From one of the biggest working film studios in the world to the magnificent “German Versailles” Sanssouci … there is so much to discover in Berlin’s “little sister” Potsdam that it would be a shame not to head there for a brief stopover!
A short introduction to Potsdam
Potsdam, located some 24 kilometres southwest of Berlin, first rose to prominence in the 18th Century. Back then, Potsdam was part of the state of Prussia. When the Prussian kings became more and more powerful, both Berlin (where the kings worked) and Potsdam (where the kings lived) became increasingly important cities.
This is why Potsdam today features so many stunning royal palaces. In fact, they make up the largest UNESCO World Heritage site in Germany. Life at the Prussian court resembled that of Versailles in France, which in the 18th Century was a royal role model for Europe. Life at the royal court in Potsdam therefore probably came quite close to the lavish lifestyle we see in the Versailles-based biopic Marie Antoinette (2006).
When the wall divided East Germany and West Germany, the city of Potsdam found itself on the eastern side. So although it was very close, it was rather difficult to get to Potsdam from West Berlin. Just like in the film The Lives of Others (2006), there was a lot of spying going on and the Soviet Military Counterintelligence Service even built a prison and a military town here. The latter became known as the “forbidden city”.
How to get to Potsdam
Today, Potsdam is part of the metropolitan region Berlin-Brandenburg and thus super easy to get to from the German capital Berlin. Just hop on the S‑Bahn (fast overground train) S7 at Berlin’s main train station (Hauptbahnhof) and you’ll be in Potsdam in a mere 30 minutes.
If you are planning to return on the same day, it makes sense to get a so-called ABC day ticket. This ticket covers public transportation in Potsdam as well as in Berlin. Alternatively, get yourself a Berlin Welcome Card and opt for the ABC area. This visitor card will also give you discounts for attractions, tours, restaurants and shops.
If you like to have a guide by your side, book one of the many guided day trips starting and ending in Berlin. For example the 5 h Sanssouci Palace Tour, the Berlin: Potsdam – Kings, Gardens & Palaces 6‑Hour Tour, or the Discover Potsdam Day Tour.
My Top 10 Things to do in Potsdam
1. Filmpark Babelsberg
A Potsdam must-do for any film fan! Bear in mind that the park is only open to visitors during the summer season (between the end of March and the end of October each year).
The entrance ticket currently costs 22 EUR for adults and includes a guided behind-the-scenes tour, which will take you along the so-called “Berliner Straße”. This street has changed its look many times over, depending on which time period and city it represents.
In the past, it appeared in films like Inglourious Basterds (2009) and The Pianist (2002). More recently, the street served as a filming location for Babylon Berlin (2017-) – a German TV series set in the roaring twenties.
A scene from “Inglourious Basterds” filmed in Filmpark Babelsberg. Photo: Inglourious Basterds Wiki Fandom
2. The New Market Square (Neuer Markt)
You will pass by here on any Potsdam walking tour. I found this square surprisingly quiet and quaint, almost like the town square of a small village. Thus, I could easily see why this area of Potsdam is a popular filming location.
Usually, Potsdam doesn’t play itself, but stands in for other cities. In the action thriller Hitman: Agent 47 (2015) with Rupert Friend, for example, the New Market Square was transformed into the city centre of Salzburg, Austria.
3. The Old Market Square (Alter Markt)
This beautifully restored baroque square was the most stunning thing I saw on my visit to Potsdam. Especially with the blue sky in the back.
If you’re not afraid of heights or narrow spaces, you can climb up the stairs of the St Nicholas church. Entry for that is around 5 EUR. After having arrived at the top, you will be rewarded with a glorious “angel’s view”.
The “angel’s view” from the top of St Nicholas Church in Potsdam
4. The Dutch Quarter
The typically Dutch-looking brick houses were built between 1733 and 1740 for Dutch craftsmen that helped the Prussian king to extend his garrison town.
Today, you will find many cute shops, cafés and restaurants here. Thus, it’s the perfect place to take a break. For example with a delicious Dutch pancake at Poffertjes en Pannekoeken (Mittelstraße 32).
The “Dutch Quarter” is located just across from the tram stop “Nauener Tor”.
5. The Russian Colony Alexandrowka
Next up is Potsdam’s Russian heritage, which you will reach by either walking for a couple of metres through the “Nauener Tor” or by taking the tram no. 90, 92 or 95 to “Puschkinallee”.
Russian singers in the service of the former Prussian king Frederick William III were the first to settle here in the mid-19th Century.
Today, you can marvel at the singer’s thirteen wooden houses, the Alexander-Newski-Church as well as several grand villas. If you would like to learn more about the area’s history, check out the small Museum Alexandrowka.
6. Glienicke Bridge, also known as the “Bridge of Spies”
To get the full picture of Potsdam, jump on a Hop-on / Hop-off bus or take a boat tour that will pass by the famous Glienicke Bridge. Linking Potsdam and West Berlin across the river Havel, the bridge became a hot spot for exchanging secret agentsand spies during the Cold War Period.
Statues at the “Bridge of Spies”
7. Schloss Sanssouci
Potsdam has become world-famous for its many magnificent former royal palaces and castles built here by the once very powerful kings of Prussia.
The former royal summer residence of “Sanssouci” (meaning “No Worries” in French) is the most popular attraction of all the beautiful Potsdam buildings that are now UNESCO World Heritage sites. In fact, even more famous than the inside of the castle itself are the 120 steps leading up to it! Of course I had to take a photo there, too!
The steps leading up to Schloss Sanssouci
8. Other castles and palaces
Sansscoui is a start, but there is much more to see. The nearby New Palace is actually a lot bigger than Sanssouci, which was originally built as a “simple” summer residence.
Also worthwhile checking out is Schloss Cecilienhof – a Prussian-German palace built in the English Tudor style.
The most important historical event that took place here was the so-called Potsdam Conference from July 17, 1945 to August 2, 1945. Here, the big three (Stalin for Russia, Truman for the USA, and Churchill for Great Britain) decided on the fate of Germany after the allied forces had won Word War II.
9. Visit the Museums
Museums worthwhile checking out in Potsdam include the Potsdam Museum, the Haus der Brandenburgisch-Preußischen Geschichte and the art gallery Museum Barberini. Although the websites are not always in English, they all provide English information inside.
10. Bike and boat rides in the summertime
A great way to relax after your sightseeing marathon in busy Berlin, is to take a boat cruise through leafy and calm Potsdam. I recommend the Berlin-Wannsee to Potsdam 3‑Hour World Heritage Cruise or the Potsdam: Palace Tour by Boat.
And those who would like to be a little more active when exploring Potsdam’s gems should try the guided bike tour Gardens &Palaces of Potsdam. This tour starts and ends in Berlin and includes rental bikes in Potsdam.
Unless otherwise credited, all photos by © Sonja Irani | RevisitGermany.com
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