Potsdam, the capital of Brandenburg in the east of Germany, makes a great day trip from Berlin and provides some of the elegance missing from a big city. The Prussian kings left their royal imprint here with lavish palaces, parks, and gardens, many of them with UNESCO World Heritage status.
Most people come to Potsdam to see the rococo style Palace Sanssouci, built for Frederick the Great, but the city has much more to offer. Here are the best things you shouldn’t miss when you visit Potsdam.
When King of Prussia Frederick the Great wanted to escape the formalities of his life in Berlin, he retreated to his summer palace in Potsdam, aptly called Sanssouci ("without worries" in French). The rococo style palace built in 1774 sits on top of a terraced vineyard, overlooking 700 acres of royal gardens.
Styled after Versailles in France, the ornate garden is filled with cascading terraces, fountains, marble sculptures, and a Chinese tea house. On the highest terrace close to the palace, you’ll find the tomb of Fredrick. It was relocated here after reunification in 1990.
If you want to see the inside of the palace, you have to get a time-slotted ticket (top tip: best time to visit is before noon and during the week). The interiors are decorated in the elaborate Baroque tradition with heavy influence from Frederick himself. He created his own style, now known as Frederician Rococo. The highlights include the Entrance Hall and Marble Hall.
Admission: Gardens are free; Interior of the palace and garden houses cost 12 euro
Sweeping gables, red bricks, and white window shutters straight out of the Netherlands have found a home in Potsdam. The Dutch Quarter (Hollaenderviertel) was built in the 18th century for Dutch artisans and craftsmen who were invited to settle down here by Frederick the Great.
The ensemble of over 130 houses built in the traditional Dutch style is unique in Europe and on the UNESCO World Heritage list. Walk down the cobblestone streets of Mittelstrasse and Benkertstrasse, which are brimming with lovely cafes, specialty shops, and restaurants.
Another must-see for history buffs is Cecilienhof Palace, set in the beautiful park of Neuer Garten. The last palace the Hohenzollern family ever built, it offers a contrast to Sanssouci as it was designed in the rustic English Tudor style.
You can tour some of the historic rooms such as the smoking salon, the music salon, and the bedroom of the royal family. But one of the most fascinating rooms is the Great Hall. It was here that the Potsdam Conference was held in 1945, and Stalin, Churchill, and Truman decided to divide Germany into different occupation zones. (Nearby House of the Wannsee Conference is another feature for history buffs).
Admission: 6 euro
The Bridge of Spies
Before the wall fell and Germany was still divided into two, the Glienicke Bridge was one of the most mysterious sites of the Cold War. Spanning the Havel River, the bridge connected the Soviet-occupied Potsdam in the east with US-occupied West Berlin and the two superpowers used this checkpoint to exchange captured Cold War spies and secret agents.
The Glienicke Bridge was nicknamed the “Bridge of Spies” after the 1962 exchange of Russian agent Rudolf Abel for downed U.S. pilot Francis Gary Powers. One of the largest exchanges took place here on June 12, 1985. After three years of negotiation, 23 American agents were given back to the West in exchange for Polish agent Marian Zacharski plus three additional Soviet agents.
This little-known attraction gained international attention in 2015 with the Academy award-nominated movie, Bridge of Spies.
Russian Colony Alexandrowka
Just north of Potsdam’s city center, you’ll find the Russian Colony Alexandrowka. Built-in 1827, there are 13 wooden Russian homes that were erected by the Prussian King. They were built to house the Russian singers of the First Prussian Regiment of the Guards. Some of their descendants still live in these beautiful historic homes.
Surrounded by fruit and vegetable gardens, the little colony is complete with a Russian Orthodox chapel and a Russian teahouse, which is located in the former Warden’s House.