Potsdam - Sometimes for Work, More Often for Play

Trip Start Jun 28, 2011
Trip End Jul 07, 2011

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Flag of Germany  , Brandenburg,
Thursday, June 30, 2011

After the museum, we drove off down a road based after the Champs-Élysées in Paris. It's called the Kurfürstendamm or Ku'damm. Tom described its history to us, adding that the Germans wanted to one-up the French with this street – the sidewalks are several feet wider than in Paris, the buildings very elegant, trees everywhere. The stores were all high-end brands: Louis Vuitton, Dolce & Gabbana, Cartier…

All day, Tom had been telling us to keep an eye out for the crazy bikers of Berlin. While on this road, we stopped at a light. A biker was in the right-hand biker lane. We got the green, and started – just as the biker tried to cut across us and turn left. We nearly hit him.  John, the British-German bus driver, stopped short and we all flew forward.  He opened the doors to make sure the man was okay, but as soon as he did so the biker let off on a tirade in German.  John responded in kind but as soon as the biker realized we were American he switched to English, swearing and going on and on about how we should go home – but his English wasn't great and he kept saying things wrong.  It was very difficult not to burst out laughing when he used words like "motherbastard" and "asshead" xD

We were let off for lunch at a sort of mall/plaza area. We wandered the mall a bit, admiring the very modern and creative clock and searching out for a place to eat.  There weren't many.  We (the four girls plus Maeve) ended up at an Italian joint; Brady, Dennis, and a few other guys were at the table behind us.  It was slow service.  I got a margarita pizza, since I was sure I could eat it. The waitress didn’t speak great English so communication was difficult, but at least we all could laugh about it, including her.  Dennis looked up in a guide book how to ask for the bill, and she laughed when she saw what he was doing.  Us girls didn’t have time to finish all of our pizza, and we managed to ask for a take-out box, though with some difficulty.  Dr. Ryan and Kätchen had early on taught us how to say "thank you very much", so we left with many “Danke schön!”s.

Tom recommended we see the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church just down the street (the ruins of a church bombed in the 1940's and the modern belfry beside them).  Unfortunately, by the time we found a place for lunch and had eaten and paid it was time to return to the bus.  I got a glimpse of it as we drove out of the city and towards Potsdam.

The drive to Potsdam was along an Autobahn, which I learned refers to the whole motorway system and not just one road as I'd thought.  There were bleachers along a whole stretch of the highway (I unfortunately did not get a photo).  Tom explained that these were from when the first highways were invented and they were experimenting with different products for the road.  They would pave this stretch in the new material, and people would come see the cars race down it.

Potsdam, home to Prussian nobility, land of the Elector of Brandenburg, and host to the Potsdam conference.  It's still an expensive place to live, so nearly all of buildings are in some way beautiful.  But our destination this afternoon was to the New Palace, built by Frederick the Great in the 18th Century.

The road through Sanssouci Park up to the New Palace was lined with many smaller palaces used for guests or family.  It started pouring as we got out of the bus and we hurried up the long, exposed walk to the palace.  But the rain could not stop me from being amazed by this place.  Across from the palace was a gigantic gateway, which Frederick would have his guests enter through.  Inside the palace, we got these gigantic slipper things to wear over our shoes (they kept sliding off) and audio guides.  The building itself was very beautiful, full of history and art and insane details.  The ceilings were amazing, and there were chandeliers in almost every room.  So many things were gilded I think I am now desensitized to gold.


The museum seemed to be undertaking the task of cleaning the hundreds of statues on all of the buildings.  Across from the palace, under the gate, was a huge collection of statues in various stages of cleanliness – black, grey, ivory.  On the palace itself they had left all of the statues up, but some were freshly white while others smoke-black.  It was very cool to see, but I was a bit terrified to take my eyes off of the group under the gate.  They looked like an army of Weeping Angels.

Our next stop was a short drive away, to see the Cencilienhof, where Stalin, Churchill, and Truman met for the Potsdam Conference in 1945.  The museum part was closed and we only saw one side of it because it was very rainy, but Mr. Ryan pointed out the windows to the room where the conference was actually held as well as the windows to Churchill’s offices.  The building and grounds were beautiful.  In particular I loved the chimneys; each was unique, with intricate designs made of brick. 

On the way out of Potsdam, we saw many more beautiful buildings and more of those pink and blue aboveground tubes.  Someone asked Tom about them.  He explained that Berlin was built on swampy lands (the name of the city actually means "swamp"), and much of the surrounding areas are similarly wet.  Because of this, whenever a new building is built the land must be drained.  The pipes are colored because they achieve this using slightly different methods of pulling water out of the ground.  Tom called them “little boys” and “little girls” due to their coloring.

The drive back to Berlin was short.  Manuel and Tom mercifully stayed off the intercom this time so we could rest and admire the passing wet and green scenery.

Our stressful evening in Berlin will be related in the next post...
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