The city of Potsdam, Germany, right outside the borders of Berlin, is an epicenter of history and culture. It hosts some of the most delicate architecture, including Germany’s largest World Heritage Site. Think stucco, columns, and high ceilings. Between the pompous castles and parks, the former residence of the kings of Prussia sits the hub of the German film industry. Equally divided is the community. It’s split into the wealthy and intellectual on the one side, and a vibrant, young, left-winged scene on the other. At first sight, the city may seem uptight and boring – but a closer look reveals the remarkable diversity of this town.
What to do in Potsdam, Germany?
As the German hospitality is a bit on the reserved site – I’m allowed to say that, as a German – it is a good idea to come here knowing what you want to see. Luckily, the city is very open to tourists. With English announcements on the tram and in the bus, you’ll easily get around. The city also has excellent connections to its big brother Berlin.
Sanssouci, Orangery, and the Gardens
Pick a sunny day to explore the parks of Potsdam. Come in the morning and have the beautiful Park Sanssouci all to yourself so that you can do some exploring. Start with a stroll through the park and see the beautiful palace of Sansouci (Schloss Sanssouci), the summer residence of Frederick the Great. “Sans Souci” meaning “without worries,” is built in contemporary Rococo style, distinguished by floral ornaments, light colors and wall paintings. After the palace, see the little temples, follies and the Chinese House of the park, each a small architectural piece of art.
Another gorgeous part of the gardens is the Orangery Palace (Orangerieschloss), built in Italian Renaissance style. The building still fulfills its purpose as a conservatory for the exotic plants of the park. While here, get up to the Belvedere auf dem Klausberg, which means climbing some stairs, but will give you a fantastic view of the gardens and all the way to the New Palace.
New Palace and Charlottenhof Castle
On the far west of Park Sanssouci, you will find the New Palace (Neues Palais), which is the biggest palace in Potsdam. It hosts an active theater and is, like most of the other palaces and castles, now a museum. The last stop on the list would be Charlottenhof Castle (Schloss Charlottenhof), which is rather unassuming after the pompous palaces you’ve seen before. But you might as well stop by since this is where you can catch the bus or tram back into town.
City Palace and St. Nicholas Church
If you haven’t had enough of the stunning Rococo architecture, see the City Palace (Stadtschloss), whose reconstruction was finally finished in 2013, after years of discussion. Right behind the City Palace stands the St. Nicholas Church (Nikolaikirche), with its copper dome, now completely covered in marvelous green patina, towering over the roofs of the city.
The Film Museum And Studio Babelsberg
Right across the City Palace, on the other side of the old market square (Alter Markt), is the re-opened Film Museum. The museum is quite small, but endlessly fascinating, packed with information about actors and actresses like Romy Schneider, Marlene Dietrich, and Heinz Rühmann. It not only gives an insight into their lives but also into the techniques in the early stages of film production. Even though I know nothing about the film, I just enjoyed sitting in the very quiet and listening to the voices of black-and-white movie stars.
To see more of the German film industry in Potsdam, Germany, you have to move out of the city center and into Babelsberg, a vibrant neighborhood of students and young families, the artistic center of town. While the district is worth exploring in itself, this is where Studio Babelsberg resides. Get here by taking the bus number 690 or 601 from the central station and get off at Filmpark Babelsberg. It has its little theme park, which sadly pales in comparison to any other theme park. However, getting a look at some old sets or get a tour of Studio Babelsberg, which is the oldest large-scale film studio in the world, is worth the trip!
What else does Potsdam, Germany, have to offer?
You should take enough time to explore the city center of Potsdam. Enjoy the old stucco facades and idle cobblestone roads. Don’t worry about sticking to the main walking street. Some of the cutest shops and most precious cafes hideaway in the side alleys. While wandering around, check out the different gates. Namely, these are the Brandenburger Gate (not to be confused with Berlin’s famous gate), Hunter’s Gate (Jägertor) and Nauen Gate (Nauener Tor). All of these are within walking distance of the historical city center of Potsdam, Germany.
There are also a few excellent restaurants spread out on the pedestrian street, but be sure to make a reservation. For breakfast, go to the Wiener Cafe, between Sanssouci and the Brandenburger Gate. Have some of the city’s best ice cream at the Eiscafe Am Brandenburger Tor, directly by the gate. For lunch, head to the famous Cafe Heider or one of the precious cafes on the side roads. The best cheesecake in town is to be had in the Dutch Quarter, on the other side of the walking street, at Cafe Guam.
There are also many different options for dinner. Peffer&Salz and Maximilian’s, right next to each other, both offer excellent service and great Italian food. My Keng and Chi Keng provide fantastic sushi and Japanese food. The “Loft” rooftop restaurant, right across Pfeffer&Salz, has an outstanding view of the city. Right by the old market square (Alter Markt), you can find Peter Pane, a bar, and restaurant where you can get amazing burgers and finger food. But beware, it’s usually packed! Right next to it is the L’Osteria, another great Italian restaurant. The ambiance is wonderful, especially on mellow autumn days, overlooking the river.
Bars and Beer
To experience the young, punk-oriented culture of Potsdam, Germany, visit Olga or bar Gelb in the city center. You could also go to the Mexican-style Waschbar in the beautiful Potsdam West area.
If you want it a bit more mainstream, try Peter Pane or Cuhibar. But don’t expect any clubs that are worth your time – while the bar scene here is vibrant, you need to go to next-door Berlin to go clubbing.
As for beer, you should enjoy the riverside in the Havelgarten or Seerose Potsdam, also great for burgers.
Alright, after you have done all that, don’t shy away from exploring on your own! Each of the neighborhoods has it’s own charm and attractions. Especially Babelsberg and Potsdam West are of beautifully preserved pre-WWII architecture. Just walking around there is a pleasure in the eyes. The area around the Heiliger See (engl.: Holy Lake) is the stark contrast to the young and artsy parts of town. Here you’ll find pompous villas and expensive cars. Just a few tram stations and you’re in a completely different world! Be sure to visit one of the most diverse and beautiful towns of Germany.