• 0
Historic Highlights of Germany from A to Z

Potsdam: a land of gardens, parks, palaces and lakes.

Potsdam is best known for the magnificent palaces and parks that date back to its time as the former royal seat of Prussia. Prussian pomp and splendour, a heritage of great architects and scholars, and a focal point during the Cold War: Potsdam offers a breathtaking panorama of culture and history.

300 years ago, the garrison outpost of Potsdam was transformed into one of Europe's most splendid royal cities. The Prussian kings, in particular Frederick William I and his son Frederick the Great, created a baroque dream in Potsdam and the surrounding area, to which their successors added great monuments to classicism. In 1990 the Palaces and Parks of Potsdam were awarded UNESCO World Heritage status – at that time still at the request of the two rival German states. The original site comprised the parks and palaces of Sanssouci, Neuer Garten, Babelsberg, Glienicke and Peacock Island. In 1992 the UNESCO site was extended to include Sacrow Palace and park and Saviour's Church, while in 1999 another 14 monuments joined the list, including Lindstedt Palace and park, Belvedere Palace on Pfingstberg hill, Kaiserbahnhof station and the observatory at Babelsberg Park. All told, the world heritage site now covers about 500 hectares of parkland, encompassing 150 buildings dating from 1730 to 1916. A good starting point for a walk through the historical centre of Potsdam is Alter Markt square. The Church of St. Nicholas, Lustgarten park, the Old Town Hall and the reconstructed Stadtschloss palace, now the seat of the regional assembly, make an ensemble of impressive grandeur. A 16-metre obelisk, complete with carved portraits of the great Potsdam architects Knobelsdorff, Schinkel, Gontard and Persius, rises up at the centre of Alter Markt. Opposite Alter Markt, tucked away behind a row of houses, lies Neuer Markt square. Dating from the 17th and 18th century, this is one of the best-preserved baroque squares in Europe and arguably the most beautiful square in the city.

The former coaching stables on Alter Markt are now home to the House of Brandenburg and Prussian History, which is well worth a visit. Next to this, Luisenplatz square connects baroque Brandenburger Strasse with the tree-lined avenue that leads to the entrance of Sanssouci Park. Three impressive city gates dominate the old quarter of Potsdam, each more splendid than the next: Brandenburg Gate, a massive triumphal arch commemorating the Seven Years' War, Hunter's Gate, named after the royal hunting lodge to the north of the city, and Nauen Gate, one of the most popular meeting places in the city centre and a fine example of the English neo-Gothic style. Nauen Gate gives access to the Dutch quarter, where the ambience and lifestyle are a bit more laid back. Lovingly decorated courtyards, cafés, offbeat bars and avant-garde galleries make this the perfect place for a leisurely stroll. No visit to Potsdam would be complete without a trip along the city's waterways on one of Weisse Flotte's beautiful old steamboats. Depending which route you choose, the boats go as far as Glienicke Bridge, which connects Potsdam to Berlin and is where East and West exchanged secret agents and spies until into the 1980s. Not far from the bridge, to the south-west, lies the Hans Otto Theatre building with its spectacular shell-like roof of layered red overhangs. Over in Babelsberg, the cameras are rolling at Europe's biggest and oldest film studios, where more than 3,000 film and TV productions have been made. Between March and October, you can make a trip to the district's Film Park for a fun-filled look into Germany's very own tinsel town. That said, all of Potsdam has a touch of star quality about it.

City Highlights

Glienicke Bridge derives its name from the nearby former Klein Glienicke estate on which Glienicke Palace now stands. The bridge links Potsdam with Berlin across the river Havel. From 1952 onwards, the crossing once known as the 'Bridge of Unity' was only open to those with border passes. Because until 18 November 1989 this was one of the border posts between east and west. The bridge first came to the world's attention through media coverage of the spectacular exchange of spies here on 11 February 1986. A memorial plaque was erected on the bridge after German reunification and the bronze sculpture 'Nike 89' was unveiled on 10 November 1999 – both commemorating the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Designated as part of a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1990, Sanssouci Palace is one of the must-see destinations in the former garrison town of Potsdam. This rococo building known as the Versailles of Prussia was originally conceived by Frederick the Great only as a small vineyard house where he could come and spend the summer months with his dogs. Today, the palace takes visitors on a journey back in time through the art, cultural and architectural history of Brandenburg and Prussia – a similar experience can also be enjoyed at the New Palace, Cecilienhof House, Babelsberg Palace and many other sites of Prussian heritage. Read more

For anyone wishing to see how parts of eastern Germany are booming and flourishing, Schiffbauergasse is the place to go. This twelve hectare complex on the shores of the Tiefer See lake is now home to a lively theatre and art scene, as well as prestigious offices of two large corporations – namely Volkswagen and the US software provider Oracle, which is based in the restored coke separator of the former gasworks. Listed buildings such as the wash house, machine room and hussars stables have been lovingly restored and are currently being used by artists as studios and exhibition rooms.

Over the years, millions of visitors have flocked to Babelsberg, the place where fantasy films originated, where the first German 'talking picture' was made and where The Blue Angel and many other classics were filmed. For more than ten years, Babelsberg Film Park has been a film and TV mecca. Visitors get to glimpse behind the scenes to see how various shows, TV programmes and feature films are produced. Special effects demonstrations and stunt shows enthral around 2,500 cinema fans every day. It is advisable to allow a good few hours at the park to enjoy all the attractions and live experiences on offer.

Show more