Brandenburg’s state capital is first and foremost known for Sanssouci Palace (which we’ll get to in a bit) but the city has more to offer. Potsdam is composed of a wide range of notable sights: the smaller rendition of Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate and St Nicholas Church, which was meticulously reconstructed after Allied bombing heavily damaged the church in World War II, for example. Or the Lindenstraße memorial site, a former-Nazi prison, which was later used by the Russian secret service and the Stasi, and which commemorates the harrowing experiences the inmates went through. Round the day off with a stroll past the red-brick, gabled houses of the Dutch Quarter and some fantastic food.
This Potsdam attraction deserves its own mention. Also known as Germany’s Versailles, the palace was built as an opulent summer residence for the Prussian king Frederick the Great in 1745. It’s smaller than its French cousin but lacks nothing in terms of beauty and grandeur. The imposing complex is an ensemble of the Sanssouci Palace, the Neues Palais and 600 acres (243 hectares) of sprawling parklands, with chateâux, monuments, temples and statues, grottoes, an obelisk and a picture gallery. You can easily spend an entire day here, touring the lavishly decorated rooms and roaming the parks and gardens.
Honeymooners, loved-up couples and everyone else looking for idyllic landscapes should plan a visit to the Spreewald forest. Halfway between Berlin and Dresden, the Spree River has carved a magical labyrinth of waterways, moorlands and pastures into the countryside, which is best explored on board a rustic, wooden barge or paddle boat. If you have more than just a day to spare, book yourself into one of the thatched roof cottages or guesthouses that are tucked away behind large weeping willows along the burbling stream.
Palm trees, humidity and waterfalls are probably not what you associate with Brandenburg, or Germany for that matter, but one place offers you exactly that. Modelled after Balinese themes, the Tropical Islands Resort was designed as a tropical oasis just one hour south of Berlin. The indoor pool occupies a former-aircraft hangar and comes with a spa, lush green trees and bushes, several pools and water slides, bars and restaurants, hammocks and even overnight accommodation. So, if you’re looking to escape one of those brutal Brandenburg winter days, you know where to go.
Throughout Europe, countless memorial sites, internment camps and monuments commemorate the horrors of the Third Reich, purposely keeping them in the public consciousness of coming generations to help ensure history doesn’t repeat itself. The Sachsenhausen concentration camp played a unique role during the Nazi era: due to its vicinity to Berlin, which lies only 40 kilometres (25 miles) south, Sachsenhausen was not only one of the first camps to open, but its grounds also served as a training facility for SS personnel. In an ironic post-war turn of events, the Soviet government used the facilities to detain Nazi prisoners of war. A guided tour is humbling, educating and eye-opening at the same time.
What Universal Studios are to Los Angeles, the Babelsberg Studios are to Potsdam. They rank among the world’s first major film studios and even to this day see Hollywood stars use the facilities for their productions – Quentin Tarantino shot bits of Inglourious Basterds here, and George Clooney shot scenes for The Monuments Men. A guided tour grants a glimpse behind the scenes of filmmaking and tours the sets of widely popular German TV shows, shows props, costumes and technical equipment of renowned productions, and introduces you to several people working on set. You can even test your skills as a weather forecast presenter and take a seat in a 4D action cinema.
The Babelsberg Park on the banks of the Havel River bears more lush nature for you to explore. Across 280 acres (114 hectares), the flawlessly maintained grounds are studded with sculptures and mosaics, Gothic fountains, a landscaped English garden and stunning views of the bordering Jungfernsee and Tiefer See lakes. The 1833 Babelsberg Palace is currently undergoing renovations and is closed to the public, but adds to the serene charm with its Gothic Revival façade.
The Lower Oder Valley National Park encompasses 60 kilometres (37 miles) of riverside meadows along the Oder River, both on the German and Polish side. The enchanting landscape is a significant resting and wintering ground for many bird species, and the arrival of more than 13,000 cranes attracts wildlife enthusiasts and photographers every year. Other common wildlife sightings involve otters, beavers and eagles, which you might see if you follow the hiking trails and cycling routes that traverse the park.
Once a prestigious clinic for pulmonary diseases, the Beelitz-Heilstätten were used as military hospitals in World War I and II, and at one time also helped save the lives of both Adolf Hitler and Erich Honecker. For years and years, the spookily abandoned complex of the Beelitz-Heilstätten hospital near Potsdam attracted so-called ‘Lost Places’ photographers and curious travellers, but the increasing incidents of vandalism forced the local government to take action to prevent nightly visits. Since 2015, tourists get the chance to explore the site completely legally, by following a canopy walk around the grounds, or by booking additional photo tours of the iconic interior.
Covering 750 square kilometres (75,000 hectares) north of Berlin, the Barnim Nature Park is the ideal refuge if you want to get out of the buzzing city and reconnect with nature. The diverse landscape of mystical alder and beechwood forests, stunning lakes, pastures and moorlands can easily be explored as a day trip from both Berlin and Potsdam.