Cities / Towns Visited: 33
Countries Visited: 11
Steps Taken Today: 14,603
Steps Taken Around the World: 1,303,629
Having decided that we should venture somewhere outside of the capital city for a day, we came to the conclusion that there was no better place to go than Potsdam. With its plethora of palaces and its noteworthy history, it was nigh on impossible for us to resist. Thus after rising, and sourcing breakfast we hopped on the train and were away.
After a Berliner doughnut (because it seemed the right thing to have given our location) and a short bus ride on the other end, we arrived at our first palace for the day; Sanssouci. This small, but well loved, summer pleasure palace of Frederick the Great, with its name meaning ‘without worries’ in French, was exactly what you would want if you were rich enough to have an elaborate holiday home. We entered the long, golden yellow, single story building and began our audio guided tour. What the place lacks in size, it more than makes up for in beauty. The rooms, or at least the ones designed to be shown off to the guests, are all elaborately decorated, with a clear tenancy toward nature inspired adornments, with one room sporting gilded ceiling decorations depicting not only flora and vines (as the estate was also a winery), but also a large web, complete with spider. One of the guest rooms is also beautifully decked with yellow walls covered in images of flowers and wild animals, and it’s chandelier is possibly the most beautiful I’ve ever seen, made entirely of intricate porcelain flowers and foliage. Every room had its own colour scheme, most of which were bright and cheerful, and far from the usual heavy rich fabrics and decorations of the other palaces. The small but stunning marble hall, used for dining up to six guests is ornately gilded, and has massive marble pillars carved each from a single piece of the costly stone. The vaulted ceiling adorned with stunningly carved sculptures of Roman goddesses depicting: geography, architecture, music, and painting and sculpture. The kings personal rooms are filled with the original furniture, including the apple green upholstered chair that he died in. A sad thought, softened by the fact that at least he died in his favourite place. The King, although married, fathered no children and rarely saw his wife. It is said that he was homosexual, and given he had a large hand in the selection of the the stunning decor, I’m want to agree with that assumption. He was fabulous, just like the home he made for himself. Not to say that all gay men are automatically good at interior design, I just don’t think most straight men have that good of an eye for that sort of thing. May we all take a moment to spare a thought for the LBGTI community of the past who had no choice but the hide who they were.
We handed back out guides, having seen the palace in its entirety, and ventured back outside. Skirting round the front and through the iron rotunda we we delivered out to a magnificent view. A grand staircase running down past stepped levels of garden towards a large fountain. As you reach the fountain and turn back towards the palace it sits proudly at the top. From the fountain at the centre of the crossroads the paths splay out into the massive estate. There are a handful of different palaces on the land, nestled in the trees, so we picked the biggest one at the end of one of the paths and scurried off towards it down the avenue of trees.
Eventually we arrived at the massive palace and as we circled round to the front, it became obvious just how grand this place is. It must be one of the biggest we’ve seen; red brick, with a bronze dome towering upwards. Across the courtyard and the road sits a curved pillared arch flanked by two buildings, one of which is now the university of Potsdam. It almost made me want to go to explore further tertiary education. Heading inside we weren’t sure what to expect, we hadn’t researched or planned visiting here, but Sanssouci was smaller than expected so we had spare time. Walking in with out audio guides we stepped into the first room and, well, I now know how I want my grand hall to look should I ever become eccentrically rich enough to build one. The entire interior is decked out like a grotto, every inch covered in shells, twigs made to look like coral, and slices of geode and rock. Nestled in the walls sit fountains topped with statues of sea babies. From the ceiling hang chandeliers, and the floors are made of carefully placed designs of coloured marble. It was so far from the usual gilded excess of royal life, and yet it emanated a beauty far greater; natures beauty. The rest of the palace was fitted with your usual ornate and plush furnishings and decor, beautiful but no different from the frivolous shows of wealth in other palaces. Finally you come to the grand marble hall, which sits directly above the grotto hall. Its ceiling gilded around a spectacular fresco of Roman gods and goddesses, and the walls and floor, unsurprisingly, covered in marble. The most interesting fact about the room is that just a couple of years after building it they had to stop cordon it off, as the king had insisted that the grotto hall not be cluttered with pillars, and as a result the incredible weight of all of the marble upstairs, coupled with the deterioration of the wooden beams under the floor, meant it became unstable and near collapse. Eventually it was restored and new beams inserted. If nothing else this just reiterates that just because you’re king doesn’t mean your ideas are structurally viable.
We meandered back outside, and trotted of to the bus. Our third palace for the day was across town a little; Cecilienhof Palace. The draw card of this one was not a further desire to view royal pomp, but rather the more recent history behind this palace. For those of you unaware, the Cecilienhof was the location at which Stalin, Churchill, and Truman, discussed, drew up, and signed the Potsdam Agreement. The document addressed the issues of occupying Germany and reconstructing its borders, as well as the country’s demilitarisation and prosecutions of its war criminals post world war II. This was of course all for nought as Stalin promptly went on to do whatever the hell he wanted anyway, and as the French leader De Gaulle was not invited to be a party to the agreement, France refused to implement the agreement in its territory in Germany, but for a brief moment of time there was a glimmer hope that Germany would have peace. The palace was, obviously before the dissolution of the Prussian monarchy, a royal residence, but please don’t think it is some huge palace, it is more of a grand hunting lodge, tucked away in the trees with a Tudor style design. The rooms are filled with warm woods and somewhat more restrained furnishings. The pièce de résistance though is, of course, the room where the ‘big three’ leaders sat during their discussions; it sits unmoved, appearing as if they have simply just gone out for a break.
We stepped out of the time capsule and returned to the outside world with a little time to spare and thus decided to head off to our fourth and final palace for the day, just a short walk through the lakeside gardens away. In case you’re wondering be had a bundle ticket that gave us entrance to almost all of Potsdam’s palaces for the day; although there is absolutely no way you could see them all.
We arrived at the Marble Palace just in time to hook into the last tour for the day, as you can’t visit it by yourself, and with a bit of luck we had the tour to ourselves. Thus we donned our silly over-shoe slippers so we wouldn’t scuff the floors and hurried around our whirlwind tour. Although the place looks small comparatively to the others in the town it still has over 35 rooms. We were surprised to find out that the building actually had very little real marble in it, as it was too expensive, so there’s a lot of stucco work instead just painted to look like marble. Regardless, this tiny palace fits in perfectly with the design and decor of its larger counterparts.
Finally it was time to venture home after our long, and somewhat exhausting, day. A quick meal and we were collapsing into our beds before too long. I mused for a little before sleep took me, about how we put so much emphasis on the interior design of our buildings, but in the end it’s what you achieve in the rooms that makes the difference. You can fill it with a million baubles but if there’s no story it’s just more stuff. Cecilienhof is a beautiful royal residence, but its the momentous acts of three world leaders after the monarchy which make the place so fascinating. The chairs, the table, the desks, the rooms, they’re all of little note without the people who graced them. We often spend too much money and energy on the material things, and forget that it is the people that make the difference. If you put incredible people in a room with mediocre furniture amazing things will happen; if you put mediocre people in a room with amazing furniture, well you just sort of have a tourist attraction to be honest. Spend your time on people instead of things, and you’ll be all the richer.