While Potsdam is practically palace-central, there’s one that I personally think is the best. Schloss Cecilienhof is a history nerd’s dream. With the significant role it played in Germany’s recent history, and even way before World War II, the one hour tour is definitely worth it.
Yes, the tour is that short. Schloss Cecilienhof, built in Tudor-style architecture, is not as massive nor as grand as some of the other palaces in Europe. The palace is actually composed of several individual buildings, surrounding English courtyards.
With 176 rooms, Cecilienhof was the last palace built by the Hohenzollern family and was a royal residence until 1945.
From July 17 to August 2, 1945, Schloss Cecilienhof became the venue of the Potsdam Conference – one of the most important events of the 20th century. The big three, represented by US President Harry S. Truman, British Prime Ministers Winston Churchill and Clement Attlee, and Soviet leader Joseph Stalin met here to officially end WWII and draw up a plan of what comes next.
While the conference ended a war, it did give way to the division of Europe through the Iron Curtain. But that’s for a different post at a different time. For now, let’s focus on Cecilienhof.
Arriving from Berlin
The embassy had guests from the Philippines and we thought we’d show them Potsdam. Schloss Cecilienhof is just about 45 minutes away from Berlin and it was easy enough to find with the GPS. While taking the S-Bahn from Berlin to Potsdam is fairly easy and quick, it’s a lot more convenient to drive – especially if you have guests and are planning to see more than one spot in a day.
There’s ample parking right before entering the palace complex and from there, it’s just a short walk to the ticket office.
Touring Schloss Cecilienhof
After getting your tickets (prices and other details will be listed at the end of this article), you’ll then be asked to wait for the rest of your group. With your ticket comes an audio guide that you will definitely find useful during the tour. Especially since the guide won’t be doing much talking. He/she will just bring you from one room to another and make sure you stay behind the railings protecting the furniture.
The room in the photo above is the private quarters of then Crown Princess Cecilie. As you may have guessed, the palace was also named after her. This part of the palace was preserved really well, with the cabin-like architecture a departure from the rest of the palace’s collective look and feel. It is said the Princess specifically asked the architect for this look.
The rest of the palace that’s part of the tour, however, shows how it looked like during the Potsdam Conference.
Hallways fit for the leaders who won the war. Such rooms gave me flashbacks of when I was covering Foreign Ministers and visiting Presidents when I was working full-time. Chairs facing each other, ready for a photo opportunity. Imagine being a journalist at this time and covering such events! I was getting goosebumps during the whole tour.
Joseph Stalin’s quarters included big, plush sofas. It is said that he loved smoking his cigar by these big windows with a view of the river.
As for Winston Churchill’s room, furniture was brought in from nearby Babelsberg Castle which suited the British Prime Minister’s tastes.
For US President Truman, meanwhile, some neo-classical pieces were brought in from the neighbouring Marble Castle. Truman’s quarters was also connected to a bright breakfast room which got me all googly-eyed. Perfect tea party setting, anyone?
Inside Truman’s room was also an interesting painting – one of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church when it was still intact. These days, part of the Church that was bombed during WWII still stands along Kurfürstendamm. It was not restored to serve as a reminder of the horrors war brings.
The Potsdam Conference
The room everyone waited with bated breath to see, however, was the Great Hall. Originally a living room, it was turned into a big meeting place with imposing furniture. This became the site of the Big 3’s official meeting.
It was also during the conference in this room when Truman telephoned the go-signal to bomb Hiroshima.
The stairs in the conference room led to the private quarters of the Crown Prince and Princess back in the day. In true, Prussian fashion, it featured intricate wooden carvings and a bright red carpet. Fit for royalty without being overly lavish.
As you leave the castle, a photograph of Churchill leads you out the door that brings you to the courtyard. From here, you can always walk back into the ticket office which doubles as the souvenir shop should you wish to get something to remind you of your visit.
And with that said, I now have to end this article and run over to Alexanderplatz to meet a friend.
New Garden 11
Tickets: EUR6 for adults, EUR5 for the reduced rate (with audio guide)
Hours: The Castle is open everyday except Mondays and major holidays (Christmas, etc) from 10AM to 5PM.
**Photo of Potsdam Conference in black and white is from the Bundesarchiv (Bild) through Creative Commons, Wikimedia.