Potsdam lies immediately to the southwest of Berlin, surrounded by a string of Marchland lakes. “Prussia was built up from Potsdam and illuminated from Sanssouci. The Havel river can assume its place among German cultural waterways,” wrote Theodor Fontane in his Wanderings Through the March of Brandenburg. Thanks to its palaces and historical buildings, the city has indeed become one of Europe’s most important cultural sites. About 25,000 buildings and parks in Potsdam have been declared national monuments. Some of the greatest minds of Europe worked in Potsdam: Voltaire lived here between 1750 and 1753, and Lessing completed his Miss Sara Sampson in 1755 in Potsdam. Heinrich Heine, Ludwig Tieck and Theodor Fontane found a favorable climate for their work in this city as well.
Now that Potsdam has regained its status as capital of the state of Brandenburg, which it had lost in 1952, it will win back some of its former glamor.
Potsdam’s almost 140,000 residents will continue to be faced with a great deal of work in the next few years. The architectural wounds inflicted during the Second World War and during the subsequent decades of neglect will heal only gradually. The city itself and the state of Brandenburg lack the financial means for the rapid restoration of the historic buildings. The Preussische Schlosser and Garten Berlin-Brandenburg foundation, which cares for the regional palaces and parks, will be financed primarily by the federal government to do the, restoration and upkeep work. The citys millenial celebrations in 1993 provided a good incentive for Brandenburg and its capital to rebuild some of its old luster. Potsdam’s cultural landscape, by the way, was already placed on the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1991. A threat to this historic gem is the planned Potsdam Center, a gigantic mall, which would definitely alter the unity of the ensemble.
The inner city area is framed on the west by the Brandenburg Gate, in the north by the Jagertor (Hunters’ Gate) and the Nauener Tor, and in the east by Bassinplatz, with the French Church. Architect Knobelsdorff designed this round Baroque church, which was completed in 1753; Schinkel planned the 1833 refurbishing of the interior. The ensemble around the St: Nikolaikirche (1830-1837), with the Altes Rathaus (Old City Hall, 1753) and the Marstall on the Alter Markt (Old Market), makes up the southern edge of Bassinplatz. The neoclassical Nikolaikirche presides over the center of Potsdam. Schinkel designed it and supervised its construction from 1830 to 1837, using the ideas of Crown Prince Friedrich Wilhelm.
The makeshift Hans-Otto Theater was irreverently erected in front of the Nikolaikirche. This was to be the GDR’s first new theater building. At the time of unification only the foundation had been laid, and a provisional theater building was quickly erected. A new theater is planned for this site by the year 2001.
The Film Museum (Breite Strasse, near the Marstall) documents the history of Babelsberg Studios with costumes, photos, posters, special effects demonstrations and special exhibitions. Cinematic treats are offered in the museum’s movie theater.
A pedestrian zone leads from Potsdam’s Brandenburg Gate to the Kirche St. Peter and Paul. Schinkel’s pupil W. Salzenberg built this church between 1867 and 1870, imitating Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia. The cross streets leading to the shopping avenue are the site of intense construction work now. The same applies to the Holliindisches Viertel (Dutch Quarter), north of the Church of Peter and Paul. Special efforts are now
being made to rescue the 134 brick buildings of this 18th century settlement. The houses were built in typical Dutch style under the direction of Johann Boumann to accomodate the Dutch craftsmen Frederick the Great had invited to Potsdam to work on Sanssouci. The expected influx of workers did not materialize and so it was predominantly local soldiers and their families who moved in. The plan now is to restore the entire quarter, but only part of the work is finished. A variegated mix of cafes, restaurants, bars, galeries, art and antique dealerships have settled here in the meantime. A visit to the pottery market in September is worth a side trip to the Hollandisches Vierzel.
A tour of Potsdam should also include the Russian colony Alexandrowska near the Nauener Tor. In 1812 a contingent of 62 Russian prisoners-of-war arrived in Potsdam. King Friedrich Wilhelm III enlisted them in his men’s choir. After Czar Alexander I signed an alliance with the King of Prussia, he didn’t demand their return but gave them to the Prussian monarch as a present instead. In 1826 the King built 14 log cabins for them as well as the Alexander-NewskiKirche, modelled on Kiev’s Desiatin Church. West of the Russian colony, the Netter Garten (New Garden) spreads on the western banks of the Heiligensee.
Schloss Cecilienhof stands in the midst of this park. In 1945 the victorious powers of World War Two negotiated the Potsdam Treaty, which divided Germany into four zones of occupation, here. The famous round table and the rooms where the delegates did their work can be visited. The rest of the palace houses the luxurious Schlosshotel Cecilienhof, with its elegant restaurant. A stroll around the Neuer Garten reveals the Marmorpalais (Marble Palace) on the lake shore. It was designed by Carl von Gontard and built between 1787 and 1792. And, after many years of restoration, this museum palace is once again open to the public.
An unusual monument to technology graces the Neustadt’s Havel cove, an oldfashioned waterworks. From the outside, the building looks like a Moorish mosque with a minaret. Inside, the steam engine driving the water works is still functional. The facility, built in 1841-42 according to plans by L. Pesius, pumped water from the Have l up to the Ruinenberg (Ruin Mountain), an artificial collection of Roman and Greek ruins above Sanssouci Palace, and supplied all of the park’s fountains.