POTSDAM, the capital and largest city in the Brandenburg region, was a comfortable hour away from Berlin but the difference in the air was immediately noticeable.
While Berlin remains a popular destination with Potsdam as a pleasant day trip, the more discerning traveller might opt to stay in the quieter Potsdam and make a day trip to buzzing Berlin instead.
Whichever it is, Potsdam is home to several great attractions whether you are looking for military history or just to feast your eyes on some culture.
It is quite possible to see all the highlights in one day – as shown to us by Tourismus-Marketing Brandenburg.
Schloss (Palace) Sanssouci was small – only 12 rooms. As a summer palace for the King of Prussia, sanssouci meant ‘carefree’ and only pleasure was permitted within its opulently decorative 18th-century European walls.
After all, even a king like Frederick the Great needed a sanctuary.
King Frederick had such an influence over the architecture and the decoration of the palace that its distinctive style was termed Frederician Rococo. He wanted to be surrounded by beautiful things, so the palace was filled with paintings, sculptures, books, and music.
He hosted lavish parties and famous house guests such as French playwright-poet-philosopher Voltaire, as well as the Count of Rothenburg. They were such frequent guests that there were rooms named after them.
King Frederick died on Aug 17, 1768, in his favourite blue chair in his study at Schloss Sanssouci. His wish to be buried outside his beloved palace was ignored by his nephew and successor Frederick William II, so King Frederick spent the next 160 years in the Potsdam garrison church graveyard.
During World War II, German soldiers exhumed the remains of their Prussian kings to save them from being destroyed. It was not until the reunification of Germany that it was safe for Frederick the Great to return to Potsdam.
Exactly 205 years after his death, his mortal remains were interred in a new tomb in the forecourt of Schloss Sanssouci. With a vantage point overlooking the Park, he was finally in his most favourite place in the world, with his favourite dogs – surrounded by beautiful things and at peace.
For those not keen on war history, both the palace and the park display the lighter, brighter side of the longest-reigning Prussian king. After you are done with the lavish palace, go and enjoy the well-kept vineyard and ornamental park below.
The Sanssoucci Palace and Park is Germany’s biggest Unesco World Heritage Site.
Another significant palace in Potsdam is Schloss Cecilienhof, built in the style of an English Tudor manor house and famous for being the venue of the Potsdam Conference between July 17 and Aug 2, 1945.
The conference was to determine how to administer Germany, which had agreed to unconditional surrender nine weeks earlier on May 8.
Countries present were the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States, represented respectively by Communist Party General Secretary Joseph Stalin, Prime Ministers Winston Churchill and Clement Attlee, and President Harry S Truman.
The outcome of the conference was the Potsdam Agreement, and the Potsdam Declaration.
It was during this conference that the US gave Japan an ultimatum to surrender or meet “prompt and utter destruction”. Japan didn’t respond, so the US bombed Hiroshima on Aug 6 and Nagasaki on Aug 9.
Cecilienhof was the last palace built by the House of Hohenzollern that ruled the Kingdom of Prussia and the German Empire until the end of World War I. It was the residence of Crown Prince Wilhelm and his wife, Duchess Cecilie of Mecklenburg-Schwerin. Cecilienhof was named after the Duchess.
The palace is part of the Palaces and Parks of Potsdam and Berlin Unesco World Heritage Site since 1990.
Potsdam is also where you can find the Bridge of Spies or The Glienicke Bridge. You might have seen it on Steven Spielberg’s film ‘Bridge of Spies’ starring Tom Hanks.
Named for the nearby Glienicke Bridge, it lies across the Havel River, connecting the Wannsee district of Berlin with Potsdam. The current bridge is the fourth, built in 1907, but damaged during World War II and had to be reconstructed.
During the Cold War, this bridge was on the border between East Germany and West Berlin, a logical location to exchange captured spies.
The Bridge of Spies is two different shades of green, one on each side. If you get the chance to stroll along the centre meeting point, perhaps you’d find what I spied by chance – a cluster of love locks near where the colours meet. A bridge that once divided the West from the East, now symbolically held together with a modern expression of love.
Scoot Airline flies direct to Berlin from Singapore four times a week. Tourismus-Marketing Brandenburg (www.potsdam-tourism.com) has all the information you need to organise your own day trip.
Berlin – a top place for foodies
BERLIN has proven itself to be one of the top places for foodies to hunt down their next meal. Whether you have a taste for the (Michelin) stars, a little sausage from a street stall, are a vegan, or eat halal food, Berlin will deliver as long as you have room in your belly. Here are some of our hits.
Restaurant Tim Raue
Two Michelin stars, 19 Gault & Millau points, and one of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants. Chef Tim Raue does Asian-inspired cuisine, which can be best described as a combination of Japanese product perfection, Thai flavours and the Chinese kitchen philosophy. Whether it was a good idea to test Asian-inspired cuisine on a bunch of Asians is subject to debate, but what’s certain is that the restaurant and the food are things of beauty. I doubt if I’ll ever find another salmon done like that again. Restaurant Tim Raue is located in the Rudi-Dutschke-Straße 26 in 10969 Berlin. www.tim-raue.com
Brauhaus Am Alex
Brauhouse Am Alex serves up some hearty German cuisine, but the highlight is their craft beer. If you’re a beer connoisseur, this place should be on your list. Even if you’re not, you might even find something you like. The food is traditional German pub grub so expect veal schnitzel and lots of bratwurst. Brauhouse Am Alex can be found at Alexanderplatz, near the TV Tower. en.lemke.berlin/am alex
The Grand Berlin
Located in a historic building from 1842, The Grand has a nondescript street door that leads into a stunning interior that combines a restaurant, a pub, and a bar in a former primary school. It was an interesting experience to have dinner on the patio while the sky was still bright until 9.30pm. The Grand has excellent food, a welcoming atmosphere, good food, and filled up quickly with patrons.
Night Kitchen Berlin
Housed in a cube-shaped building, Night Kitchen serves Mediterranean cuisine, something I rarely encounter … with deep regrets … because this was my favourite eatery during this trip. Melt-in-your-mouth short ribs, octopus tentacles, tomato carpaccio, roasted potatoes, washed down with some good white wine and good company. nightkitchenberlin.com
Currywurst to Berlin is like laksa to Sarawak, you simply do not travel through the city without seeing it everywhere or trying one. It’s a simple finger food that won’t be out of place in Kuching Festival: grilled sausages, smothered in tomato sauce, and sprinkled with curry powder. It is usually served with fries and there’s a vegan wurst version. Curry 36 is just one of the popular place stalls to get some.
Markthalle IX or Market Hall Nine is a historic market in the Kreuzberg’s Eisenbahnstraße. It’s a traditional weekly market on most days of the week, except for Street Food Thursday and Breakfast Market on Sunday. There’s everything – from beef balls to pasta, tofu to baked goods, from Chinese to Nigerian cuisine. Think Kuching Food Fest except it’s in a huge red brick building. They serve their drinks in proper glasses. If you bring it back to the stall, you get your one Euro deposit back.