palace complex, the Sanssouci Park and the oldest Brandenburg Gate.
Let’s start with the place everyone probably associates with Potsdam. Sanssouci is a giant park and palace complex with 7 palaces and 72 kilometers of walking paths, which is as large as 300 hectares. So, its surface can conquer with New York city’s Central Park. An army of full-time working gardeners is taking care of the look of Sanssouci. Every tree and bush is cut like from under a ruler. The most well known and probably the most beautiful palace is of course the 17th century summertime residence of the Prussian king Frideric the 2nd Great Sanssouci, but it’s not the biggest building of the complex.
Neues Palais built of Frideric’s family and guests is 12 times bigger and is the best way the express the king’s impetuous and impatient character. The palace was built too fast, because Frideric didn’t want to wait any longer, he wanted to have the Sanssouci palace as quickly as possible just for himself and his beloved greyhounds. So he tried to compromise. Instead of using bricks to build, he ordered to paint the bricks on the elevation. The rush and the pressure of time made this building the most frequently renovated in Potsdam. This time was no exception, a huge part of the palace was covered with scaffolding. The only places we could see in good conditions were the kitchen and the servants’ room, which look like two small palaces and they are connected with the main building through the underground tunnels.
The best way to start the visit to Sanssouci is from the Branderburg gate, which is 21 years older than the one from Berlin. After driving through Alle nach Sanssouci we got to the beautiful green alley of Am Grunen Gitter, which leads straightly to the Sanssouci palace. While going from here to Neues Palais, you should definitely stop by the beautiful Chinese tea room. From Neues Palais we went to Krongut Bornstedt, the former royal brewery, where the local, brilliant Bornstedter Buffel beer is brewed according to the 1689 recipe. In the park you can only ride a bike on the designated alley. If you don’t want to spend a fortune, you’ll have to keep this in mind.
Aleksandrovka – the living monument of German and Russian friendship.
When the Tsar died in 1824, the king of Prussia Alexander the 1st decided to build a living monument of German and Russian friendship. In memory of the Tsar he build 13 houses in Potsdam, which were inspired by Syberian folk and army architecture and were the home to the members of the Russian Army Choir. The houses were designed to allow the families to feed themselves. Each of the houses had an enormous garden with numerous fruit trees. In total, there are about 800 trees planted 13 gardens. The houses aren’t made of wood, but from bricks covered with wood.
Living in Aleksandrovka meant dealing with certain, peculiar restrictions. If you think this was a well deserved reward, you are mistaken. For example, the singers had to marry a local girl and give birth to a boy. If the baby was a girl, they lost their home. One family decided to break this custom and for the time of the control they “borrowed” a baby from the neighbors. But everything eventually became clear and from that moment on the guard was guarding the house on every childbirth. The guard lived and controlled the members of the choir from the house no.1, where today there is a fine Russian restaurant. Today only two families live in Aleksandrovka. Their great great grandparents were the first citizens of the Russian district in Potsdam.
The Dutch district and the unusual cheesecake bakery
The strict centre of Potsdam looks much more Dutch, rather than German. The Dutch district was built in the first half of the 17th with purely practical reasons, it was a housing estate for Dutch craftsmen, who worked on rebuilding Potsdam. It is the biggest complex of Dutch architecture in Europe, aside from the Netherlands, of course. All you need to do walk a few hundred meters from Sanssouci or the Old Town and 134 Dutch baroque styled red brick houses will take you into a different world. While walking between you will really feel the atmosphere of the Netherlands.
But it wasn’t always like that. In the times of communism the district was quite rundown, but after the fall of the Berlin wall it got restored and brought back to life.
You can really see and feel this vibrant city. There are plenty great cafes and restaurants. The address that you just have to visit is Mitelstrabe 39, the best cheesecake bakery, which bakes their cheesecakes since 1992. Last year the florentiner almond cheesecake from the Guam café has earned its well deserved gold medal on the cheesecake fair in Berlin. Everyday, in Guam café you can try 10 cheesecakes with seasonal fruit or marzipan of all the 30 cheesecakes which are baked here, but you’ll have to hurry because the cheesecakes can disappear very fast. At 5pm on a typical day of the week there’s nothing but crumbs left behind them. We’re getting hungry just from thinking of these cheesecakes, this will be the first place we’ll visit on our next stay in Potsdam. When it comes to Vegans, we recommend them pastries from good dEATs café, also located in the Dutch district. It’s not hard to get there, the café tempts the people from the streets with its extremely appetizing smell.
Nauener Tor, the Potsdam saloon and paradise for coffee lovers
The Dutch district is attached to the Nauener Tor gate, the leftovers of the walls, which separated the city until the French revolution, to make the desertion impossible for the soldiers. But that’s the reason we’re writing about it. Next to the gate there is Café Heider, known as the Poczdam saloon. It is not called that by accident. Its interior look is class itself. People have been drinking coffee here since 1878. If you get your coffee, you definitely have order one of the local cakes, which tempt the clients from the bar. We also decided to try some branderburg classics – potatoes boiled in uniforms, dipped in white quark cheese spiced up with herbs, chive and linseed oil., which we wrote about in the note about Brandernurgian cuisine: “German cuisine – how does Branderburgia taste like?” If you want to observe the slow paced life on the streets of Potsdam, just sit down at one of the tables by Café Heider, and if you just want to have some good coffee, go to the nearby Espressonisten, the unusual place created by a real passionate. Its owner, former journalist, who agreed to talk with us for a short moment, abandoned his warm job and 6 years ago he did everything make his coffe dreams come true. And that’s the way a cozy café was created, along with a shop, where you can buy more than 30 types of coffee and everything you need to make your own coffee.
The Cecilienhof Palace, the Glienicker Brucke spy bridge and the Babelsberg park.
Do you remember, which palace held the Potsdam conference for the end of World War II? Not in the Sanssouci palace, but in the less known Cecilienhof palace, located in Neuer Garten park upon Havela. It wasn’t built in such a chaotic way like Sansouci, but it is impressive too. The facades of the palace are decorated with the Prussian wall made of dark wood, and the palace itself has 176 rooms. But that’s the most surprising thing about it. Did you know that the palace has 55 chimneys? Not far from the palace you can find the Brauerei Meier brewery with a beautiful view of Havela. It is a very popular meeting place for the citizens of Potsdam. There you try the sweet Meierei hell beer, also from a 1.5 liter mug.
But let’s get back to the history. From the brewery we went along Havela to one of the most well known bridges in NRD. During the cold war, a border between Western Berlin and Eastern Germany was running through Glienicker Brucke. The USA and the Soviet Union were exchanging arrested spies three times, that’s why it is called the Spy Bridge. If you like spy climates you should also go to the former KGB prison, which is located between Alexandrovka and Neuer Garten. Today the Glienicker bridge is connecting Berlin with Potsdam and when you’re there, you can see a beautiful sunset above the park and the Babelsberg palace, which probably the favorite park of the citizens of Potsdam.