Saturday, March 11, 2017

[POTSDAM] Park Hakuna Matata

Potsdam is the capital of the German state of Brandenburg. It is one of, if not, the closest state capital you can visit from Berlin. It’s so close to Berlin that zones A and B of its public transpo system falls within Berlin’s C zone. What that means is you only need a Zone C extension to get to Potsdam if you’re already in possession of a valid card for Berlin’s zone AB. That’s a meager EUR1.60 (~PHP85) one-way, if you are planning nothing more than a day trip. But what is there to see in Potsdam anyway? Palaces. Palaces everywhere!

Potsdam’s palaces are inscribed on UNESCO’s world heritage list. With a history of more than a century to back it up, its induction seems quite inevitable from the start. Of the many attractions in this small town, the most popular one is Sanssouci Park, and the only one I was really interested in. The area is really huge and houses several palaces, some of which are now being used as study halls by the University of Potsdam. A day trip will suffice if you snub the tour of the palace interiors. If not, you might need a few days.

Depending on the Berlin BVG card that you have, the RE trains might not be included in your list of free transportation options. If this is the case, then just get yourself the Zone C extension and ride the S7 all the way. Its terminus is Potsdam Hbf. From there, you can opt for a leisurely stroll en route to the park. It’s worth it on a beautiful day. The city center has a church or two, the other Brandenburger Tor which I suppose is the original one, as well as a lot of green areas for picnics and the like.

Getting out of the Hbf, you will see a tour bus across the street. There is a guy selling tickets next to it, usually. If you plan on doing the hop-on hop-off tour then just approach whoever is on duty. They will be happy to help. As for me, I decided to just walk because I saw a nice park from a distance, as well as an attention-grabbing dome of what seems to be a cathedral. Crossing the bridge, I saw two green parks on both sides of the river with enough space for a picnic. Too bad it was too chilly when I was there!

I trailed an elderly couple, a grandpa pushing a grandma’s wheelchair as the façade of peach walls and a green dome stalked them from the background. I later found out that this area is actually the Alter Markt, or old market, which is quite common in central Europe. Think of it as their answer to the Spanish plaza you see everywhere in Spain and Latin America. The green dome is Nikolaikirche’s, and there is a museum or two across the square. You can take your selfies here if you want to.

You will have a lot of photo opportunities once you reach the park grounds. As for me, what followed was a short stop at an Italian restaurant for lunch, right after I passed by Brandenburger Tor. The park is northwest of the area. I chose one of the southern gates as my entry point, where a Prussian palace still stands, along with a church. The green and gold gates exude an imperial vibe which will flood you with images of royal grandeur. Get over it, then enter the gate. Entrance to the park is free so don’t worry.

Regardless where you go, you’ll probably end up at the main attraction, which is Sanssouci Palace. You can’t really avoid it because its presence is just monumental. Built under the rule of Prussian king Frederick the Great, this summer palace is considered by some as Germany’s answer to France’s Versailles. The name Sans Souci itself means “no worries” in French and is probably what the monarch had in mind when he was thinking of his rest house away from all the action. And wow, did he not splurge?

You will also probably spend a lot of time in front of the palace, just admiring its architecture and style. The palace itself glistens under the sun with its yellow and jade hues, and somehow it appears to float on its layered terraces, which are actually vineyards. Of course the leaves will change their colors depending on the season. As I went before spring, it was mostly brown, bald, and bare. The stream is also teeming with activity, mostly involving tourists watching swans and geese wade on the water.

Entry to the palace is NOT free. I decided not to go in because displays of excessive luxury do not really appeal to me. Instead, I maximized my day trip by exploring the other palaces in the vicinity. Heading west, I passed by a windmill flanked by the Neue Kammern or Guest Palaces to the left. Walking farther down that road leads you to the Orangery Palace, which now serves as a botanical garden of sorts. This area has awesome views and there’s a garden down below with large fountains.

At the far western edge of the park are the New Palace as well as the University of Potsdam, one facing the other. The gift shop and the bus station going back to the Hbf are also located here. The palace was under construction when I was there, but I stumbled upon a group tour and managed to eavesdrop. The red bricks of the palace’s façade will leave you awestruck, which is why you’ll be surprised to know that it’s not really made of bricks. Yeah, I guess we all got Punk’d.

The story says that it was an issue of budgetary constraints. Built after the war, this palace is considered to be the last great one built by Prussia, but war damages left them kinda poor. As such, they relied on painted brick effect instead of using real ones. Clever, eh? I’d say they succeeded because the end product looks quite legit. You can’t even tell it’s fake! Anyway, this was the part where my phone died on me, but the gift shop’s foyer had benches and two power sockets, as well as Wi-Fi. Time to recharge!

Thanks to the amenities of the gift shop, I was able to catch the University of Potsdam campus on camera. I love the exterior: two identical buildings linked by a hall of columns intricately designed in 18th century baroque style. How can you not be inspired if you are studying within those halls? It feels like being transported back in time! Anyway, enough of the raving. Again, mine was a simple day trip without exploring the palace interiors. Plan your trip accordingly if you want a longer itinerary.

[POTSDAM] Park Hakuna Matata

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