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City Portrait Potsdam

Sunanda Rao-ErdemMarch 2, 2005

Away from bustling Berlin, Potsdam offers peace and quiet in a tranquil setting -- not to mention a majestic castle and inspiring film museum.

The Sanssouci Palace in Potsdam is on the UNESCO World Heritage ListImage: AP

Potsdam was born in the 10th century as a small Slavic village. Since then, it has undergone continual transformation, from being a darling of the Prussian kings to facing the step-motherly treatment of the GDR before being reconstructed after the German reunification.

The name of Potsdam was first recorded in 993, though it was then called "Potztumpimi." It gained importance much later when King Friedrich Willhelm, also known as the "the Great Elector," declared Potsdam as his second residence next to Berlin in the year 1660.

He commissioned the construction of the Sanssouci Castle, built in Dutch style and surrounding by a park. In the following decades, successive Prussian emperors added castles and parks and, in 1990, the whole area was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Melting pot at the heart of Europe

BdT Hans Otto Theater in Potsdam eröffnet
The new Hans Otto Theater opened in 2006Image: AP

During the 18th century, Potsdam life centered around splendor and belle esprit. Famous visitors from all over Europe gathered here. Some of them, like French Huguenots or Jews, came as religious refugees. At one point, one third of the inhabitants were French. Others, like the Dutch, Flemish and Swiss were called in especially for their craftsmanship.

For the Dutch immigrants, a settlement of 134 red brick houses was built. The mostly three-storey houses have roofs in typical Dutch style. This district, known as the "Holländisches Viertel," is a popular tourist destination.

In the 19th century, members of a Russian military choir came to Potsdam to entertain the troops stationed there and in 1826 Frederick William II ordered the construction of a new neighborhood for these soldiers. This "Russian town" was named Alexandrowka after the Tsarina. In total 12 picturesque wooden houses were built. A small Russian-orthodox chapel, the Alexander-Newski kirche was added later.

After the World War Two, Potsdam witnessed a significant change in population. Many residents had fled due to the war and the invading Soviet troops. The war had also damaged large parts of the historical architecture. Despites protests, however, the city was redesigned according to socialist architectural style instead of restoring the old buildings to their original form.

Filmstudio Babelsberg soll verkauft werden
Babelsberg FilmstudiosImage: dpa Zentralbild

After the reunification of Germany, the new and freely elected city council decided to create a historical center. Today, Potsdam is one of the few former East German cities that people want to move to, instead of away from. Some 30,000 new residents have settled there within the past 10 years.

Lights, camera, action!

Another attraction in Potsdam is the "Filmpark Babelsberg," which is still rewarding for film enthusiasts today. Some of Germany's most famous films were created here, including the 1927 masterpiece "Metropolis" and the 1930 film "The Blue Angel," which catapulted Marlene Dietrich to international stardom.

The film museum onsite traces the history of German motion pictures. Film sets from old films, including the submarine U-boat can be admired. The park also features live stunt shows and a display of special effects.