By Highroad Cam with GeorgieJet
From Augsburg, GeorgieJet and I continued along our Historic Highlights of Germany tour with a three-hour Deutsche Bahn train ride from Rostock (on the Baltic Sea) to Berlin, where we changed trains and arrived in Potsdam 20 minutes later.
Potsdam, the capital of the Brandenburg State, is not actually part of Berlin—but it’s a “must visit.” It’s where the ”Soldier King” Friedrich William I lived, as well as his son Friedrich II (Friedrich the Great), built the famous Versailles-like Sanssouci Castle and Gardens over 250 years ago. Potsdam is also known for the Potsdam Conference which was held in the Schloss (Palace) Cecilienhof in 1945. This is where the victorious allied leaders Churchill, Truman and Stalin decided the future of Germany.
Upon arrival, Georgette and I walked just ten minutes to the perfectly situated Mercure hotel on the Havel River—close to the train station, shops and historical sites. The typically GDR (German Democratic Republic)-built hotel was more utilitarian than opulent, but the food and service were very good. Also, we did pay an additional 40 Euro to upgrade to a suite, but it was well worth it for the extra space.
After checking in, and having a delicious bowl of potato soup in the lobby restaurant, we began a Potsdam walking tour with an excellent guide named Doris Weinkopf organized by Historic Highlights of Germany. We started at a GDR memorial site known as Lindenstrasse 54, formerly the Linden Hotel later transformed into an East German prison. It was a heavy but necessary reminder of what happened here before the Berlin Wall came down in 1989—not long ago. The memorial showed the inhumane living conditions that the unjustly arrested prisoners endured. The militia government and the “Stasi” of that time demonstrated its brutal power and control in an attempt to keep the people in line.
Thankfully, Germany is now unified and the past is passed, but its lessons, and its courageous protesters and prisoners, are not forgotten. After some somber reflecting on this, we walked through the historic Dutch Quarter with its gabled houses and ate dinner at Hollander Hof. Doris taught us more about the area as we dined and drank beer.
What a glorious feeling…I’m biking in the rain
The next day, we woke up to a rainy October morning, had a delicious breakfast at the Mercure, and walked back to the train station to rent bikes for a full-day tour (about 13 Euro a day for a bike and helmet). Our tour guide Doris, an avid biker in her rain gear, was lively, enthusiastic and a valuable source of information. She taught us and entertained us as we biked by rivers, lakes, palaces, and even a “spy bridge” (it’s hard to imagine that many of these great fairy tale-like parklands were controlled by the military and closed to the public after Germany was divided). When we were too wet or cold we took a break. One memorable stop was at the Meierei Brewery (once a dairy farm). The brewery, not far from Schloss Cecilienhof (where we would visit after) and on the wide river, brewed some quality beers. The “Hell” style of beer warmed us up nicely.
Let the Brau-mance continue
Also on our tour was seeing and crossing the “spy bridge.” The Glienicke Bridge, which spans the Havel River, got its name and notoriety from real events where, on the bridge, captured Soviet and US spies were tensely swapped. Most famously, during Kennedy’s presidency, on February 10, 1962, Soviet Rudolf Abel was successfully traded for American spy-pilot Frank Powers.
Near the bridge we ducked out of the rain and into the what was once Villa Schöeningen. It’s now a museum and art gallery focused on pre-unified Germany and the events that lead to the collapse of the Berlin Wall and all it stood for.
For lunch that day we went to the restaurant Kades near the highest point of Potsdam—Belvedere on the Pfingstberg. We sat by a roaring fire and had delicious steaks, Brussels sprouts and cranberries and a melange of pumpkin, parsnip, zucchini, and roasted potatoes, and—beer (of course!).
As we continued biking through the droplets we were propelled by the idea of seeing Sanssouci Palace. We were not let down. The castle is magnificent with its frieze containing dozens of sculpted Greek gods in different postures. The gardens, although out of season, were open and wide, and tiered down to offer lengthy vistas from the castle. You can also pay homage to Friedrich the Great and his eleven dogs who are buried here.
Our last stop was out of the park, past Neues (New) Palace (also called the Marble Palace), through the Brandenburg Gate, and onto Brandenburger Street for a hot cappuccino at Mecklenburger Backstuben. We capped off our day with a stroll (biking is “verboten” on this street) through this bustling section of Potsdam full of cool shops, department stores, cafes, and restaurants.
The next morning we took about a half-hour car ride to the Berlin airport for our flight, changed planes in Frankfurt and were back in New York as two different people. Our experience in this proud country with its rich history and culture truly enriched our souls. We can’t wait to go back again to see more of Germany—perhaps in the summer next time.