Day 12- Former E. Germany: Potsdam (pt. 3)

Brandenburger Straße- Potsdam’s  Brandenburg Gate in

Wednesday, March 24th (pt. 3)

Our next stop was the historic city center– Old Market Square. My high school friend had taken my husband and I there in 2006 and I wanted my daughter and sister to experience its Old World charm. I love this part of Potsdam. Mostly because I love shopping, people watching and eating. H&M has been one of my favorite stores to shop at when I’m in Berlin– and there happens to be one here on Brandenburger Strasse. Although I’m glad that we finally have them in Texas, the prices and sales are far better in Germany.

I’m happy because I’m in Potsdam & I’m eating  Döner!

Besides eating ice cream from a little shop here in Potsdam, my favorite memory of my last visit was eating at the Döner kebab restaurant on Brandenburger Strasse.


Döner- Berlin style

Döner is a Turkish dish, but the way it is served in Germany, specifically Berlin, is unique. It is sooo good. I’ve tried to find the same here, but it’s not made the same, nor does it taste the same. So I only get to have it when I visit Germany. I like mine with yogurt sauce as pictured above. It consists of a large pita (which looks more like a taco bowl compared to the usual pita you see in other countries), meat, your choice of salad fixings and a choice of sauce. This version of Doner was invented in Berlin by a Turkish immigrant in 1971. Döner now rivals currywurst (also a uniquely Berlin version of bratwurst) in popularity and gross sales. Here is a video that I like that gives you more of a sense of the popularity and goodness of Doner: Berliner Döner Kebab. In this video, you will notice that the kebab in pita is a bit smaller than the huge ones we got in Potsdam– for we were not able to easily eat them in our hands as sandwiches.

Brandenburg Gate– west side faces toward Sanssouci

After we ate, we continued to shop and take in the sights. At the west end of Brandenburger Strasse is the Brandenburg Gate. Even though one of Berlin’s most famous landmark is the Brandenburg Gate, this is not the same gate. Potsdam’s Brandenburg Gate– not quite as grand and imposing as Berlin’s– and twenty years older–is unique in that its design is totally different on both sides. Each side was designed by a different architect. The east side (pictured above the picture of me eating) –or  city side– was designed by master architect Carl von Gontrad. The country side pictured just above this paragraph, was designed by his pupil, Georg Christian Unger. They drew their inspiration from the Arch of Constantine in Rome. King Frederick the Great desired a grand triumphal arch to compliment the grandiose tone set by Sanssouci, which lay just outside this gate. The student quite clearly exceeded the teacher in the design of his side of the gate, which is much more ornate and impressive.When I was here in the summer of 2006, we walked from Sanssouci Palace and entered through the west side of the gate into Old Market Square.


Church of St. Peter and St. Paul

On this day, we did not walk over, but parked near the east side of the gate and ambled down Brandenburger Strasse to where the street terminates in front of the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul. At some point we stopped at Starbucks for a break from walking…We then headed north but realized we didn’t want to walk even further– for the further you walk away from your car, the further you have to travel back. So we took a couple of  pictures and headed back towards the Brandenburg Gate. Unfortunately, neither my sister nor my daughter brought their telephoto lens, so the pictures we have of the Nauener Tor (Nauen Gate) are not close up. The Nauen Gate is one of the three remaining gates that used to be connected by a city wall. For those who care about architecture, this gate was one of the first examples of English Gothic Revival architecture in Continental Europe. It looks like two castle towers to me. I don’t like anything Gothic, so this gate’s  design does not appeal to me at all. I much prefer the Roman inspired classical elements found in much of the architecture in and around Berlin.


Nauen Gate in the distance

Although we came to Potsdam via the former Checkpoint Bravo autobahn route, I decided to leave via the route that would take us over Gleinecker Brucke and into the Wannsee (pronounced: von-zay) area.
Gleinecke Bridge spans the Havel River and connects Potsdam to Berlin. When I lived here, the bridge was partitioned in half by road blocks and barriers on both sides because the East/West border ran down the middle of the Havel in this part of Berlin. Border controls along both of the rivers that border Berlin included underwater barriers/barbed wire and water police patrols. Gleinecker Brucke (Gleinicke Bridge) is famous or infamous as the ‘bridge of spies.’ The first such spy exchange was the high profile exhange of a US spy plane pilot Gary Powers for a Russian spy, Col. Rudolf Abel.

Gleinecker Brücke (Gleinecke Bridge)- during the
Cold War danger awaited defectors in the waters below

If you are a fan of U2 as am I, you  may be surprised to know that the incident surrounding CIA agent Gary Powers is the inspiration behind the name for the band. Gary Powers, former USAF captain, was flying a U-2 spy plane when he was shot down over the USSR and captured along with his mostly intact plane. Though this is all before my time, the U-2 Incident was a huge deal and some NSA documents concerning the incident still have not been declassified. Later, when Powers appeared before a Senate committee, he was questioned as to why he did not destroy the plane and photographic spy equipment before ejecting. He was also harshly scrutinized for allowing himself to be captured and questioned by the KGB instead of taking his suicide pill (yes, those really exist!). 

The ‘spy bridge’- Glienecke Bridge

We took some pictures of the bridge, then continued on to the Wannsee area. As a teen I spent many happy times at the Wannsee, which consists of two lakes: the Großer Wannsee (Greater Wannsee) and the Kleiner Wannsee (Little Wannsee), though I don’t remember spending much time on the Kleiner part. The Wannsee beach was very popular with the Germans as well as us Americans. American teens had quite a few parties here, (keep in mind that drinking is legal at age 16 in Germany) and our annual Senior Skip Day was located here.  Since some students had parents who worked at the school, and the location was the same every year, it was not a secret where the seniors ‘skipped’ to each year. Looking back I do not know how we got away with it, but I guess the thinking was, that they could not flunk the whole senior class.

American teens were often surprised and fascinated by the German custom of having a section of their beaches set aside for nude sunbathing. So that may have added to its popularity for some. However, this was not the only nude beach in W. Berlin, for there was another very popular one in the woods along the lake near where my family lived in US military housing.

Die Grosse Neugierde (the Great Curiosity)
near the Gleinecke Bridge

The Wannsee is home to the second oldest yacht club in Germany which has turned out many Olympians. As might be expected in an area that houses a yacht club, the Wannsee is a very exclusive neighborhood. The area surrounding the lake is dotted with mansions that rival those in Hollywood.

The US Army even established the Berlin Golf & Country   Club here in  1945,  which was in operation until the Allied forces pull- out in 1994. They also converted one of the mansions into the Wannsee Rec Center which looked out onto the lake and had its own pier. I remember taking a boat ride from this pier as part of my Life Guard Certification the summer before I started 11th grade. Today the Rec Center building is home to the American Academy in Berlin. A place I hope to visit the next time I’m in Berlin.

The Nazis constructed a large shooting range for the 1936 Olympic shooting events near here in  the Düppel  (pronounced:  doo-ple) woods. After WWII, the US Army named it Rose Range and it was used as a firing compound. My mother worked there for a while, so I learned to shoot skeet and trap. We also hosted our Homecoming Dance here in a beautiful lakeside villa my senior year. For those my age, it should be no surprise that the theme and song for homecoming that year was Sailing by Christopher Cross. After the war the US Army acquired this (and many other properties) from the Nazis and it was not being used. Thankfully, the head of our homecoming committee had a very influential daddy and he ordered a group of soldiers to clean and decorate it for us. All we had to do was add some finishing touches and it was truly a magical night!

Sign on the way from Potsdam entering
the Wannsee area of Berlin

The Wannsee is probably most famous for being the site for the planning of the Final Solution to the ‘Jewish Question.’  On January 20,  1942 senior Nazi officers met at the Wannsee Villa (now a museum) on the shores of lake Wannsee. That event is now referred to as the Wannsee Conference. Later, in 1944, when the July 20th plot to assassinate Hitler failed (the movie Valkyrie is based on this event), SS and Gestapo officer Arthur Nebe fled to one of the islands in theWannsee to hide. He was later betrayed by his scorned mistress.

We drove back towards the former American housing area of Düppel (named after the aformentioned Düppel woods) and then to the neighborhood where my family once lived– Berlin Brigade (usually referred to as the BB housing area).  We intended to see the Allied Museum, but I had forgotted that it is closed on Wednesdays– so we took a few pictures of the exteriors and planned to come back again on Friday.

My next post will be about our visit to the former East Berlin area…

Next Blog Post: Former East Berlin (pt. 1)