We’ve been pretty dreadful at getting out of Berlin since moving here. There are many reasons for this. Money. Time. Weather. The land outside of Berlin is pretty assuredly German, and whilst we are getting better (no-one switches to English in restaurants anymore! I don’t flap my arms quite so much when attempting to construct a sentence!), it is certainly comforting to know that, whilst in Berlin, at least, most people, could, if necessary, switch to English if things got too complicated.
But the fact is, we’ve gotten a little bored of Berlin. Well, not bored exactly, there’s obviously still plenty to see, but, bored of ourselves in Berlin, maybe? Bored of our routines? Waking up late on a Saturday for a big breakfast, some BBC radio online and then a potter around the immediate area, usually involving some kind of delicious German cake. Last weekend we decided it was time to shake things and we were finally going to go to… Potsdam.
Whilst technically it’s own city and capital of the state of Brandenburg no less (Berlin is it’s own city-state), Potsdam sits on the very end of the Berlin Metro transport zone. It takes an hour on public transport maximum to get there. Despite this, and despite the fact that it is the home to an entire PARK of palaces (not just one, not just two, a whole PARK of them), and despite the fact that most of our weeks since arriving had started with a discussion of the fact that maybe we should visit Potsdam this weekend; we still, 4 and a half months later, had not visited the place. It had gotten to the point of being a joke between us. Maybe we would never visit Potsdam. Maybe we would leave in two years time having never gotten to the end of the Metro line. Maybe we weren’t MEANT to visit Potsdam. Maybe it was, for us, verboten. It had been written, in the times before, that we should never see Potsdam together in this life.
Saturday morning wasn’t the most inviting. The skies were grey and my trusty kindle weather app predicted rain, rain and more rain. But we were determined. If not now, when? We told ourselves that it was at least a warmer day: a whole 11 degrees maximum predicted. We rugged ourselves up and headed out. Sure it was raining, but, we could buy an umbrella, we said. Sure, it was blowing a gale-force wind and an umbrella wouldn’t last the day, but we could wrap our heads in our scarves and wear our hats and we would hardly notice the difference.
Potsdam is an odd town. Yes, it has a park of pretty palaces, but it also spent 40 years in East Germany, so it inevitably got lumped with some fairly standard Communist ‘pretty-architecture-is-for-capitalist-pigs’ box buildings (side note: there are some excellent Communist buildings out there that I like very much. But if they exist in Potsdam I did not see them). It’s remarkable the palaces survived communism at all, really, as they were just left there rotting in their pretty park for 40 years. It wasn’t until the glorious return of glorious capitalism in the ’90s that we were allowed to gloriously worship their gloriousness once more. We wandered around the pretty Dutch quarter, managed to order some German cheesecake (and eat it too) at the oddly named ‘Cafe Guam’ and then headed off to find the palaces.
The real headliner of the park is the palace Sanssouci (it is, after all, called Park Sanssouci). Sanssouci was a summer palace built by Frederick the Great, that was meant to ‘die with him’ (so he probably wouldn’t have minded the fact that the the Communists abandoned it and would have resented the glorious capitalists coming back and minutely repairing it so that people could walk around it reverentially in soft shoes and talking in hushed voices). ‘Sanssouci’ translates to ‘No Regrets’, which I think makes Frederick the Great the originator of the ‘sorrynotsorry’ hashtag.
In the summer time, Sanssouci is all luscious greenery and overflowing fountains of abundance with fireworks displays and orchestras and everything else the glorious capitalists can think of. But when we went on Saturday, everything was discreetly tucked away. There were hardly any people about. I kept thinking the park had a distinctly seaside feel, which I couldn’t quite figure out until I acknowledged all the small, grey wooden houses, standing about, looking like drab versions of the charming changing rooms on some British beaches. A. thought they were guards houses but we couldn’t figure out why the palace needed *quite* so many guards, and in particular, a whole circle of guards facing into a pond. That’s when we figured out that they were protective huts for all the statues, that had been shut up for the winter months. Because, if you visit Potsdam when you’re not supposed to you do not get to see statues.
When we got up to the palace, we discovered it all shut up. We hadn’t really thought we’d go in, but I was disappointed not to get a chance to look in the palace shop (it’s the glorious capitalist in me). That’s when we noticed the sign on the window. I started struggling bravely along with the German, translating painfully slowly, word by word, when A. blurts out, ‘it’s closed because of the bad weather.’ Of course. This is a tourist place and everything has an English translation printed underneath. However, checking the German against the English we noticed that whilst the English were being told of ‘adverse weather conditions’, the Germans were being advised of the ‘STURMWARNUNG’, which even with my limited German seemed not to be the same thing. Sure, maybe in overly polite England, ‘adverse weather conditions’ means ‘MASSIVE HORRIBLE STORM COMING FOR YOU’, but I felt it was still an inappropriate cultural translation in this particular incidence. Suddenly, the amusingly empty palace of parks, where none of the gates seemed to be open anymore, where the trees were really very tall and being whipped about in a most alarming way, didn’t seem quite so fun. And it also seemed to be getting quite dark, quite quickly.
So, we high-tailed it out of the park, past the mini Brandenburg Gate and into a bar, just before the heavens opened and spewed forth their rage on Potsdam and all that dared to visit it. A glass of red and a beer later, it had calmed down enough for us to continue back to the train station, ready for home and planning our dinner. It had been an excellent day, we thought, and we had been lucky. We missed all the bad weather and still got to see the sights. Perhaps not the inside-of-the-palace sights, but at the very least, the outside-of-the-palace sights, which was definitely worth the 4 euro or so our train tickets cost us.
We bought our tickets and went to our platform, not really paying attention to the long lines of people in front of the transport information desk, the large crowds staring despondently at the information screens. We had planned to get an express train back into Berlin, but it was then that we noticed the train we were planning to take, was running at least 20 minutes late. It was, in fact, just sitting on the platform. We changed out plans and decided to get the metro line. An S-bahn was sitting at the platform, apparently just waiting for us and we jumped in gratefully, trying to ignore the people looking concerned milling about on the platform and the fact that the information screen on our platform showed no departure information, but just a lot of intimidating and capitalised German. However, once on board the train, we couldn’t ignore the insistent, and slightly too soft message being played over and over. Our German’s not great, as I’ve mentioned before, so the most we could get out was ‘train not travelling to Berlin’. Over and over and over again: train not travelling to Berlin. A. checked his phone and tried to get information from the German transport’s website, where it became clear that the Gods had taken their revenge: the ‘adverse weather conditions’ (read: F***ING MASSIVE STORM) had knocked over numerous trees onto the train lines and there were little to no trains returning to Berlin from the Potsdam area anytime soon. This resulted in a 3 hour long journey via many buses and bus stops S-bahns and S-bahn stations, and all the wonderful places in between before we finally got home and had dinner around 10:30pm.
So, finally, the lesson is, when it’s taken you 4 and a half months to get to a place, maybe there’s a REASON you’re not getting there and maybe you should just STAY THE FUCK AWAY.
NB. The Gods are still not finished wreaking their terrible revenge: I got a terrible stomach bug on Thursday, which resulted in me throwing up 9 times in one night. NINE TIMES. This obviously has nothing to do with the walking, talking petri dishes I look after every day and everything to do with the fact that A. and I visited Potsdam against the wishes of the Gods.
NINE TIMES, people.
Stay out of Potsdam. You have been warned.