A day in Potsdam: Royal pastime just outside of Berlin

A mere 35 minutes removed from the city center with the S-Bahn, one can go back in time in the royal town of Potsdam.With its many palaces, castles and towers, not to mention the abundance of villas and mansions, you feel privileged to set foot in such a compact part of Germany that is so rich in history. From the Fredericks to Napoleon to the DDR, Potsdam has seen many leaders come, live and leave. Each dynasty would leave its own distinctive mark, whether it be a palace, an imperial train station or a prison run by the Russian KGB!

Saint Nicholas am Alten MarktAs it’s impossible to cover the many places of interest in Potsdam, I will settle for pointing out a few of my favourites. The famous Sans Soucci palace will be discussed another time, as it truly deserves its own post. Pictures are taking throughout the seasons, as Potsdam is the perfect getaway during any given month – from Springtime to Winter.

After riding the S-Bahn for half an hour, we arrive at our destination; Hauptbahnhof Potsdam. The first monument that catches your eyes would be the Saint Nicholas Church, located at the Alten Markt (Old Market). During my trip to Potsdam in February, I was lucky enough to admire the rebuilt Potsdamer Stadschloss, risen from the ashes of WW2. It is now home to the Landstag, the parliament of the state of Brandenburg.
Bring a few extra coins with you to climb your way up to the grand cupola, as it is opened to the public on fair-weather days. The terrace provides you with a majestic, 360 degrees view over Potsdam, the lakes and the forest.

The St. Nicholas Church is visitable every day from 9:00 to 18:00, although Sunday mornings are reserved for the parish only.

Flatowturm in Park BabelsbergNext stop is the famous Babelsberg Park, where we can marvel at a magnificent tower called the Flatowturm, a schloss and stunning views on the lakes. The landscape is actually man-made, as a certain Highness wanted to enjoy a view over the hills, as he stood on the terrace of his tower. The tower is actually built on the remainders of an old, Dutch windmill. This explains the odd scale of the structure.

The park is adjacent to the village of Babelsberg, a place where time stood still and that is certainly worth the visit. Especially the little streets surrounding the church square are charming and picturesque.

Various monuments are spread through the enormous park, varying from a castle with a beautiful wild garden to a fountain adorned with angels on the top of a hill, to remarkable stable ruins that have an eerie feeling to them.
Make sure to wear shoes with profile soles, as there are no real paths throughout the park, and the hills tend to get steep. As long as you clean up after your pooch, the park is dog friendly and there is no need to keep them on a tight leash.

Potsdam Tiefer See

From the high Babelsberg Park, you are provided with a stunning view on the old Berliner Vorstadt at the other side of the water – a peninsula on which the most beautiful estates are scattered along the shores of the surrounding lakes. I suggest you to walk or bike to the Vorstadt by going around the Tiefer See, keeping the Babelsberg Park on your right hand. Mind you – it will be quite a walk!

The other side of the peninsula is graced by the presence of the Heiliger See. This has got to be my favourite part of Potsdam, as it is surrounded by English gardens, giant trees, little palaces and small, secluded badestelle (bathing spots). Sadly, there are more signs that indicate a ban on bathing than those which you invite you to take a cool dip in the lake. This is truly a pity, as the Heiliger See is one of the finest lakes around Berlin where you can take a swim. Because the little lake is inaccessible for boats, there is no pollution nor danger.

Still, it is definitely worth risking a confrontation with the strict but friendly park rangers. They will tell you it is actually forbidden to spread your towel out there on the combed grass, but it is very unlikely that you will receive a penalty. Just follow their instructions and you should be fine. Don’t be surprised if you are not the only bather willingly ignoring the signs: it is a very Berlin thing to do!

Cecilienhof in the Neue GartenLast stop for today is the castle that doesn’t look like a castle, a landmark that was host to the famous post WW2 negotiations between Stalin, Truman and Churchill. Located in the Neue Garten, also home to the Marmor Palais and other monuments, this schloss hasn’t given in a bit to the test of time. Nowadays a hotel, one can only imagine how cozy this estate must have felt back in the days of the last German Emperor.

There is a temple-like structure near the Cecilienhof, called the Palmensaal. During the Spring and Summer months, this is a perfect cafe to catch your breath while enjoying a sip of espresso. The adjacent flowerbeds are truly a sight to behold.

There is simply too much to see and to do in and around Potsdam. This Wikipedia article lists them all, but one would need over two weeks to do justice to each and every monument within the town limits! Take your time to explore Potsdam, for each stone has a story to tell and every tree has witnessed remarkable shifts of power throughout the rich, royal history of this realm!

S-Bahn 7 Alexanderplatz – Hauptbahnhof Potsdam (35 min)