Potsdam: past palaces

Potsdam might be known best to most people for several reasons. The Potsdam Conference of 17 July 1945 at the Schloss Cecilienhof confirmed agreements made at the earlier Conference at Yalta between the three allied leaders Jozef Stalin, Harry Truman and Winston Churchill (later replaced by Clement Atlee). Also in Potsdam you may visit the villa, which now houses the Haus der Wannsee-Konferenz memorial, where Hitler and fifteen high-ranking officials and SS-officers met on 20 January 1942 to decide to the “Endlösung,” the extermination of the Jews. But Potsdam is also home to Schloss Sanssouci (French for “Without worry”), the name of the palace of Frederik II or Frederik the Great. The palace is now somewhat of a place of pilgrimage to German nationalists. And whereever you turn in the little town of Potsdam, you are bound to stumble into a palace here or there. Potsdam is traditionally a resort town, in the past for princes and empires, in our time for the ordinary Berliner. At bahnhof Griebnitzsee, Wannsee or Nikolassee day tourists leave the S-Bahn to visit the lakes for a swim to cool down.

But today, we visit the palaces of Potsdam! A group of Japanese tourists walk along the main axis of Sanssouci park toward the “Neues Palast” on the left half of the road to avoid the scorching heat of the tropical sun, while sheltering under their umbrellas. The two meter high hedges and the afforestation in the park, designed in the English Landscape style, offer additional cooling. I don’t avoid the burning sense on my skin of the sun though, there has been little opportunity this year to enjoy it and not much more may be available. Maybe it is the heat, maybe the fact that I was here once before already, although long enough ago now to have erased the strongest memories of it, but the single and bare sight of palaces cannot impress me. There is no romance and value for me in the ivory towers that rise above the trenches of history. Palaces of great men are like salons for the socialists, they are great deceptions. I walk past palaces and observe pink walls of inflated sandstone statues, giant golden crowns topping bronze roofs, and baroque dwellings for the servants.
Next to the Nicolaikirche, which is being cleaned from years of pollution, close to the Hauptbahnhof, stands a typical example of DDR architecture. The metal ornaments cover the concrete framework that lays bare above the arcades of glass window shops. I love such buildings that bear the marks of a historical era for masses. It is perhaps the only building in Potsdam that I could be fascinated by. Even the Brandenburgerstrasse, the main shopping street, along which many of the original baroque residences still stand, cannot appeal to me. Only the former detention center of the MfS, called Lindenhotel, at Lindenstrasse 54-55 executes another darkly fascinating attraction. The paint of the bars in front of the windows flakes off, but together with what must be the original green entrance doors they give off a radiance of living history.
The Dutch Quarter, the Holländische Viertel, consists of perhaps three or four street. The red brick houses in neo-Renaissance style and gable facades are picturesque, but just a little bit too much! Potsdam has always been one of the main tourist centers and nothing has changed but the speed at which it adjusts itself to the increased tourism here. Past palaces, Potsdam may not be as thrilling as it is pretty to some.

Haus der Wannsee-Konferenz

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