With just a day left until the conference that's brought me to Berlin, I headed out to the nearby town (actually practically a suburb now) of Potsdam.
There's plenty of interesting things to see in Potsdam, but unfortunately I couldn't find anywhere affordable to stay so had to make it just a day trip, which left time for just one destination.
Potsdam is most famous for Sanssouci, the palace (or perhaps I should say set of palaces) and accompanying grounds which together form one of the most impressive displays of royal grandeur in Germany.
Sans Souci, which means ‘Without Cares’, is a fitting name for the original palace, built to be simply a pleasure palace – to provide the emperor with a fitting place to relax away from the stresses of his office and court.
The first palace you'll come to if coming in by the usual public transport route (or tour bus) is the original.
I decided to avoid the queues here and head off to the grounds and other palaces. This turned out to be a bad move, for several reasons; most importantly, when you do want to look through this palace (which is accessible only on ‘guided’ audio tours), you'll not only have to wait for the next tour to start, you may have to wait several tours – your tour ticket will specify the particular time you must go on, and they won't let you blag your way onto another one (I tried), even if like me you didn't realise there was going to be a wait and were planning to catch a particular transport home.
The second reason is that here you can buy a combined ticket for all the palaces, which is cheaper than buying them individually. That doesn't seem to be available at the other palaces, and not knowing that a combined ticket existed, I paid full price at each.
The third reason I'll get onto in a moment. For now, here's a shot of the exterior – no photos allowed anywhere inside the palace – and the stream running through the grounds (which you should definitely leave a good amount of time to wander through).
The interiors are certainly an excellent showcase of renaissance styling. I'm not keen on this sort of extravagant look personally, but it's certainly interesting to see the different styles; and I have to admit that the Rococco style, used in particular in the long gallery, is quite cool as it fully integrates the paintings with the decorations surrounding them & highlighting the other aspects of the room, giving the design a seamless elegance.
Certainly worth checking out if you can tolerate the fixed-length tour and crowds.
This building was actually originally a pump house, apparently for the water supply to the fountains. Not wanting to have an ugly facility building in the emperor's pleasure gardens, a kitsch little tea-house look-alike was built for it, complete with glowing golden accents and life-sized statues.
Make sure you leave a decent amount of time to wander through the extensive gardens, and take a look through some of the miscellaneous smaller buildings in the palace complex. The chapel building in the second photo sits by the stream and has some lovely columnaded aisles and sculptures.
The New Palace is impressive from the exterior for its sheer size – even with a 28mm equiv. lens I had to stand ~100m away to fit it in frame. Even the servants quarters & work-rooms, the pair of buildings across the road, are of considerable size and grandeur.
The interior photos are the third unintended consequence of me not visiting the main palace first; I didn't realise you aren't supposed to take photos in any of the palace buildings (presumably because so many people don't remember to turn their flashes off – which of course damages the historical paintwork).
Of course, I stopped once I was told, but I'm sure the existing photos will encourage you to visit if you're in that part of the world!
While en route to the final big building, I came across this oddball tree which has a number of weird stump things sticking out of the ground next to it. Their rounded ends makes me think they aren't just the literal stumps of removed trees. Anyone know what the story is here?
There's one final major building left in the complex, the Orangerie, which IIRC is the most recent. It's still undergoing restoration but you can go in (for a fee, as always; let me know if it's worth it if you do – I was too short of time).
With a giant exterior run of thick columns and long glassed areas for wintering the oranges & other less cold-resistant plants, the Orangerie is no less impressive for scale than the other buildings.
I think the number of giant palatial buildings here in the complex shows just how much money the emperors & kings could dispose of!
You can get to Potsdam's Hauptbahnhof (which includes a full mall) directly from Berlin's S-Bahn network. From there, bus routes (at time of writing, X15 ‘Schloß’) will take you directly by Sanssouci.
Make sure you leave at least one full day so you can relax a bit. The gardens are perfect for picnicing in, and there's geocaches too :).