Monday, May 10, 2010

Perambulating in Potsdam

Today we went to Potsdam which is about a 45 minute drive outside of Berlin. I had heard of the Potsdam treaty, but I was to discover there is much more to Potsdam than the treaty. As we drove through the town, we couldn't help wondering if it had been bombed in the war like Berlin had been. When we got home, we looked it up, and indeed, it had. But the houses had been restored in such a way that it still looked like an old town. And we came upon old colonnades and arches that just seemed to appear for no reason.

Our destination was the summer palace built by Frederick the Great of Prussia. He called his palace Sans Souci - "without care." I had the same reaction as I had when I saw opulence of the royalty in France - "What are these guys thinking? How could they possibly need all this space?... and this is just the summer palace!!"

A bit of digression. The main royal palace was in the eastern section of Berlin and had been bombed during WWII. When the communists took control of East Berlin, they built a horrid looking building on its site which they used as government headquarters for all of East Germany during the division time. After the wall came down, the Berliners razed that building and a new palace, replicating the original, is under construction that will be used as a museum and historical landmark. It is quite controversial, as it is budgeted for $500,000,000 - a hefty sum for a non-essential item in these economic times.

Back to Potsdam and Sans Souci... All the information was written in German, so often times we weren't sure what we were looking at. The grounds are over 700 acres of beautiful paths, statuary, fountains, and buildings surrounded by lakes and woods. Different structures seemed to pop up from nowhere before we even reached the palace.

We took Murphy (left) and Zita (right) with us, and they had a wonderful time sniffing and exploring the park and grounds. Because we had the dogs with us, we ventured off the well traveled paths, and I think found some out of the way sites. I will try to give you a pictorial tour through the part of the grounds where we walked.

Let's start with the palace itself. Frederick the Great began building his palace in 1745. He had a passion for French art and culture, and loved the "Frederician rococo" style. His successors followed with more building - some in the classical style, some just bizarre. The palace is beautiful and grand even though it is only one story high, but the most interesting feature is that it sits atop a vineyard that was specially created for it. You can see the tiers in this picture as we approach the palace. Each level consists of rows of grapevines interspersed with kind of greenhouses where fig trees are grown inside of a sheltered space with doors to protect the plants from the harsh German weather.

The palace is amazing - I wasn't awed like I was when I realized the Louvre had been a palace. The Louvre was perfection- simply beautiful. Sans Souci made me want to meet Frederick the Great (Old Fritz). What kind of a guy would build this kind of place so that he could feel he didn't have a care? It was like he tried assembling a whole, but the pieces were all from different puzzles! It just really didn't all fit together, but it was somehow delightful.

Taking the lead from the dogs, we continued our walk.

This is the orangerie which stored tropical plants in the cold season. It is more classical in its design and was modeled after the Villa Medici in Rome. A brochure we bought states that rooms in the center section were designed for the Russian Tsar family, two for the Tsarina Charlotte of Russia and three for Tsar Nicolaus I. That's all the information given... do you suppose this whole building was constructed, because the Tsar family called to say they were coming for a visit?

This is Belvedere, a structure we came upon almost by accident, quite out of the way and secluded. We figured, because of the name, it was a place where Frederick came to see the beautiful view! (We also thought it was probably a very convenient trysting place.)

Continuing our walk, we saw an odd looking building which we went to explore... "odd looking" is an understatement. What was this rococo Chinese gilded pagoda-like place doing in Potsdam, Germany? We don't have the answer to that question, but our minds, now filled with wonderful fantasies of Frederick the Great in his summer palace, presume he might have liked to have a spot of tea every now and then!

Statues were everywhere - some just placed in an open field; others creating a kind of gateway to some building.

We had tired ourselves out as well as the dogs, but I couldn't leave Potsdam before at least seeing Cecilienhof Manor where the Potsdam treaty was drawn. As we were walking to the Manor, we passed the Gasthaus Brauerei, and we all were delighted to stop and have a little lunch. The brewery was right on the property of the Cecilienhof Manor, so we again fantasized that perhaps Churchill and Truman might have snuck away for a brew, leaving Josef Stalin alone in his room!

I loved Cecileinhof! There is something awesome to me about being in a physical place where history was made. Here I was walking along the same patios and pathways that Winston Churchill, Harry Truman and Josef Stalin trod. Cecilienhof was built in 1913 as the last Prussian palace building. Oddly, it is very much in the English Tudor style; perhaps it is not surprising that the conference was held in this building.

We drove home, but not before Haden took a slight detour to show us a building in Berlin he had recently discovered. We took a picture, because I find it fascinating. This is just the end of a very modern, recently built building. They have restored this end part, but you can clearly see the bullet holes which were obviously made by a machine gun. These reminders of the war are ever present as you walk around Berlin.

There are even bullet holes in the facade of Haden's house which was once a brewery and used as headquarters for the Nazis. I suppose these holes could easily be covered up, but I get the sense that reminders of the war are a necessary part of the German culture. I commented to Haden, that I would think every Berliner would be a pacifist what with the constant reminder of the destruction of war.

Another fascinating day in Germany with Haden.

1 comment:

Claudine said...

I love the word 'Perambulating' and using it in an alliteration adds a whole new dimension to it!! Hope you guys are having a blast!!