Potsdam – UNESCO World heritage sites

July 13, 2022

Potsdam is a city of UNESCO World Heritage sites, a city of parks and palaces on the idyllic lakes of the Havel, a grand and historical city of culture, a center of film, education and science, characterized by a 1000-year-old history as a royal capital and State capital near Berlin. But this isn’t everything Potsdam has to offer. As of December 12th, 1990 Potsdam is a UNESCO World Heritage site, one of the largest in Germany. The German Democratic Republic had requested in September, 1989 that the Potsdam Palaces and Parks were to be inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage List. In June the following year, the
Federal Republic of Germany subsequently proposed that the landscape along the Havel River encompassing the palace and park in Glienicke as well as Peakock Island (Pfaueninsel) would also be considered as a World Heritage site. Remarkably, in December of 1990, only two months after Germany‘s reunification, the UNESCO World Heritage committee resolved to inscribe the “Palaces and Parks of Potsdam and Berlin” into the World Heritage List. The full site was extended twice more: in 1992 and in 1999. Today, the entire World Heritage Site expands from Sanssouci Park via the Russian Quarter Alexandrovka, the New Garden, Babelsberg, Sacrow and all the way to Berlin’s Peacock Island and Glienicke Park. It is one of the few sites which crosses German state borders. With an astounding total area of 2,064 hectares, it is located mainly in the State of Brandenburg and in parts of Potsdam’s buzzling neighbouring city, Berlin. The entire cultural landscape is shaped by authenticity and uniqueness. Additionally, many traces of international influences are to be discovered. Those range from Chinese, Russian, Italian, French, Dutch and many many more impacts. Complimentary to the UNESCO World Heritage site is Potsdam’s baroque city centre.

As soon as you are able to see the golden figure of Atlas on the roof of the old city hall from afar, you can be certain to have arrived in Potsdam’s old heart. The baroque layout of the old market square with St. Nicholas Church radiates a quite special charm. The church was completed in 1849 and is particularly popular today with friends of culture because a variety of concerts is performed here, for instance within the scope of the Bach days in late summer. The Hans-Otto-Theatre, which is located exactly opposite St. Nicholas Church, is also appreciated by theatre lovers. In the middle of the market square, there is a 16m obelisk with portraits of Knobelsdorff, Schinkel, Gontard and Persius, Potsdam’s great architects. Since 2003, Fortuna Portal, the entrance to the former palace, has been back on the square. If you look in a westerly direction from here, you can imagine where the Alte Stadtschloss (old town’s palace) was situated up to 1959/1960. The only building that has been preserved was that of the royal stables, which houses the film museum today. Since 2002, the carriage stable, which is located on the New Market square behind it, accommodates a museum with the House of Brandenburg-Prussian History. The Island Freundschaftsinsel is located between two branches of the river Havel. With its playground, an open-air stage, a pavilion with exhibitions and a café – but above all with its unique plants, the 6-hectare island invites you for relaxation.

The Old Market (Alter Markt), Potsdam’s historic center, was designed under Frederick II in the mid-18th century based on Italian models. The square, which was destroyed in World War II, was gradually redesigned and by 2017 the Palais
Barberini was built, which has since housed the Barberini Museum. The baroque Palazzo Barberini in Rome serves
as a model. In close proximity to the reconstructed former city palace and current seat of the Brandenburg state parliament, the Church Nikolaikirche and the old town hall, the Museum Barberini has established itself as an international art museum with top-class exhibitions. An extensive program of events and education accompanies the exhibitions and invites young and old to a lively exchange about art. This is where Barberini Digital comes in. With changing online offers related to the exhibitions, the
museum carries the works and the stories behind the paintings into the digital space and enables new approaches to art.

Sanssouci Palace is one of the most important sites of Potsdam. It was Frederick the Great’s favourite place serving him as summer residence, sanctuary in difficult times and pleasure palace in which he wanted to enjoy his private life. The name Sanssouci – without a care – should be understood as both the primary wish and leitmotif of the king, because this was the place where he most preferred to retreat in the company of his dogs. Frederick the Great wanted to grow plums, figs and wine at the gates of Potsdam. The extraordinary view inspired him to build his summer residence on the terraces. The palace was built between 1745 and 1747 by Georg Wenzeslaus von Knobelsdorff according to the king’s ideas and sketches. It is considered the main work of German rococo architecture. The rooms, which are characterised by splendour and elegance, are still originally furnished. They exhibit masterpieces by Watteau, Panini and Pesne.

One of the largest palaces in Sanssouci Park is the Orangery Palace, which is 300 metres long. King Frederick William´s IV longing for Italy can clearly be seen in all of his buildings’ designs. This also applies to the Orangery Palace. He got inspired by Villa Medici in Rome and Uffizi in Florence on his travels to Italy. While the wings of the building are empty in summer, they serve as warm shelter for the subtropical potted plants from the park in winter. The two huge plant halls are connected by a magnificent central building with an apartment furnished by the King for guests, especially for his sister Charlotte.
The jewel of the Orangery Palace is the Raphael Hall. More than 50 copies of paintings by the Renaissance painter Raphael (1483–1520), made by young Prussian painters in Paris, hang in this two-storey gallery hall. The Raphael Hall serves as a stylish setting for concerts occasionally.

Built in the English neo-Gothic style, Babelsberg Palace is located in Babelsberg Park on the banks of the river Havel.
Babelsberg Palace and its park were built for Prince William of Prussia and his wife Princess Augusta of Saxony-Weimar.
There even is a “Pleasure Ground”, a garden dedicated to leisure and happy free time. The palace and its gardens served the royal couple for more than 50 years as a summer residence. The first palace built from 1833 to 1835, which only had the size of a small cottage, was created by the architect Karl Friedrich Schinkel. In 1840 Prince William’s duties of representation increased as he was appointed to the throne. As a result, the palace was extended by the architects Ludwig Persius and Johann Heinrich Strack at the client’s request. Wilhelm and Augusta took an active part in the design and furnishing of their summer residence. More than two decades later in 1862 King Wilhelm I. had a conversation with Bismarck which led to Bismarck’s appointment to the Prussian Prime minister. The conversation took place on a bridge now called the Bismarck Bridge. After World War II the palace’s furniture was lost due to looting. From 1949 the palace was used as an academy for political and legal sciences. Later it became a university for film and television. The palace facade and terraces were extensively renovated in 2016 and shine splendidly again today. Also, for the first time in 100 years, the water features around the palace can once again be appreciated. Babelsberg Palace and Park with its British influences invite you to stroll and linger.

The Russian Colony Alexandrowka was established in 1826 by King Frederick William III in memory of his close friend Czar Alexander I with whom Frederick had allied in the wars against Napoleon. The wooden houses in Russian style of the period was built to be the home of Russian singers who stayed at the Prussian court and used to be a present from the Czar after finishing the war. Peter Joseph Lenné planned the gardens with the aim to provide the Russian choir an inspiring atmosphere for music and leisure. Today, the entire area is part of the UNESCO World Heritage.