Susi and Austin's

Travelling the Rivers and

Canals of Europe


Potsdam and Potatoes

Saturday 12 August 2023 6:29 PM

On a stormy day, we left wet Scotland and got back to rainy Potsdam. The Heron on duty seemed to have kept a close eye on Lodi during our absence.

What better to do on rainy days than a museum visit? It wasn’t just any museum we went to, but the Museum Barberini, a major drawcard for lovers of Impressionism. It contains a comprehensive collection from the founder of the museum, German businessman Hasso Plattner.

The current theme “Clouds and Light, Impressionism in Holland” added unique Dutch style and subject matters to the popular French impressionism of Renoir, Monet, Caillebotte, Sisley and the like. An Anto Mauve painting titled “Im Gemüsegarten - die Gemüsegärtnerin” reminded me of my Austrian grandma who could stand in this position for long periods at a time while working in her large vegetable garden.

Despite ongoing showers, we managed a walk through the terraced gardens of Sanssouci, only to find, that the castle itself was closed on that day.

The Prussian King, Friederich the Great, had to have a “little” summer palace to escape bustling Berlin. Sanssouci, “without worries”, is probably the most visited of Potsdam's castles. It looks down onto a terraced manicured garden which is surrounded by parkland containing an orangery, a picture gallery, a tropical garden, hothouses in which the tropical plants are stored during the cold, a historic windmill and a grotto.

Close to the castle is Friederich the Great's grave and the 11 graves of his “closest friends” - his greyhounds. He didn’t like the hunt but loved these dogs who, like an entourage, followed him everywhere. Rather than hunting, he liked playing the flute, discussing philosophy or writing poetry.

The “Alte Fritz”, as Friederich was affectionally known, was also called the Potato King. The sandy floor of the region was not particularly suited for growing wheat, and when food grew scarce, Friederich persuaded the farmers to grow potatoes. As a tribute for feeding the masses, people still put potatoes on his grave! My personal gratitude goes to Friederich as I love German potatoes!

The next day, a bit fed up with flooded roads and public transport, we jumped onto a tourist bus called “Alter Fritz”. Circling the old centre of Potsdam we heard about Friederich’s father, Friederich Wilhelm I, also called the Soldiers-King (Soldatenkönig). His claim to fame was that he expanded and reformed the Prussian military and introduced conscription. The Berliners weren’t keen on having him and his rowdy soldiers in town, so he settled in Potsdam. He was quite clever about accommodating his troops. Instead of building expensive barracks, he settled families rent-free in stately town buildings under the condition, that they take in several soldiers as lodgers. Strangely enough, the daughters of the households were repeatedly pregnant.

Hearing many stories while on the “Alte Fritz” bus, we arrived at the “Glienicker Brücke”. The division between East and West Germany used to run right through the centre of the bridge. During the Cold War, several secret agent exchanges took place on this bridge. Later, these spy swaps were made into a film by Steven Spielberg in “Bridge of Spies - Der Unterhändler”.

Another historic place was our next destination “Schloss Cecilienhof”. In 1945 this Swiss-style building was the location of the Potsdamer Conference. The winning powers, represented by Churchill, Truman and Stalin met here to decide Germany’s post-war fate. The country was to be de-militarised and de-weaponised and would be under British, American, French and Soviet occupation. The agreement was signed by Truman, Stalin and Churchill’s successor Atley.

The following day, we were back to the time of the Old Fritz, who felt he needed yet another palace to accommodate his guests. It was going to be something special because "one wanted to show off!" A pompous baroque building of 300 rooms, the “New Palais”, was built. Facing the Palais and across the forecourt stand two generous

buildings, one containing the kitchen and the other the staff quarters. From there the food had to be carried, rain, hail or shine, across the large forecourt to the diverse dining rooms of the guest apartments.

Each guest apartment consisted of about 8 rooms and was usually just for a single guest. Since the reunification and thanks to grants from the EU, a part of the castle and particularly the apartment, where Germany’s last emperor Wilhelm II and his wife Louise von Mecklenburg lived, have been restored and partly refurbished.

Finally, we had to leave Potsdam and its castles and head back down the Elbe-Havel-Kanal.

At the last lock, before getting into the Mittellandkanal, there was a bit of a wait. The lockkeepers here preserve water by letting a good amount of boats and commercial barges accumulate before starting the locking system. We were in good company though and soon were talking to the crews of two boats of similar size to ours and two smaller boats. 

We all were amazed when the lock keeper hailed us and asked us to the speaker phone. He then presented us with a carefully made plan for fitting us all in safely, taking experience, boat length and width into consideration. So once a commercial vessel had entered the lock, there wasn’t the usual shuffle and confusion. We all knew exactly what to do and where to tie onto. The best lockkeeper we have ever encountered!

In unison, our 5 boats crossed the aqueduct across the Elbe and entered the Mittellankanal. The two sedan cruisers and we cruised together to the next harbour in Haldensleben and continued to Wolfsburg yacht harbour the next day. It was easy to talk to Marion, Lutz, Gaby and Jörg and we ended up having a lovely evening together in the Greek restaurant adjoining the harbour, sharing not only our love for boating but also the garlic breath at the end of the night. 

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