Saturday, June 22, 2013

Potsdam's royal palaces and singing vampires

This morning we once again boarded the maroon and yellow U-bahn train, this time to take us to Potsdam. I thought that some of the carriages of the train were quite old but that isn't the case. Warm weather, no air-conditioning and plastic covered seats made for a sticky journey.

Since we didn't have much time, we thought we would look for a bus tour once we got to Potsdam. We were in luck as a lady from one of the tour companies practically met us off the train and accompanied us to an old fashioned double decker bus.

Our first stop was the New Palace, the final palace built by Frederich the Great. It was certainly built to impress, with a central dome and lavish exterior with a parade of sandstone figures. Frederich used it for his guests. Across the street was a smaller palace built in the same style that was used as the butlers' quarters and housed the kitchens. A tunnel had been built between it and the New Palace. The people who delivered the food had to always whistle in the tunnel. Why? So they couldn't eat the food. You can't whistle and eat at the same time.

Our next stop was the Sanssouci park and palace, a reflection of what happens when a king has good taste and access to fine architects. Frederich the Great built this summer retreat for himself. It has only 12 rooms and no women were allowed. In fact Frederich visited his wife in Berlin only a couple of times a year. Needless to say this marriage did not produce any heirs.

At the back were terraces with vines and fig trees growing intermittently behind glass doors that could be opened in the better weather. From here we looked down over the magnificent gardens and fountain.

At one side of the palace is a plain grave marked with a stone. This is where Frederich lies. On top of the flat gravestone were a number of potatoes. Frederich is also known as the potato king. Since there were insufficient cereals for his subjects, Frederich brought potatoes to Prussia. At first his subjects didn't like potatoes, but Frederich cleverly had some fields of potatoes planted with some guards around them during the day but not at night. Human nature being what it is the people wanted what they couldn't have and thus the potato became a staple of the Prussian diet. Beside Frederich's gravestone there were a number of similar graves marked the same way. These were the graves of Frederich's favourite whippets.

We drove through the beautiful countryside passing guest houses that were like mini palaces, a Chinese Dragon House and an historic Dutch windmill. Back in the town we passed the area where the 2000 Russian KGB members used to live in lovely big houses. The whole area was cleared of its residents so the KGB could live there. Even Alexander Putin lived here at one time.

During WWII Potsdam was a barracks town with over 90,000 troops housed here. In the Cold War era 30,000 Russian troops were stationed here. Today these barracks have been converted to university housing or apartments.

Our final stop was the Cecilienhof Palace built by the last Hohenzollern king. It is quite odd that the palace was built during WWII in an English Tudor style for Crown Prince William and his wife Cecilie. Although it looks quite small it has 176 rooms. For the time it was very modern with indoor plumbing and central heating.

The palace is probably best known as the site of the Potsdam Conference where Churchill and later Attlee, Truman and Stalin met in 1945 to discuss among other things how to partition Germany. We could see the three representative flags in the room where the leaders met. Today the Palace is a museum and hotel set in lovely grounds.

Back on the bus we passed what had once been the KGB prison, bars still covering its windows. Our next stop was the historic Dutch quarter built in the 1700s. Many of the passengers left the bus here to explore this attractive area with its many little shops and restaurants. For us it was back to the station for our return trip to Berlin.

We just had time to change our clothes before heading off to the elegant Westen theatre to see Roman Polanski's musical Dance of the Vampires. We thought that we could easily handle a musical in German, which we did. Boy falls in love with girl, vampire loves girl, gay vampire loves boy, with people being turned into vampires add a generous helping of some spectacular music and dance numbers, which made for a fun evening.

The day was done. It was time for a quick snack at Billy Wilder's and a welcome bed.

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