Posted on Jan 9, 2013 in Berlin | 0 comments

On January 8, I had an amazing tour of Potsdam with S., the mother of my old friend G. She grew up in Potsdam in the 1930s and 40s; she knew it before the war destroyed it, she hid in a bomb shelter in her house during air raids, she lost her father in the war, she saw Potsdam completely destroyed, then split off from West Germany, she witnessed Berlin divided after the war, she fled East Germany in 1953 and was never allowed to go back until the Wall came down. A child of war, a tragic story.

Still, her generation and that of my parents, even though they have been forever changed by their experiences as children of war, has proven to be incredibly tough and resilient, and many of these children have gone on to lead productive lives in spite of the hardship they experienced. But what can you do, I suppose? You have to go on with life, and it is easier to move on when you are still so young.

In contrast, I have had an easy life. Yet, these events repeat themselves in countries all over the world all the time. I thought of my friend N. from Vietnam who is my age and came to Canada with her family as a child as one of the boat people. She had to leave everything behind, she saw the destruction of her homeland as well. Only last year did she take her husband and children back to Vietnam for the first time. It was an emotional journey for her.

I’ll list a few things that I learned from S. about Potsdam, along with the photos. Note: the first few photos are overexposed, it took me a while to figure out I had changed a setting in my camera.

The River Havel in Potsdam

The River Havel flows around the town in such a way that Potsdam is really an island. The Glienicke Bridge which is the direction this photo points at, was further upstream and was right at the border between West Berlin and Potsdam, which ended up in East Germany after the war. Several times during the Cold War, prisoners were exchanged between the U.S. and the Soviet Union via this bridge.

Potsdam City Palace under reconstruction

The Potsdam City Palace, which was destroyed during the war, as was pretty much most of Potsdam, is being reconstructed after many years of deliberation. The government of the German State of Brandenburg will move in here after reconstruction is complete.

East German building

A building erected during Potsdam’s year as an East German city. It’s ugly, but it’s now part of this town’s political history.

Potsdam City Palace

A completed part of the Potsdam City Palace.

An East German memorial to the victims of war

An memorial to the victims of war erected during East Germany times. Both S. and I agreed that the sentiment on this memorial was something we could subscribe to, and clearly the new Germany felt the same way, since the memorial is still here.

Potsdam town centre

Potsdam is a beautiful and rich town surrounded by the River Havel and several lakes connected by the Havel. Quite a few large mansions surround the lake shores and line the river banks.

Prussian helmets in a shop window

Prussian helmets in a shop window. I would have liked to bring one home for Jeff, but that might have been expensive and impractical.

S. grew up in this street

S. grew up in this street. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, houses in East Germany were mostly returned to their original owners.

Neuer Garten, Potsdam

We walk into the Neuer Garten, Potsdam, which was the king’s garden and housed a couple of castles.

Marmorpalais, Potsdam

One of the smallish castles in this park is the Marmorpalais. It is said that this was built for one of the mistresses of a son of the “Old Fritz” who was King of Prussia.

 

Schloss Cecilienhof, Potsdam

Another castle in this king’s park is Schloss Cecilienhof which was built in 1914 for Crown Prince Wilhelm of Germany and his wife to live in. S. said that she would still see members of the Royal Family in the 40s after the outbreak of the war carting home their groceries. She said they did not have much food either. But the most interesting story was that in 1945, this castle was used as the site of the Potsdam Conference, where Churchill (succeeded by Attlee), Stalin, and Truman met to discuss how to proceed with Germany after the Allies had won the war.

Mansion in Potsdam

One of the more modern mansions in the Potsdam lakes area.