Sunday, December 11, 2011

Without a Care in the World in Potsdam

Today we took the train out of Berlin and went to Potsdam to see my former hosts Karin and Rolf, some of the warmest, nicest people ever. Rolf met us at the train station and then drove us all around the city. We first went to the Neues Palais, part of the larger Park Sanssouci grounds (Sanssouci is French for "without worry"). Sanssouci was the summer palace of Frederick the Great, who was much more into Voltaire and French culture than Prussian militarism. The park is huge and filled with amazing palaces, gardens, fountains, statues (now covered for winter). Those Prussian kings...adding "little" castles and trinket architecture: fake romantic ruins, a Chinese "dragon house" teahouse, Roman baths, a mini pyramid, a Dutch windmill...Like Rolf said, "whatever he wanted, he got."

Sanssouci, built 1744, summer residence of Prussian Frederick der Große.

Rococo Belvedere below:

Then we drove to Cecilienhof, "where world history was made," as our amazing tour guide Rolf narrated. It was the last palace commissioned by the Hohenzollern family (1913-1917). Elisabeth pointed out this was roughly the same time Glensheen mansion was being built by rich Duluthian Chester Congdon (you can maybe even see some similarities in the Elizabethan architecture).  But it's famous for what happened in 1945: this Schloss became the site of the Potsdam conference, where the "Big Three" (Churchill, Truman, Stalin) met to decide the fate of Germany, and the division of Europe.
Our last stop was the Christmas Market in the Holländisches Viertel (Dutch quarter) of Potsdam. Here there are over a hundred Durch-style red brick houses put up by Dutch immigrants who came to work in Potsdam in the 18th century. Rolf said the quarter was neglected during DDR-times and fell into ruin a bit, but has since been renovated, and the Dutch have also sponsored monies to help restore the area. Now there are lots of nice shops and boutiques and cafes and restaurants, and arts and crafts being sold. The market was also therefore a bit nicer than your average Christmas market.

Rolf treated us to a Knacker mit Grünkohl, a wurst with kale, traditional for the Christmas time. The Germans swear kale doesn't taste good until after the frost. lecker!

The main city Christmas Market with the Peter-Pauls Kirche in the background.
It was a wonderful, exhausting, jam-packed day. We experienced some amazing German hospitality, got a tour of Potsdam from a local, and a home-cooked meal at the end of it. (My favorite: starts with Kaffee und Kuchen--which was here Christmas cookies and Stollen--and then after a break the real dinner begins--which was a great traditional German Sauerbraten.)

Sanssouci, indeed.

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