Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Potsdam and Saxony-Anhalt

Gleinicker Bridge

Potsdam is a short drive south-west of Berlin, with the old King's way taking you over Glienicker Brücke, the so-called Bridge of Spies where East and West faced off to trade prisoners between 1964 and 1986. Today there is little more than a discreet plaque to suggest the remarkable history of this otherwise ordinary structure.

STA_4383-4385 Glienicker Bridge

STA_4391-4395 Schloss Sanssouci lustgarten

Potsdam itself is best known today for hosting the remarkable conference that saw this part of the world divided up between the great powers for nearly half a century. However it was also the seat of the Prussian royalty until 1918, and the great parklands encompass many palaces built by the Fredericks over the centuries. Today we visited Sanssouci, summer palace of Frederick the Great. As befitting the resting place of a ruler who asked to be buried with his greyhounds on the vineyard terrace, Bondi was able to join me in a long stroll through the grounds.


STA_4397-4401 Schloss Sanssouci lustgarten

Approaching the Chinese teahouse; teahouse detail; from space.

The Chinese house was closed off to the public today, with a perimeter fence preventing closer inspection. I settled for coffee in the Dragon House, a four-level octagonal building with tapering pagodas.
STA_4421-4424 Sanssouci Orangerie (with statue head in bushes)

The immense grounds connect a number of palaces of different architectural styles, with a nearby pumping station built to resemble a Turkish mosque.

I usually find the interiors of large houses or palaces rather tedious to visit, so skipped all the possible tours. The only thing that might have enticed me in was the knowledge that Johann Sebastian Bach visited here in 1747, as a guest of Frederick the Great, although the younger CPE Bach was court composer at the time. The story of this visit (with biographies of the two protagonists) is related in the very rewarding book Evening in the Palace of Reason, which I picked up in the palace giftshop.

All my ancestors who don't come from the British Isles are connected to me via my father's mother. Having visited the Malmö homelands of her Swedish grandfather, the remaining task was to survey the cluster of towns in Saxony-Anhalt province that her German forebears had left 160 years ago.

For the most part these towns are not more than villages, and there's not much to hold me in any of them. Stassfurt is the largest by far, but on a hot day like this, I don't want to hang around in the town, and I drove a on few kilometres south to our hotel in Güsten. The manager is a little wary about Bondi at first - "he's very great" - well, at least he's not gross. But, like everywhere else, manager and staff quickly warm to Bondi, and special treats start materialising from the kitchen.

STA_4453-4459 Saxony road

The countryside is quite flat, long roads slicing up fields of wind farms, and all lined with red poppies. I'm not sure of the exact translation of Groß Mühlingen, something like Big Mills, but today it might be Groß Windmühle.

20070605 - 3 Saxony-Anhalt-1

Above are some of the churches in Förderstedt, Grossmühlingen, and Eickendorf where my ancestors marked some of their milestones. Church doors here are not left unlocked as they are in UK or Australia, so I couldn't even peek inside. There is not much else in these areas that is architecturally distinctive - everything looks to have been rebuilt or resurfaced many times in the last century: one could be almost anywhere in the Western hemisphere.

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