Tuesday, October 17, 2017

The Ultimate List of Top Things to See in Potsdam

With its charming Rococo castles, beautiful parks, stylish architecture and cultural treasures, Potsdam is the perfect destination for anyone looking to spend some time outside of Berlin. Since moving to Germany, I tried to go there at least every month, either for visiting some old places or for new discoveries or just for a walk on the old cobblestone streets ended with a meal at one of the diverse restaurants. And this place never disappoints me, as almost every time there is something new to discover and be charmed by.
After intensive research and even more trips in the last months, I am happy to bring you the ultimate list of top things to see in Potsdam

A ride to Potsdam takes less than one hour, from the Friedrichstrasse train station in the center of Berlin. You need a ABC ticket, which is available for the transportation within Potsdam too. 


My first stop is in the borrough of Babelsberg, a less known and less touristic part of the town, but with some interesting hidden treasures for the genuine traveler.

Babelsberg Film Studios
If you are a film lover and especially if you are visiting as a family with children, I recommend visiting the Babelsberg Film Studios, where classical German movies as Metropolis and the Blue Angel were made, and where the little ones will have unforgettable adventures experiencing the 3D and 4D movie theaters. The studios are open from April to October and you need more than 3 hours to fully discover every corner of it. Those celebrating Halloween, are offered this weekend a special Horror night adventure!

Babelsberg Castle

The neo-Gothic castle of Babelsberg, planned by my favorite German architect, Schinkel, is a oasis of English style in the midst of Prussian discipline. 

The expansive gardens were designed by the eccentric Prince Pücklen-Müskau, whose other important works in Germany I had the chance to admire to Bad Muskau and Branitz

Babelsberg City Hall

As in the case of Berlin, this part of Prussia was also a safe haven for some people persecuted for their religion in Europe. In the 18th century, 228 inhabitants from Bohemia relocated here, making up a quarter of the inhabitants of Babelsberg. Alt Nowawes - the Old Village, in Czech - is the name of a street in their memory, near the typical building of the city hall, in the middle of a stylish area with plenty of small boutique selling products designed by local artists. If you want to check for some small restaurants and guest houses, have a look at the Grossbeerenstraße nearby. 


Once you are finally in Potsdam, you will discover that making the right choice of activities is very difficult. The good news is that there is something to do - and a little bit more - for everyone.
Let's discover together...

Biosphere Potsdam

Fancy meeting some huge moving and roaring dinosaurs in the middle of the tropical forest? Biosphere Potsdam offers a journey through geological ages and climates, including a collection of colourful butterflies, that reminded me of my trip to the paradise island of Mainau, in the South of Germany.

Adventure Park

Less than 30 minutes of walking from the train station, there is an adventure park where regardless your age you can push yourself to the limit of your fears and strengths. 


If you still have some energy left, a visit at the Falkenhof, especially if you are there during the weekend when regular shows are held, is a must. You can not only watch an unique show, but also can learn interesting information about falcons. The shows are in German language. 

Telegraphberg and Einstein Tower

On your way back to Potsdam Central station, you can take the way of the Telegraphberg - Telegraph mountain - an important standpoint in the new telegraph network built in Germany at the end of the 19th century. You will probably end up soon in the Wissenschaft Park - Science Park - a collection of various science instititutes, which make Potsdam a famous destination for researchers from all over the world too. 
For the accidental visitor, and the architecture lover too, an important place to visit is the Einstein Tower. The curious construction was designed in the first half of the 20th century by the famous German architects Erwin Finlay Freundlich and Erich Mendelsohn, and was aimed to prove that Einstein's theory of relativity was wrong. The physics experiments failed, but the building remains an important witness of the architecture of the time. 

Potsdam Film Museum

The recently renovated building of the Film Museum offers interesting histories about the history of the German film industry, displayed in a very creative and exhaustive way. One of the top recommendations for any film lover visiting Potsdam.

Pumpenwerke - Steam engine
At the first sight, you might think you are in the front of the mosque, but appearances are misleading. Built in 1841 at a bay at River Havel, the highest building in the area at the time - an achievement easily overcome nowadays by the classical communist sky scrapers - it was designed to pump the water from the river all the way up to Sanssouci castle, from the heights of which can be easily spotted. You can visit the interior as well, but it doesn't compete with the colourful and details-focused architecture of the outdoors. 

The building of the Ministry of Justice and the Science Museum

On the way back to the Central Station, you can have a look to admire the interesting architecture of the current Ministry of Justice, an example of balance of volumes and structures. Nearby, the Science Museum is also a temptation for the museum lovers. 

A walk around Havel

As any single part of Germany, especially what used once to belong to the Eastern, communist part, Potsdam went through tremendous changes in the last years. A proof in this respect is the new esplanada bordering the Havel, which was turned in the last 5 years in an elegant, Italian looking corner, buzzing of the voices of people enjoying the sunny summer day. From here you can take a boat tour which will lead you in less than two hours around the most beautiful corners and historical layers of Potsdam. Before or after, you can offer yourself some special treats at El Puerto restaurant with a beautiful view over the Havel.

The remains of the Neptun Fountain, Lustgarten

A couple of minutes of walking away from the Havel, there are the remains of what used once to be the glorious Neptun fountain in the then Lustgarden. 

Built in the first half of the 18th century, it was destroyed during the war and partially reconstructed with a new vision after 2001.

Alt Markt

For an overview of the historical layers covering Potsdam, Alt Markt is a good beginning. With the remains of a former communist building on the left side and an elegant architecture on the right, with the newest museum in Potsdam, Museum Barberini, and some high-end art galleries, this square offers the best journey through centuries, up until the glorious present. 

Inaugurated this spring, Museum Barberini has an important private collection of works by international artists, but also features German painters from the time of the GDR, which makes it an interesting choice. I've been there to visit two of their temporary exhibitions and was impressed not only by the exquisite presentation, but also by the diversity of artists features. This museum promises to become soon a cultural landmark in this part of Germany.

From there on, making the right choice is becoming more and more complicated. Let's make a try though...You can either take the bus, the tram or walk around...

The Dutch Quarter

Covering around 150 buildings in the heart of the city, the Dutch quater is since the first half of the 18th century a piece of the Netherlands in Potsdam.
This area is always buzzing with life, not only during the many events organised on its streets during the weekends. People are living in the cute little houses too, but in most cases, at the ground level, there are antiques and local fashion and arts stores, or restaurants and cafes. You can have there savory or sweet pancakes, among many other delicious treats, my favorite so far being Poltertjes en Pannekoeken.

Nauener Tor
One of the first examples of neo-Gothic English public architecture in continental Europe, Nauener Tor is also famous for its classical cafe houses and restaurants where in the summer you can stay outside and admire the busyness of the city. One of my favorite ones is Jérô, recommended by the French wines and an exquisite cuisine.

Brandenburg Gate
On the way to Luiseplatz, the foodie and shopping temptations abund too. Brandenburg Gate, a stand alone structure since the city walls were destroyed, is another pleasant reward for the traveller. A curious thing about this construction is that its two sides are completely different, as the work of two different architects. 


Potsdam used to have six gates, but Jägertor is the oldest and the most discrete one, situated on a side street far away from the very touristic areas.

Sans Souci Park and Castle

Faithful to my French childhood, I will not compare Sans Souci, the summer palace residence of Friedrick the Grea, King of Prussia, with Versailles. And comparison does not make justice to either the original or the copy. Instead, I prefer to consider this palace, my favorite summer destination for my Potsdam trips, as an interesting work of both gardening and architecture, which really induces a mood of 'carefree', the English translation of 'sans souci'.
You can either walk or bike around, but be sure that you put aside at least two hours to see as much as possible.
At the top of the terraced gardens, best to see during the summer when the vine is green, otherwise you will have a bit of desolate taste when the stairs are missing their green adornements, it is the residence itself. One of my favorite things about it is the beautiful yellow colour, which washed by the frequent rains in this part of the world looks even more vibrant.
The residence is composed by many constructions and a beautiful English garden, which deserves an extensive visit itself.
The alleys of the carefully manicured gardens look like the entrances to a huge labyrinth from where you would not want to escape too early.
Wandering on the alleys of the big palace park can offer many surprises, as for instance the Chinese Pavillion which although it offers a rather naive, typical of those times, representation of Asia, it has some enchanting Rococco elements that are diverting your thoughts from anything serious.
In the Western part of the compound, you can admire the latest work of Baroque architecture in Prussia - covering a big part of what is nowadays known as the administrative area of Brandenburg: Neues Palais.

Alexandrowka, The Russian Colony
The 13 wooden houses built in the first half of the 19th century at the wish of the emperor Friedrich Wilhelm III for Russian artists in Prussia are since 1999 part of the UNESCO World Heritage. Surrounded by small gardens, with wooden balconies adorned by beautiful flowers, this little colony offers also some delicious Russian treats and hosts a museum featuring the history and architecture.


For history buffs, the English Tudor-styled cottage looking building of Cecilienhof means more than an interesting architectural transplant on the German soil. Built at the very beginning of the 20th century, it hosted between 17 July and 2nd of August 1945 the Potsdam Conference which clarified the areas of influence of the great powers in Europe after the war.
The war was over and the capitulation of Germany was already signed in the night of 8 to 9th of May 1945, at Karlshorst. The beautiful Potsdam will belong for a couple of decades to the 'Eastern', Soviet-lead forces, but it is amazing how much this city preserved from its original, non-bourgeois structure (after all, the members of the Soviet establishment was easy to lure into the glittering pleasures of well-being, as every single human will also do). Reminders of the once Russian presence is still maintained, for instance the red star made of flowers specifically created for the participation of Stalin himself at the conference. In the front of the entrance, there is the famous bench where Truman, Stalin and Churchill seat together, an image distributed all over the world and used to illustrate the Potsdam Conference, but more often it is taken by busy tourists from all over the world not all aware of the famous previous occupants of the modest piece of outdoor furniture.

Marmorpalais, Neuen Garten

From Cecilienhof, you can walk around 30 minutes, in the middle of a wild landscape, until the Marmorpalais, a classical work on the banks of Heiligen See.

The views over the lake are revealing a quiet beauty, where you can rarely see traces of human presence. The massive marmor concurrs with the overwhelming silence of the water, in a soundless symphony.

A bit further, the stone building of the Gothic Library with its spire staircase is another mysterious part of an architecture and life riddle which seems to not look for answer, but just to raise more and more questions.

Everyday street architecture

On the way back from Cecilienhof, you might realise that beauty is everywhere, not only in the places outlined as such in the travel guides. Given the concentration of famous architects which for centuries visited and worked in Potsdam, among them the famous, favorite of mine, Schinkel, no wonder that many private buildings do look like from the pages of the architecture and design magazines. 
This beautiful blue villa, for instance, was actually designed by a student of Schinkel, Ferdinant von Arnin, in 1861, for a private resident of Potsdam.

Belvedere, Pfingstberg

One of the most astonishing views is the Belvedere at Pfingstberg, a small hill covered by forest, in the Northern part of the city. The reflection of the orderly classical architecture into the water leaves you speechless for a long time, because it is the pure beauty made of golden proportions. You can add more amazement and taste to your visit - if it is any place left - with a visit at the gourmet restaurant Am Pfingstberg nearby.

Glienicke Bridge

Also called the 'Bridge of Spies', for its assumed role in exchanging spies between the East and the West during the Cold War, Glienicke Brücke is first and foremost an interesting work of engineering. The original bridge, which connects the nowadays Wannsee area to Potsdam, was built in the 17th century, but a new structure was created after the WWII.
If you are visiting on a Sunday, a couple of minutes of walking from the bridge, you can have a nice breakfast at Garage du Pont, a place where both the lovers of vintage cars and the gourmets are at home.

Glienicke Palace

If you cross the street, you can either visit a small exhibition hall dedicated mostly to GDR artists, or you can enter into the kingdom of the Italian charming Palace Glienicke, another place on the UNESCO heritage list.

Rathaus - city hall

When you have to manage a town with so many beautiful castles and shining mansions, no wonder that you need for the building of the city hall an equally imposing construction, which looks like a special resident in itself as well. 


Hans-Otto-Theater at Schiffbauergasse can be considered one of the newest outstanding works of architecture in Potsdam. Named after an actor killed during the National-Socialist dictatorship, it opened it doors to the theatre lovers in 2009 and nowadays it plays an important role in the cultural geography of Brandenburg, with a modern and international repertoire and the host of international theatre festivals. Made of five floors each marked by an assymetrical roof, and a capacity of 700 guests, it is an outstanding visual presence that can be noticed as far as the Babelsberg park, situated on the opposite side of the river.

Fluxus Museum
The area around the theatre is often the destination of various cultural happenings, especially during the summer. A special presence in the constellation of galleries and small cultural cafe houses is Museum Fluxus, before the opening of Museum Barberini, the only modern art institution in Potsdam. It uniquely features the works of the German artists belonging to the omonymous avantgarde movement from the 1960s, the only extensive collection of the kind in the country.

Is my journey to Potsdam a full circle? Did I reach that level when nothing in this beautiful town where I secretely wish I will be able to live one day wouldn't surprise me?
I am not fully convinced, but even if this is the naked truth, I know that I have now all the good reasons to keep returning here, because I will always have more than enough reasons to feel fully at home.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Art at the German Federal Bank

Banks, especially in the German-speaking realm, do hide a lot of secrets, some of them extremely unpleasant and painful. However, the transparency principles are becoming more a rule than an exception in this domain too, therefore the need to open up to the public and even allow the citizens to have a look at the well-kept secrets and mysteries of the financial world. 
The German Federal Bank - Deutsche Bundesbank - the main institution in Germany in charge with the monetary policy of the euro system, is one of the last ones to join the popular events of the open house, when the public can for a couple of hours to visit the institution, admire its work and find out about its policies. It might be that it is due to the fact that the current director is a former journalist which is aware of the importance of accountability towards the citizens of the republic. This year, the events organised for a couple of hours at the headquarters in Berlin, in Leibnitzstraße, celebrated also a special anniversary: 60 years since its creation, in charge with a stable currency of one of the most powerful economies of the world.
The current headquarters were established at this address ten years ago, in a building that used to be previously used by the Reichsbank Charlottenburg-branch, and later on, by the State Central Bank - Landeszentralbank. Protected as historic monument, it has both elements of classical architecture and of post-war modernism, due to the contribution of the Stuttgart architect  Günter Hermann. 
The art collection of the Bundesbank, created in the tradition of the Italian Renaissance, when bankers were also protectors and supporters of the art, started in 1957, with a focus on German artists. In 2008, after the branches from Frankfurt/Oder and Potsdam were merged with the representative office in Berlin, a competition was open to artists to create works that might be part of the daily ambiance of the bank. One of the winners was the Berlin-based Sabine Hornig, which creates interesting art installation which combines photography and architecture or sculptures. The painting in the photography is called Window to Karl-Marx Allee
The historical entrance with the huge stained glass frame on the top of the stairs is typical for the institutional buildings of the post-war era in West Germany. It offers a majestic yet strict touch to the building and offers to the visitor and employee the sense of the importance and severity of the things going on behind the closed doors.
During my short wandering from a place to another, I was quietly observing how much a piece of art ennobles a space. For instance, this ethereal art installation by Albrecht Schäfer, with pieces of crystal falling down from the ceiling of the Conference Hall. You can imagine how easy could be sometime to relieve the weight of the financial policies from your shoulder with only a glimpse of an eye to the ceiling.
Besides the art of other contemporary German artists, like Annette Kelm or Ulrich Wüst, I spotted in the bank interiors also a classical sculpture by Georg Kolbe, an interesting artist whose works can be extensively admired at the relatively underrated museum in Charlottenburg
'Cool' art entered the museum realm as well. As probably graffiti is a bit too risky, the organisers of the open house introduced into the program, besides the classical food trucks and personalised gadgets distributed to the visitors, some duck tape workshops. Works celebrating the important milestone in the life of the bank were created on the walls. 
From afar, you can hardly realized in some cases that everything was done with just a modest duck tape. As in many other cases, German institutions are looking courageously into the future, as for now, strong enough to cope with any serious challenge.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Discovering another Uckermark Jewel: Lychen

We are walking through roads bordered by high trees which do not leave more than some patches of sky to light the way. Wherever we look, either to the right or to the left, thick forests are everywhere, enlightened once in a while by the glittering lakes. I am back in the Uckermark to discover another hidden jewel and I know from the very beginning tha spending a day here was just an invitation to return more often.
I've been in the Uckermark several times already: to Templin, Prenzlau and Angermünde and due to the short distances to and from Berlin, visiting there is always a good idea. Via Twitter, Tourismus Marketing Uckermark, recommended to check Lychen too, and shortly after checking some information about the place, I agreed that it goes well with my usual travel agenda.  
After passing near what probably once used to be a 'language school', now an abandoned building, in the way you can still find such constructions all over the former communist Germany area, we are finally to Lychen, which is around one hour away from Berlin.
Surrounded by waters, it is also called the 'Floating city' - or the Floßerstadt and I can't wait to check by myself the beautiful water pictures I've seen on the Internet when researching my destination.
The classical architecture keeps the usual shape of the buildings and uses the red bricked common in this part of Germany, but the monocromous red bricks are happily replaced with some variations of white which enobles the construction.
Every couple of street crossing, there are directions to more and more camping places or to big lakes. Or to boat renting, including solar ones, probably moved forward by the force of the natural light.
It is the end of August, and the smell of fresh red apples is wafting in the air from the small local orchards.
Colourful boat renting boots look like huge floating ships in the middle of the water.
The weather is lovely, with moderate temperature and sun all day long, without any threat of clouds and everyone look to enjoy staying outdoors, from the many tourists to the locals. The local cakes from the Kaffeepause are winking at me, but it is too early for a break.
Old remnants of the city wall are beautifully framing the main avenue, leading to the city center.
The pink city hall looks like a noble mansion waiting the evening to be surrounded by lights of massive chandeliers and elegant guests moving slowly to the main reception hall.
Most of the local restaurants, full with customers either locals or tourists, many taking a break from their biking tours, offer local dishes - I still to find out what does it actually. As a city where fishing and hunting are still regular occupation, I cannot expect too many vegetarian variation, as it is clearly written white on black on this board at the entry to this restaurant. 

Walking around the lakes is so refreshing and always a good opportunity to cut oneself a little bit from the usual hassle.
Boats seem to be an efficient transportation way around Lychen, as much as cars and bikes do.
Small windows surrounded by flowers growing wildly create a natural feeling of summer countryside.
I was heartly recommended to try for a coffee, or even more, Kaffeemühle, which looks like the cultural life center in Lychen. Locals and families with children and people biking from Berlin are together under the same summer sunny roof, enjoying a cup or a meal. Regularly, here are held various cultural events, from poetry evenings to concerts.
Besides the obligatory afternoon cappuccino, I wanted to try some special homemade cakes, and opted from the coconut mango which wasn't the best taste match, but was worth the try. 
Fully refreshed and refuelled, we continue the journey around lakes and small green forests. Living here might be hard during the long winters especially because the transportation could be difficult when the water is frozen, but nonetheless for the summer, it looks like a little corner of paradise.
In addition to lakes and forests, there are also big playgrounds for children, and even a park where one can practice some big cheese moves.
Museum lovers may be rewarded here too, with a small regional museum sharing knowledge about the flora and fauna of Uckermark and Lychen in particular.
So much water and wild nature is an invitation to romantic musings, therefore, fragments of poems can be found all over Lychen in the most unexpected places. Some are quotes from big poets like Heine or Goethe, but also by what seems to be local authors.
Besides the activities at Kaffeemühle and some yoga practice centers, the locals also can have some fun at the Altes Kino, running regularly box office movies for children and grown up audiences.
The silence of the empty cobblestone streets is so overwhelming, like time is in the balance before the switch of the seasons.
There are the small details which always surprise me during my trips. The colourful flower details on the windows remind me of some Transylvanian folk costumes.
By accident, we stumble upon the Haus Vogelsange, which offers almost everything: from bio cakes to some creative workshops, summer apartments and reading evenings.
As I am about to leave, there is an interesting small art shop on Fürtenbergerstraße which I would love to check but unfortunately is closed on a Sunday. Now, besides the pleasure of spending time exploring the lakes, I have one more particular reason to return to Lychen, maybe sooner than the next summer.

For more inspiration from Lychen, check the dedicated Pinterest board