To Potsdam and back again
Aug 1, 2014
|We stayed in bed late today – didn’t get up until 8:30! We cleaned up a bit then went to the hotel breakfast – not bad but not much either. Good bread! Bad sausage (according to Alice later in the day).
Back to the room to grab some stuff then off to the train station. A bit of confusion as we tried to use an automatic ticket machine but soon went to the real person window. I asked for two round trip tickets and she looked quizzical and said “Day Tickets?” Sure. Anyway, for 7.20 euros each we got tickets. To the platform and the train was a minute late! They have signs showing scheduled time and actual time so we knew what was up. Train ride was very smooth – no bumps at all. Comfortable seats – I was a bit worried that we were in first class… But no one came to look at the tickets – though we did have to “validate” them at a machine on the platform. Very trusting!
The trip of about 30 miles took a bit less than 40 minutes with about five stops in between. Lots of graffiti on almost anything flat – some very nice, most just words or initials. Alice told me some of them were “bad” words – but I really don’t think she had a clue… Otherwise greenery and beautiful homes. We passed many passenger trains as well. No freight cars.
When we arrived at Potsdam we went across the street to the waiting tourist busses and got a full tour bus- it soon filled up with mostly Germans so we had to use headphones and listen to the English tour. We were missing something as the others laughed quite a bit but our British commentator was rather dry. But it was a clear and sunny day – and another warm one – especially on top of a double decker with no roof…
Our immediate introduction was that Potsdam is very much make believe. We passed an obelisk that had hieroglyphics but they were all made up symbols. Then a Mosque that was actually a water pumping station, then many other fantasy things throughout the town – a Dutch section built to attract people from Holland, a Siberian section to house musicians from Russia, and many more such as castle gate – built to look like one.
But there was reality as well. As we traveled along there was a three foot wall that had separated East and West. Oddly, the buildings on the East side were much nicer than those on the west. The west tore down the old ones and built new. The East preserved them (or didn’t work on them at all) and now they’re renovated and quite lovely.
Then on to Glienicker Bridge – or the Bridge of Spies. Here is where prisoners were exchanged between the West and the Soviets – such as Gary Powers of U2 fame (the plane, not the band). There is still a line on the bridge that makes the division.
We then stopped at Schloss Cecilienhof, the residence of the son of the Kaiser Willhelm. It’s real claim to fame is the Potsdam Conference following WW2 where post war Europe, especially Germany, was decided by Churchill, Truman, and Stalin. During that conference Truman got a telegram saying “The Baby has been born” and where he made the decision to drop the atomic bomb. It was also during this meeting that Churchill was in an election and lost – so the actual treaty was signed by Truman, Stalin, and Prime Minister Atlee, the later whom almost everyone (including me) forgets. You could almost taste the history as we stood outside the conference room and looked at what they looked at in 1945.
Driving back through town we passed many barracks – some dating from the 1700s and some the 1970s. We drove by the KGB prison and KGB headquarters for Germany. It’s amazing to think of the hundreds of thousands of soviet troops stationed here just 25 years ago.
Then deeper into history with a visit to Schloss Sanssouci – the palace of Frederick the Great – some say (like me) one of the greatest generals in history – and also one of the luckiest! The place was covered in statues and had an immense garden stretching in front of it. There was also an old windmill that Frederick had remain once the palace was built to show he was a man of the people. At this point though breakfast caught up with Alice and she was feeling poorly, so I did a quick circuit of the grounds and back to meet her. Once we had some ice pops she felt better.
Finally off to Palace Charlottenhof – built by Frederick but he didn’t like it so it sat empty for years– but it was eventually occupied. As all of the palaces here it is very ornate and huge. One odd part was that some of the very ornate buildings were actually servant’s quarters – the architect didn’t want the royals to look at unattractive buildings – one reason Frederick didn’t like it. Another oddity was that only a small portion was actually painted red and brick lines were added.
Then back to the bus. Most folks got off at the city center but Alice and I headed back to the train since she wasn’t feeling well still. We made the train with no problems at all and were on our way within ten minutes of reaching the station. The trip back was a bit more crowded but no real problems.
Back in Berlin we walked through the festival again and visited the begging horse – quite the contraption! I did notice something odd though. A person falling from the roof of our hotel! Apparently they have a “Free Fall” ride where you are attached to a line and dropped 400 feet. No big deal but the ride was right outside of our hotel room so every five or ten minutes we’d hear a scream pass by the window. Most off.
We had dinner at the festival and watched many things. There was a bagpiper playing for tips, a Support Gaza demonstration with a group of police nearby, acrobats from the US who were quite skilled, a magician from Chile who was lots of fun, and many games, such as a bed spring basketball game. We had dinner – I had Indian curry on rice and Alice got a pork steak on a bun – she hated it. We had some ice cream, bought some trinkets, and headed back to the room. Now there is music, explosions, and horses neighing from the festival - but only the occasional scream.
Tomorrow we catch a 10:45 train to Dresden and say goodbye to Berlin. An wonderful city and one I’d like to be able to explore much more fully. But that is true of pretty everywhere I’ve been.