From Berlin, I took the metro out to Potsdam, which is about 20 miles away from the city. Once there, I rented a bicycle for the day and pedaled out to Sansoucci Park. The Sansoucci Palace is the most famous attraction in Potsdam because it is such a splendid example of rococo style. I got there a little after 1, and bought a combination pass to see the palace and other attractions in the park. After all, my entrance time to the palace wasn’t until a full 3 hours later! The park was huge! Several kilometers full of beautiful gardens, churches, and palaces – or as the royals might have said “country homes”. These were no country homes like I’d ever seen before. After walking through some gorgeous flower beds full of all sorts of blooming flowers, including bright yellow sunflowers, I decided to visit the Charlottenburg Palace first. I found out that visits to this palace are by guided tour only, so I passed 15 minutes in a rose garden and by the lake until I could go in for the tour.
The tour was conducted entirely in German, so I was given an information sheet in English which told me about each of the 10 rooms in the princes country escape. The place is amazingly well preserved and perhaps partly because in order to enter they make you wear these huge oversize wool slippers, which you have to use to glide across the wood floors. There is no wear and tear or scuff marks on those floors. My favorite room in the prince’s Charlottenburg Palace was the Tent Room. The inside of the tent room is supposed to make you feel as though you actually are in a tent, the standard in country escape style. Apparently this type of room was all the rage some 150 years ago. The whole room was covered in blue striped fabric, angling down purposefully from the ceiling and complimented by trunks and camp chairs. I personally have never seen a tent so perfectly symmetrical, but hey maybe authenticity wasn’t the issue so much as style. Overall, I found the tour conducted in German to be an interesting study into German culture. There we were in a beautiful place full of beautiful things and they all looked like they were at someone’s funeral, that’s how serious they were during the tour. An American tour guide would have certainly provided some comic relief or other way to make people smile during the 45 minute tour, but the German guide kept a straight face and a somber expression the whole time. The Germans were super careful to obey the rules the whole time, and they carefully slid to the very last inch of the wood floor before removing their slippers, carefully attaching them and placing them gently into the deposit box. The whole thing was a sort of comic relief to me, but of course I couldn’t laugh or I would have received some dirty looks.
I had to hurry the 2 kilometers back to Sansoucci Palace in order to make it on time for my tour. Once inside, I quickly understood why they only allow a certain number of people to enter at a time. Overall, the palace is not very large, just extremely well decorated in rococo style, so just 10 of the main rooms are open to the public. I was given an audio guide in English which explained the rococo style and the royal persons whose presence has graced this royal dwelling. I made it through the whole thing listening to all of the audio tracks in only about 30 minutes. My favorite room here was probably the rainforest room, which had sculptured birds and trees painted in bold colors jutting out from the walls to create a fascinating 3D environment. I had bought the 2 Euro pass which allowed me to take pictures wherever I wanted, but let me assure you that every time I took a picture, the palace guards wanted to make sure I had the bracelet pass on. One time the sleeve of my jacket fell down and was covering it and I swear the guard lady almost had a panic attack because she couldn’t see my bracelet. Also, I am fairly certain that Sandoucci Palace was the quietest palace that I have ever visited, and that is most likely because most people there were respectful rule following Germans. Once again, a cultural difference. After seeing the main part of the place, my pass entitled me to see the kitchens and bakery (where they had one of the first cooking machines aka oven in Germany) and also the Ladies Quarters where the ladies in waiting and female guests of honor were housed. Before leaving the park I also got to visit the old Dutch windmill from the 1700s. The windmill is still in operation and produces the flour for all sorts of goodies! I bought some chocolate cookies that were supposedly a byproduct of the operation. Since it was getting to be almost 6 and all of the attractions would soon be closing, I retrieved my bicycle and rode it through the parts of the park I had yet to see, like the Orangerie palace. Then I biked through a few more parks and other palaces in Potsdam – the city is full of them! I went past the Cecielienhoff Palace, which is where the Potsdam Treaty was signed. I rode along the lake on my way back to the station. I returned my bike, got some cheap Chinese take out, and got on the next train towards Berlin. I transferred a few times in order to make it to Potsdamer Platz in the city center. My goal there was to see the Sony Center. Potsdamer Platz used to be in the no mans land of the Berlin wall and so was desolate for many years. After the fall of the wall, a few different companies won the bids for development. One of these companies was Sony, who hired an architect to create a stand out complex. It almost looks a bit like a tree, and at the top, the canvas is lit by different colors of alternating lights. That’s why I wanted to come past sun down, to see it all light up. Right outside of the Sony Center is a large chunk of the original wall which now serves as an outdoor museum, packed with information about the East Bloc and the fall of the wall. It was a good introduction to the history of the wall in Berlin, which I learned a ton more about the next day!