The Palaces and Parks of Potsdam and Berlin are an eclectic artistic achievement, with influences from Italy, England, France, Flanders, Paris and Dresden.
Potsdam was the residence of the Prussian kings until 1918; its majestic buildings were built mainly during the reign of Frederick II the Great (1740-1786).
After three extensions in 1991, 1992 and 1999, the site now includes Sanssouci, New Palace, Charlottenhof, New Garden, Babelsberg Park, Sacrow estate, Linstedt, Bornsted, Alexandrovka and many more small buildings and parks.
Map of PotsdamLoad map
I've always associated Potsdam, Germany, with the Cold War, but outside of knowing some historical context, I was unprepared for how beautiful the palaces and gardens would be when I visited in the fall of 2007. Autumn was a spectacular season to stroll the grounds, as trees changing color were reflected in the waterways wending their way through Sansoucci Park, the heart of the original inscription. While I enjoyed visiting some of the palaces and grand structures in this World Heritage Site, to include Sanssouci, the New Palace, and the Chinese House, it was the gardens that I found most memorable. The terraces ouside the Orangery and Sanssouci palace provided a beautiful view over Potsdam, nestled in fall foliage. Leaves gently falling from the trees lining the grand walkways also added to the atmosphere. The gardens may have been out of season, but they were very well kept up. For those interested in Cold War history, in addition to nearby Schloss Cecilienhof, where the Potsdam Conference was held, Glienicke Bridge over the Havel River is also within the core zone. This bridge, which used to form the border between West Berlin and East Germany, was the site of prisoner exchanges during the Cold War, including the swap of Soviet spy Rudolf Abel for the American U2 pilot Gary Powers in 1962.
Logistics: Sanssouci Park is walkable, but private transportation may make it easier to travel between different components of this large series of gardens and palaces.
More than two million people a year visit Potsdam but, luckily, there’s enough to see that it doesn’t feel too crowded. The whole area is about 500 hectares large and it’s possible to walk through the parks and the gardens and see the exteriors of the buildings for free.
You need to buy a ticket to go inside most of the palaces. Because Sanssouci is so popular, you’ll be allocated a timeslot for a tour. It’s better to get to the site early if you are short of time, otherwise you may miss out.
Aside from Sanssouci and New Palace, the highlights are the Orangery Palace, Charlottenhof Palace, and the New Chambers. It can easily take all day to see them properly and also stroll through the gardens. As Potsdam is just a short train trip from Berlin, my recommendation would be to allow the whole day to explore.
Read more from Michael Turtle here.
For over 25 years I have been traveling to World Heritage Sites around the world. This is a film about the three World Heritage Sites in Berlin in Germany; Potsdam, Museumsinsel and the Modernist Houses of Berlin (Swedish voice-over with English subtitles).
I visited this WHS in May 2014. I visited a number of parks in Berlin and my personal favourites there were Peacock Island and Charlottenburg Palace. However, I experienced the true OUV of this WHS in Potsdam's Sanssouci Park. Before entering the park I gazed at the strange false mosque housing the steam engine house. There's also a reconstructed windmill and several other buildings to visit in this megalomaniacal park. The highlight of my trip was the Chinese Tea House and it was worth popping inside to see its painted ceiling and chinaware. If you want to take pictures inside the Sanssouci Palace, New Palace or Chinese Tea House you have to pay an additional 3 euro camera fee. The Sanssouci Palace and Park is definitely the best palace/castle WHS I visited in Germany and a very close contender to France's Versailles. Definitely worth visiting and I wouldn't mind staying for a night or two to explore Potsdam better next time!
The Parks of Potsdam and Berlin extend over a large area and it is hardly possible to visit all sites at one day. There are six major parks: Sanssouci, New Garden, Babelsberg, Glienicke, Pfaueninsel and Sacrow. In each of the parks there are numerous palaces and small structures, built between the mid 18th and early 20th Century. Certainly, the main sight is the Park Sanssouci. In 1745, King Frederick II commissioned his architect Von Knobelsdorff to build a summer palace in the rococo style, in Potsdam, just outside Berlin. Sanssouci should be the intellectual centre of his empire and his refuge from the military and austere capital of Berlin. Frederick II was not only a statesman and military leader, he was also interested in art, science and philosophy. Voltaire spent two years as a guest in Sanssouci, and here was also the meeting of Frederick II with Johann Sebastian Bach. The composition "The Musical Offering" based upon a theme by Frederick II. His descendants built new parks and palaces around the lakes in Potsdam.
We visited Potsdam in the summer of 2009 and spent two and a half days there. The first day we went to the Park Sanssouci. The view of the palace with the wine terraces and the fountain is magnificent. It is always very crowded, but we were early enough to avoid the queues at the entrance. The audio guide tour through the interior took about 45 minutes. It was interesting to see the historic rooms, but I have to admit, it was not stunning. I liked much more the visit of the Charlottenhof Palace, the summer palace of Frederick William IV. It is a small palace in the style of a Roman villa. The interior is rather simple, but each room is designed differently. For example, there is a tent room that looks like the tent of a Roman Emperor. Other interesting buildings are the Orangery Palace, the Roman Baths and the Chinese House. Unfortunately, we could not visit the huge New Palace, built for festivities and guests of the royal court, it was closed. It is probably the only sight in Western Europe, which is closed on Tuesdays instead on Mondays. A good choice for the lunch break: at the Bornstedt Crown Estate is a brewery (Buffalo Beer!) with a beer garden.
On the second day we started at the Russian colony Alexandrowka with its beautiful log houses and an Orthodox chapel. We walked to the Belvedere on the Pfingstberg, from where you have a magnificent view over the lake landscape. Then, we visited the Cecilienhof Palace. It was built at the beginning of the 20th Century in the style of an English country house. Cecilienhof is known as the site of the Potsdam Conference in 1945, which marked in some way the end of WWII. Anyone who is interested in the recent history should visit Cecilienhof. The interior is almost unchanged and the audio guide provides a lot of information about the conference and its participants. Nearby is a symbol of the Cold War, the Glienicke Bridge, at the former border between West Berlin and East Germany. The US and the USSR used the bridge several times to exchange captured spies (at the movies and in reality). At the Glienicke Bridge we took a boat. This is certainly the most comfortable way to see the other parks. The round trip went past the Glienicke Palace, the Pfaueninsel, the Church of the Redeemer (striking because of its location and architecture, photo), and the Babelsberg Palace. You can get on and off at any stop.
The next morning, before we continued our journey, we made a detour to the Babelsberg Observatory. Mainly because I wanted to see an iconic building of modern architecture, the Einstein Tower by Erich Mendelssohn. It is not explicitly mentioned in the nomination document, but belongs to the observatory, so I think it also belongs to the WHS. Unfortunately you can not visit the interior. [comment in 2018: I was wrong here. The Einstein Tower is an observatory on the Telegrafenberg in Potsdam, operated by the Leibniz Institute for Astrophysics, it is not part of the WHS. The Babelsberg Observatory is located in the Babelsberg Park and within the core zone.]
For the evening, I recommend the pubs and cafés in the Dutch Quarter, that consists of many red brick houses in the Dutch style. All in all there is a lot to explore and it's worth to spend a day or two in the Parks of Potsdam and Berlin.
There is certainly a lot to see in this site, and in two days I saw most of it. Outstanding for me, but not exactly beautiful was the castle on the Pfaueninsel, reached by bus and ferry from Wannsee. Another interesting site was the Schloss Babelsberg, built on a hill overlooking the Glienicke Lake and its famous Glienicke Bridge. After walking around Jagdshloss Glienicke I crossed the bridge and caught a tram to Potsdam. There I visited the listed properties. I particularly liked the Nikolskoe church in the Volkspark, the New Garden and its colonnaded marble palace, and the houses of Alexandrovka.
A warning to future Potsdam visitors first: don't make the mistake I made to walk from the train station to the Sanssouci park. It takes at least half an hour and there is not much to see underway. I was jealous of other tourists happily biking around, as that seems the best way to explore this rather large area. This also gives you the opportunity to visit some of the more remote places like Alexandrovka and Bornstedt.
My walk through the deserted streets was brightened up a little by the sight of the pumping station in the shape of a mosque/minaret. Over-the-top architecture like this makes a visit worthwhile. That's also the case with the China house in the Sanssouci park itself.
I skipped most of the rest of Sanssouci: there are so many of these megalomaniac building frenzies in Europe, and there are way too many of them on the list. I don't go inside anymore, but rather have a walk in the gardens and sit down somewhere to read a good book.
This is Germany's largest cultural landscape (and probably one of the biggest in Europe), the result of centuries of construction and refinement by the Prussian kings and German emperors in and around Potsdam, today the capital of Brandenburg, and the westernmost edge of Berlin. There are so many parks, gardens, palaces, and buildings of every sort that it's hard to keep count, and the role Potsdam played in the history of Germany and of Europe, as well as of the Enlightenment, is considerable. The city is practically a suburb of Berlin and very easy to reach from there. The parks are really great for walking and admiring the many statues, fountains, etc. On my first visit to Potsdam in 2004, I skipped the long lines at Sanssouci Palace and only made a walk through the park. The situation was slightly better the second time ten years later (you get tickets for a specific time slot) and I thought it was a reasonably enjoyable visit (not a big palace, but very fancy). I also visited Cecilienhof Palace, built in the style of an English country house (remarkably enough, it was only finished during WW I, a year before the Hohenzollern dynasty's fall from power) and famous for being the setting of the Potsdam Conference in 1945 - there are some very interesting exhibitions on this subject. From the outside, I saw several other parts of this WH site - the Neues Palais, the Orangerie, the Russian Colony of Alexandrowka, the Marmorpalais, and Schloss Glienicke (already located in Berlin, just across the Glienicke Bridge, made famous for the spy exchanges during the Cold War). I first explored Potsdam in one of the many double-decker buses, but then just walked through the parks - a very pleasant activity in fine weather.
I visited Potsdam twice in the summers of 2006 and 2007 and was surprised by how much reconstruction had been carried out in the meanwhile. Post-Communist Potsdam is now becoming the beautiful wealthy looking city it used to be before WWII. Except the justifiably most well known of Potsdam's attractions, namely Sans Souci Palace and park, the area is loaded with interesting sites to visit. Don't miss Alexandrowska - the Russian colony errected in the 19th Century for Russian settlers, which is covered by the Unesco title. It offers lovely traditional Russian wooden houses in ornated style. A small museum, though not very interesting for itself, offers you a glimpse into the interior of these traditional houses (www.alexandrowska.de).
Another lovely district covered by the Unesco title is the Dutch quarter which was constructed for Dutch merchants and artisans in the 18th Century by the architect Jan Bouman, whose own house can be visited (Mittelstrasse 8).
At Cecilienhof Palace you can admire the original treaty which ended WWII signed at the famous Potsdam Conference in 1945.
Another tip - though unrelated to the Unesco inscription - is the filming area which used to be the most important one in Germany is still in use.
All in all, I recommend to dedicate more time to explore lovely Potsdam than the usual one day trips out of Berlin.
I visited the Sansouci Park on a morning trip from Berlin, unfortunately the Sansouci Palace itself was closed, (the curse of Monday closures hit for the first and definitely not the last time!) but the terrace leading up to it was pretty magical with fountains and neatly arranged bushes! So I headed for the Neues Palais which was pleasant, I am not really a big Palace/ Stately Home fan they are always seem very impressive but I just get a little bored with all the extravagance after a little while. So to combat that we decided to use the large slippers provided to skate around in the marble hall behind the attendants back, I was impressed to see that almost everyone else did the same when they got there!
The park itself was very nice and contained many Palace churches and a ‘fine example of European Chineseary’ it was well worth heading out there, the town of Potsdam was also a nice place to stroll around and get something to eat. It was very easy to get to and from central Berlin as it is connected by regular trains that take about 30 minutes to get there if I remember correctly.
The parks in Berlin I am not 100% sure I visited the one included in the WHC but I did visit a fair few parks whilst I was there and was very surprised to see just how green the city was, it has a forest in it and I really enjoyed walking around them to escape the heat and bustle of the day.
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To include various sites in the town of Potsdam
TWHS "Pfaueninsel Berlin", Entered 1984 and Removed 1996, subsumed into this WHS
Include Castle + St Sauveur Church
To include castles and parks of the Berlin-Zehlendorf district
Extended from original TWHS Schloss Sanssouci, Potsdam (DDR T List 1984)
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