For most visitors POTSDAM means Sanssouci, Frederick the Great’s splendid landscaped park of architectural treasures, which once completed Berlin as the grand Prussian capital. However, Potsdam dates back to the tenth-century Slavonic settlement Poztupimi, and predates Berlin by a couple of hundred years. The castle built here in 1160 marked the first step in the town’s gradual transformation from sleepy fishing backwater to royal residence and garrison town, a role it enjoyed under the Hohenzollerns until the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm II in 1918.
World War II left Potsdam badly damaged: on April 14, 1945, a bombing raid killed four thousand people, destroyed many fine Baroque buildings and reduced its centre to ruins. Less than four months later – on August 2 – the victorious Allies converged on Potsdam’s Schloss Cecilienhof to hammer out the details of a divided Germany and Europe. Potsdam ended up in the Soviet zone, where modern “socialist” building programmes steadily erased many architectural memories of the town’s uncomfortably prosperous imperial past. Yet this past still provides its most popular sights.