Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Potsdam - the place of Palaces

Its time to be pushing on from Berlin. No matter which angle we have seen it from over the last few days, it really doesn't feel like a capital city with all rush and no time. It is more like Brisbane - a large country town with the added bonus of city nightlife and beautiful architecture but withough the frenetic crazy pace. Rather nice really.

We have been disappointed at the hotel - way over-priced for what you get. And I'll be letting Best Western know. Hence we are glad to be leaving - unlike our recent departure from Fancy House in Poznan! Oh Gosia, we miss you!!

We headed south to Potsdam. Before we left, we filled with petrol and put the car through a car wash - which is the only way you can wash your car in Germany - it really needed it - was looking decidedly grubby!! Petrol is costing €1.34 ($2.29) a litre at the moment - and that is cheap! Oh and guess what? This morning we discovered the Berlin traffic. Seems that they all use the Berlin Ring Road motorway. They zip around at crazy speeds despite the speed limit, dashing across three to four lanes of traffic in and out of the exits - no wonder we had such a quiet day on the suburban and inner roads yesterday! We get a bit of a giggle when within sight of those all-too-easy to recognise golden arches we see a gym title McFit - HA HA.

And we sure know that we are back in western Europe - there are all those eastern European trucks again - trumps today are Poland and Russia with a few Czech ones thrown in for good measure. The trip to Potsdam is only 40 minutes so it is an easy start to the day.

But that is where is ends. It is hard to imagine that Potsdam could be any more of a mess than any of the other city centres we have seen recently where they are undertaking roadworks - but believe me, it was. It seems that not only are they doing major roadworks, they are also replacing the tram lines AND making part of the city a pedestrianised area. Poor Kate is even starting to sound frustrated as time and time again I ignore her directions - and only because I cannot turn where she wants me because of all these works! In the end, I put her (and us) out of her misery and turn her off. But it is such a pity because there is no way that we can get a clean photo of these stunning public buildings that include the Victory Column, Nickolaikirche and the City Hall.

I spoke too soon yesterday when I commented on the favourable weather we are having in comparison to back home - it was a hot and sunny 36°C today - very hot while we are walking around! So, why Potsdam? Well, it has interests for many people from ancient history to royal history buffs to that of the end of WWII. It is now known as the town of the palaces and gardens with three quarters of the area being green spaces of parks and forests and waterways while only one quarter is urbanised. As we drive through these areas, it is cool and tranquil (away from the roadworks that is!).

In a nutshell, Potsdam was the core of the former Kingdom of Prussia and home to the Prussian Royal family, it was a bohemian community who welcomed immigrants from areas that others were shunning - France (Huguenots), Russia, the Netherlands and Bohemia. Much later, the former royal residences hosted the meetings of the Potsdam Conference from 17 July, to 2 August, 1945, where the victorious Allied leaders met to decide the future of Germany and postwar Europe in general.

As we drive through the city to get an overview, we are struck by how similar it is to Bath in Britain. The streets are wide and many are tree-lined. The buildings are predominantly neo-classical with clean lines and regular symmetrical buildings all of a uniform height and distance from the kerb. The public buildings however and the churches are definitely baroque. With all the trouble we are having just navigating through the city we opt not to park and get out here. We can only pity the local population who must be well and truly fed up.

The main reason we have come for this half day trip is to take a look at the Sanssouci Park and the royal buildings contained within. This park is world renown and for good reason. Extending over more than 142 hectares it is essentially a collection of sculptured and planed gardens, many in classic styles and former hunting woods. We see the terraced vine garden that falls away from the Sanssouci Palace, the Dutch garden the parterre garden at the Great Fountain, the Titon bridge and numerous circular flower gardens. Gosh, you would need to live here to get the best from it- exploring every little nook and cranny at a leaisurely pace. Like many other places we have been over the last 8½ months, we really need to spend more time here - but unbelievably for most of you, our time is fast ticking away. And as if to emphasise the point to us, the promise of autumn is creeping in with the leaves on some trees beginning to change colour and fall.

We need to have something to eat. The choice is limited - fast foods (wursts on rolls) or the Movenpick Restaurant. And our choice is therefore easy! Although the menu is only in German, we are quickly re-adjusting to the language.
Saltimbocca von der Putenbrust mit Salbei-Gnocchi, Pfifferlingen und geschmolzenen Tomaten (Saltimbocca of turkey breast with sage gnocchi, chanterelles and melted tomatoes) Michael
Schnitzel 'Weiner Art' vom Saalower Kräuterschwein mit Bratkartoffeln und Weißkrautsalat nach Art des Hauses (Schnitzel 'Weiner Art' of Saalower herb pork with fried potatoes and coleslaw speciality of the House) Maria

As we drive through the rest of the park we catch glimpses of Orangerie (where royal visitors and their guests were housed), the Chinese House, the sandstone balcony over the Nordic Garden from which you can supposedly see the whole park, the 17th century windmill, the Temple of Friendship and in the distance Charlottenhof Palace. This is an amazing place and even in those times of pomp and grandeur would have left anyone agog!

The statues throughout the parks are amazing too - they surely belong in one of the great art collections of Europe. But it is nice being able to see them up close and personal, to touch the marble that holds its cool depite the burning sun.

Oh, and I hope that someone remembered to turn out the lights in Italy, cos there is no-one at home - they are all here in Germany at the present.

So we leave Potsdam wishing that we had longer. As we turn out of the park area, coming through the set of lights are 5 police vehicles, lights flashing. But no ordinary vehicles - 3 armed personnel carriers one with a plough on the front, closely followed by two water cannon trucks. Michael was about to snap a pic, but we thought better of that one!

We are headed west toward Cologne but need to break the trip - at 6 hours driving it is just too long. Tonight we will stay at an outer suburb of Hannover called Wennigsen. The trip over is a breeze as we have decided to just get there and take the motorway. Oh, how I long for a convertible with the roof down as we drive along at 150 kph. There are plenty though who pass us, and quite a number of them are doing double that! Guess if they can afford big Mercs and Beamers, then they can afford the petrol that those speeds demand.

And then there is heartache (OK, maybe that is a little melodramatic!) There were two engineering marvels that I wanted to ty to see while we are in Europe - one was the Falkirk Wheel in Scotland which we saw, and the other is the Madgeburg Water Bridge. It was so tantalisingly close, yet so frustratingly far. We could see it from the motorway, exited to have a closer look and then could not find how to get to it - and Kate didn't know either. So there it is about 200 metres from us behind a huge fence and high above us. This one I would have really liked to take a cruise on - oh well, I am sure the world will not stop turning!

So tomorrow we head to Köln (Cologne) where we will catch up with our last exchange student Felicitas and her family. This was where Gen spent 3 months over Christmas in year 10. But not before we make a quick stop down the road a bit to have a look at an old timber windmill.

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