Potsdam was home to the summer palace of the kings of Prussia and later all of unified Germany. Frederich II, known to history as “the Great” for his military successes and benevolent rule, was probably the most notable of the line. The last was Kaiser Wilhelm II who helped usher in WWI. The latter was a self-absorbed narcissist who has earned the approbation of history, the former was a homosexual warrior king who is still loved and respected by the German people. Quite the dichotomy. Potsdam is also known for being the location of the post-WWII conference in which the fate of Europe was sealed until the end of the Cold War, and for its role as a crossing point between East and West Germany during that dark period.
We visited Potsdam on a tour organized by Insider Tours. There were a total of nine people in the group, plus our tour leader, another ex-pat American who has lived in Berlin since 2001. It takes about an hour to get to Potsdam from the heart of Berlin. The tour met at Frederichstrasse station where we boarded one of the regional trains.
We were fortunate that Germany created a special one-month transit ticket starting in June that costs just 9 euros per person, so even though we will only use it for three days we saved money. It’s good on all of the public transit — subways, buses, trams, etc.. — not high-speed longer hall trains like the ICE. Just getting out to Potsdam would normally be 10 euros per person. As of now the program will be offered through August, but Germans are hoping it’s extended. It’s also a good deal for any travelers thinking of visiting Germany this summer .
We spent the day visiting the sprawling Sanssouci Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1990, and the adjacent Neuer Garten. It was a heavy-duty walking tour, but we caught the best weather day of our week so far. Glorious sunshine with highs in the upper 70s. The building below is know as the “Neues Palais” (New Palace), built by Frederich the Great at the end of the Seven Years’ War (1756-63). He reigned from 1740-1786.
Frederich II was more interested in music and philosophy than governing as a youth. He was certainly gay and clashed with an authoritarian father. The father forced young Frederich to watch his best “friend” executed in a courtyard. It was the old man’s version of “conversion therapy.” Nice guy. Frederich, who preferred to be called Fritz by everyone including his subjects, came to accept he was fated to be king and is now known to history for his military successes and enlightened views. He did learn one thing from Dad. Both were famously frugal. The above palace was made of bricks that were covered with a kind of stucco and painted. Much cheaper than other building methods at the time.
The Neuer Garten, as the name implies, is home to buildings built by his successors. Since Fritz never had children for obvious reasons, he designated his nephew, Frederich Wilhelm II, as successor. This guy was the polar opposite. He basically was a sex-hound who kept various concubines stashed in homes around the lake fronting his home, below. At the top of the house is a light that he’d direct towards those various women when he was horny and looking for some action. Lovely grounds, but no surprise that guy died of syphillis after 12 years on the throne.
The last property visited was Ceceliahof, built by the wife of Crown Prince Wilhelm after WWI. His father, Wilhelm II, fled to Holland after the debacle of the Great War where he died some years later. His son petitioned the German government to allow him to return, and his wife supervised the construction of the home below in the English Tudor style. It later gained fame as the site of the post-WWII conference of Stalin, Truman, Churchill and later Clement Atlee. (Old Winnie lost an election as the conference was underway. Stalin was baffled.)
We should note that the interior of all of properties can be toured but timed tickets are required for each, and the park is huge. Our guide also said the board of foundation that runs the properties is dominated by old East Germans resistant to change. As it was we spent the entire day just walking the grounds, with a stop for a very nice lunch. Walked a total of about eight miles, but it was well worth it.