Here is a short story of our brief visit to Potsdam. It is a town just about 20 km outside Berlin. It is easily accessible by bus or train. I wasn’t sure if that was a right decision to go as we didn’t have much time on our hands in Berlin as it was and this would make just a couple more hours for us in Berlin after we came back from Potsdam and this would be it for us in Berlin. But there were no regrets as Potsdam gave us a chance to feel like a bunch of Berliners looking to escape the bustle and hustle of the city for a couple of hours as it was a perfect place to get away indeed. Our guide said a visit to Potsdam would make our stay in Berlin so much more worthwhile.
As we were driving to Potsdam, which took us some forty minutes, I started taking a kip. The views we had from the window didn’t seem too appealing and I needed some time to let the Berlin impressions sink in. The first views of Potsdam made it seem like a really nice and quiet place and made a big difference from Berlin which, compared to that town, then struck me as a vibrant and hustling city. It seemed also like a perfect place to live as living in a big city you might feel that all the tension and stress become too much but, in contrast, living in a small place like this you might get bored, so whenever you want a day or a night out, you know a big city and all the fun and entertainment it has to offer are just around the corner. So Potsdamers seem to have the best of both worlds. As we drove further into the town, there were fewer and fewer cyclists and more tourists who seem to come from different parts of the world. Everything looked more like a fairytale land and we were submerging into depths of incredible green.
Our first stop was Sanssouci. It was a summer residence built during the reign of Frederick the Great (Friedrich der Grosse). I made a brief reference to this person in the part describing our stay in Berlin. He had a tremendous impact on Prussia where he was the King and the whole of Germany as we know it to be now. The idea behind this palace and the park surrounding it was to make it a private solitary place rather than a place to show off aristocratic extravagance and pomp. Sanssouci translates from French as “without care”, “carefree”.
Frederick the Great disliked the German language for its rather confusing and complex syntax so this might be the reason why he chose to name this place in French that he seemed to be passionate about. We were standing there near the garden façade of this rather small and plain palace the roof of which read “Sanc, Souci.” For an instant, I felt like a royalty taking a leisurely stroll along the park and enjoying the sizzling sunshine.
That also felt a bit surreal as if we were on set making a movie about royal families. That made us all look a bit inappropriate and out of place as our outfits were most sure not up to the royal standards. Anyway, I tried not to think too much and enjoy the view that was marvelous. This part of the palace that was standing on a hill that overlooked a stunningly beautiful terraced garden with a speсtacular fountain in the centre of it. They call this place a German rival of Versailles and as I was marveling the beauty of the place, I heard someone in our group say Sanssouci was unrivalled by the latter, which made me even more proud to be here.
We were shown a place where Frederick was buried. His resting place was in the terrace of the vineyard where some of his favorite dogs are buried as well. He was known to be a huge animal lover. He wasn’t buried here until the early 1990s when Germany was reunited and finally the funeral took place after the nightfall just according to the last will of the king. Frederick was also famous for improving the state of the Prussian economy that suffered a significant damage during the Seven Years’ War and introducing some new crops like potato. There were some potatoes lying on his tomb, which was brought to our attention by the guide. That caused me to giggle a bit as I was ambivalent about potatoes. I love cooking and eating them but planting them is a bit of a nightmare for a person like myself who obviously is not known to have green fingers. This burial palace looks really sentimental and made me wonder how on earth a king would want to have his dogs buried next to him. I wasn’t known to be a dog lover either. But this dedication to pets melted my heart away.
I couldn’t wait to make my way down 120 steps to the garden. The garden was absolutely breathtaking and perfectly landscaped. We were lucky to come here in the summertime to see the garden in its blooming splendor. I was blown away by this so-called “Frederician Rococo” and embrace the light-heartedness and serenity of the place. The incredibly green garden seemed to dominate the view making the palace tiny and small. It epitomized the romantic ideal of harmony between man and nature. All those well-maintained flower beds and lawns now made it seem like a paradise and a perfect place to get away and mellow out. I should think some people were tempted to take one of the flowers back home with them as a reminder of our trip but I don’t think anyone would dare to.
We took a short stroll along the park and saw people sunbathing and enjoying a lovely summer day. All the flowers were said to be the same as back when Frederick came here and accepted his privileged guests, like Voltier with whom he was known to have an intimate friendship with, to name a few. The whole area stretches miles and miles away but since we were pressed for time as usual, we got to see only some parts of it.
The next stop on our magically green way was the Chinese House. That was a gild decorative house also used for social events. It took the longest to build due to the Seven Years’ War. It was fairytale-like as well. I wish we could stop for a lovely cup of tea here but we had to make our way further. We also saw a gazebo which was a sort of a pavilion structure which was both practical and ornamental and was again a brilliant combination of art and nature.
We got back to our bus to make our way to the Russian colony of Alexandrowka, which was originally a residence for a group of Russian emigrants. Actually, the only thing I knew about Potsdam prior to my trip there was that was the location of the Potsdam Conference with the leaders of the Soviet Union, United Kingdom and the United States meeting there to discuss what a post-war world would be like. Being in that spot and location was like taking a trip in a time-machine. That was our second Russian experience in Germany. Cecilienhof was the name of the palace where this conference took place. It now houses a museum and a hotel. We got in to get some souvenirs. Some of them were wonderful mirrors, fans. There was also some Potsdam conference memorabilia featuring pictures of Stalin, which was a bit creepy and made it feel like his watchful eye was following us even miles and miles away from home. I got my lovely cuddly Berlin bear there as I feared I might not have time to back in Berlin. I also had a chance to say a few words in German and I loved how the shop assistant smiled at me when I said “Vielen Dank” (Thanks a lot). Me speaking a bit of German seemed to come as a surprise to her. I was enjoying my German experience. When we got out, we found that the rest of our group and the guide were already gone. We were standing by the red star outside the palace waiting for them to show up but then we decided we would have to find our way around if we didn’t want to get lost. It would be embarrassing to have the rest of the group waiting on us in the coach. So, to add more thrill to our trip, we had to take a jog to where the coach was parked. If only we knew our way around! I think about nine people having exactly no idea where they were running to in a foreign country where people were taking leisurely strolls made a pathetic view. But anyway, totally out of breath, we made it to our coach, we found out that the rest of the group were not back from the walking tour. We were breathless but chuffed to make it on time. Now we were waiting for the rest of the group and then it was time to say goodbye to the lovely Potsdam. It could well make for a day trip and again we made a wish we would be back here one day to bask in the sun and enjoy the green beauty of art and nature coming together. That felt like a light-hearted romance that we knew wouldn’t last long. We were jealous of all those locals riding their bikes and had to go back to Berlin listening to our guide telling us about a dire financial situation in Germany and still secretly wishing we lived here. The next stop was Dresden.