12th September. We took the short route south to Potsdam and stopped in a convenient aire.
I was very keen to visit Potsdam as I have long been interested in the life of Vicky, Queen Victoria’s eldest child, and her husband Frederick. Vicky and her mother kept up an intense correspondence which gave a very interesting window on her life, she and Frederick were very liberal, and often at considerable odds with the Prussian court. They attended services at synagogues to support Jews during periods of persecution, and opposed much that Bismark stood for. They wanted to restrict the power of the chancellor and introduce a British style cabinet system. Europe’s fate would have been so different if Frederick had not died from throat cancer just few months after becoming Emperor.
The Royal park is vast, and open to wander in. Much was initially built by Frederick the Great, who hated Berlin, and subsequently other palaces and buildings were added. Firstly we passed the orangery, then on to the Sansouci palace, a sumptuous baroque building that sits on top of a series of terraces. We wandered though the grounds to the Chinese Tea house, a fantastic imaginative building, much decorated with gold.
I wanted to visit the church where Victoria and her husband were buried with two sons who died in infancy, but sadly there was no admittance into the mausoleum. However the sacristy which had become a side chapel was much used by Victoria after Frederick’s death and decorated by her pictures.
We walked into town through the Brandenburg Gate, but after lunch it soon it came on to rain so we saw little of the town before returning through the park.
Wednesday 13th. A wet morning so we played with our toys. After lunch I set off for the Neu Palace, where I understood Frederick and Victoria had lived for quite a bit of their lives. It was a considerable walk along the central avenue, the palace was totally vast, and behind it two more palaces which apparently were service quarters.
The whole palace was designed by Frederick the Great, and over the top Rococco! Most impressive room was probably the Shell Ballrom, decorated by thousands of shells to produce patterns and pictures.
I spent time in the room where Frederick died, there were lovely pictures of him and Victoria.
Also impressive was the marble ballroom , with a most amazing inlaid marble floor. Sadly this room has been little used over the centuries as the joists struggled to cope with the 18 tons of flooring!
Kaiser Wilhelm was the last royal to use the palace, and several rooms illustrated his life there, where he introduced mod cons such as bathrooms and electricity. Much of the furniture had been shipped off to join him in excile in Holland.
Once out of the palace I decide I was too tired to walk back so tried to catch a bus!!! The first one that came, I asked the driver if it went to the town, he replied no, when I asked where it went to he just shouted No, no, no. I asked a passerby who told me I needed to be the other side of the road, really counter intuitive. When the next bus came I tried to pay the driver, as we had done in Berlin and was rudely directed to a large ticket machine!, There was a list of small instructions, A4 size, above my head,and about 16 buttons to choose from. All this with a lurching crowded bus, holding on for grim death, trying to find unfamiliar coins. It seemed that I had to say how many stops I wanted to go for!!!!! As far as I was concerned the bus was going in the wrong direction, and I had no idea of where I was going. I just pressed a button at random, I think I might have paid for 4 and must have been on the bus for 16 stops?! Germans confonted with the machine did not seem to fare much better.
I got off in the town centre, and after a quick look round the town, through a toy town gate, an attractive Dutch quarter, and pleasant but unexceptional shops, I walked back through the park. I was caught in a very heavy rain burst as I climbed the terraces up to the Sansouci palace but there was no way I was going to tackle another bus!
Thursday 14th. Left the very pleasant aire, and drove due East towards Frankfurt an Oder, then South to get a brief view of surrounding countryside. We were much bothered with road closures, and for lots of the time roads were lined with the typical heavy German forests, but were rewarded by several really large birds of prey and some interesting villages. Many older buildings were left to moulder and new builds were obviously preferèd but we did see quite a few of the typical Saxon village houses, at right angles to the street, with barns and outhouse to the rear, just the same as in the Saxon area of Romania! We entered an area where all the signs were in two languages, apparently Germany’s only indigenous minority, who settled in the area in the 5th cent, much persecuted by the Prussians and Nazis but currently having a revival.
Eventually we reached the campsite outside of Bautzen, in heavy rain.
Friday,15th. We were up promptly to catch the irregular bus, i.e. nothing between 9 and 11 o’clock. We fell at the first hurdle as could not find the bus stop, we asked a very kind man who took us in his van closer to the town centre for a better service. We were confused when the bus dropped us off but eventually found the attractive town centre. Lots of well preserved buildings, despite having been in the centre of lots of conflicts, most notably the Thirty Years war.
The St Petri dom as impressive, light and airy, a toddler group were getting ready to sing harvest festival hymns. However the most interesting feature was a waist high barrier ( 4 m till 1952) that divided the nave, used by the Protestants and the choir, by the Catholics. The church was divided amicably after the Reformation . There were many other interesting buildings, and 17 towers remaining of the towns fortifications.
The town was reputed to be on a cliff overlooking the River Spree, which we were rather doubtful about having seen flat countryside for 100s of miles, but had to admit that the town as on a bit of a buff above the river, There were several buildings dedicated to Sorb culture.
We had a pleasant lunch of soup in town, then attempted to catch a bus once more. It was foolish to try to catch one as the schools emptied, it was definitely every young person for themselves, elbows at the ready, and an elderly disabled lady had to fight for a seat! Not impressed! We passed the infamous yellow prison that had been famous for abuse, and is still in use, not a landmark to walk out to see.
Quite cold all day, really should not have looked up the weather in Italy!
Saturday 16th. Drove the short distance to Gorlitz, via an uninspiring Aldi supermarket. We got a place in a tiny private aire only a kilometre from the town. A very entrepreneural man had established an aire around his house at the end of Goethestrassa. Gorlitz has not suffered any damage during the world wars and is stuffed with historic buildings, 3,500 of note! The inner town is full of 16th century decorated houses, and a little further out so many wonderful 19th, and early 20th century buildings. Everywhere there are decorated doorways, windows and details calling for attention.
We had read that the Kaufhaus department store had a very impressive Art Deco interior, it is at present being renovated and we were allowed to go in the shell of the building to admire the staircases, chandeliers (originals taken by the Soviet authorities) and amazing glass roof.
The buildings round the Obermarkt were stuffed with detail, and nearby the Rathaus had a never ending supply of brides and wedding parties. One memorable one left in an armoured car with Harley Davison outsiders.
The town owed its wealth to being on an important trading post. In communist times its richness was acknowledged though little money spent but a lot has been invested since reunification. It’s unspoilt nature has meant it has been used for many films, standing in as Paris and even New York! It was also an important point on the route from the east to Santiago De Compostella. I do enjoy finding these spots all over Europe. It interest me that it has been considered much more important to go there rather than Rome, and the Italians are struggling to get a similar route even recognised today!
The city was divided in two when the border was put down the centre of the Neisse River in 1945, and we crossed the pedestrian bridge into Poland, which had no sign of a border. The suburbs across the River were definitely rather sad, and ugly flats stood on the skyline staring back at the elegant German sister. One of the houses in the street leading down to the river, the Biblisches Haus has a facade like a bible carved in sandstone. A really impressive town!
Sunday 17th. We decided to spend another day here, as the town was so impressive, and the sun at last shining. I wandered in, discovered the impressive railway station, then into town. I found one street where a row of buildings had been ‘unimproved’ and could see just how grey the town had been under communist rule, before the buildings were restored and painted with such beautiful pastel shades.
I decided to go to visit the Helliges Grab, supposedly a replica of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, built 500 years ago by a local mayor in attonment for his behavior with a neighbour’s daughter when young! It was interesting but for the wrong reasons, I’m sure we got much better an idea when we visited the underground cities in Anatolia. There we found caves with beds carved out of the rock, and most impressively doors that were stone circles that rolled. However the graffiti was fascinating, I saw several dating from the 17th century!
I then continued to wander till I met Andy for lunch, and later an ice cream, not a patch on Italian ones and must stop having them. However we did sort out the origin of the funny groaning/ growling we could hear on the quarter hours, apparently it’s the lion above the town hall clock. We went into a store that sold Xmas decorations, most especially those that turn with candle power. Amazing carving, and prices! Later I went into Schlesisches Museum zu Gorltz, explaining the history of Silesia. I really struggled to follow the history time line, as power went from one kingdom to another. However it did bring home the terrible time the people had firstly with the Nazis, then fleeing before the Russians. I had not fully understood the levels of citizenship enforced by the Nazis, nor that Gorlitz was cut off by the arbitory border from the rest of its cultural identity.
I wandered home and found an interesting path between the Zoo, with glimpses of the animals, and a collection of allotments / dashas where people had erected quite elaborate garden pavilions surrounded by mini gardens.