Sanssouci, the park and palace in Potsdam, is appropriately named, being loosely translated into the title of this post. I was only aware in a very sketchy sense of the history of the place, and wasn't sure if I'd even find my way to it.
I'd gone to Potsdam on the last full day of my stay in Berlin, not sure what to expect, but feeling that I'd be disappointed if I didn't visit. The weak December sun didn't make an appearance on the cold, bleak morning that I boarded the S-Bahn train, which headed west through Tiergarten, turning southwest after Charlottenburg and out of the city via Grunewald and Wannsee.
I was by now reasonably fluent with the routine of train journeys across the city.
Aussteig, rechts. Doors open on the right.
Aussteig, links. Doors open on the left.
As the train took on new passengers and the doors closed again, the loudspeakers would announce the final destination, the next stations, and where to get off for connecting lines. I came to understand more of these announcements the more I travelled. However, I was less than adequate with my responses when a fellow passenger would ask, in German, is this the train to/ how can I get to... and so on and so forth - which was fine, but I was asked with more regularity than I was prepared for.
I loved hopping across the city on the S Bahn.
Potsdam was a longer journey than the previous ones I had taken, given that it's beyond the city of Berlin itself, though falls within the metropolitan area of Berlin/Brandenberg.
After exiting the train station and heading over a bridge to the central area, I wondered if I'd made a big mistake. Though there were some interesting buildings and monuments (such as the old town hall, just out of shot), I felt like I'd wandered onto a building site, flanked also by dull Communist architecture.
Still, I'm here, I thought. I may as well have a wander.
Things took a turn for the better when I reached the far side of the town square (equally dull but at least not ravaged by bulldozers), tucked behind which were a charming network of cobbled streets and more traditional, prettier buildings. These hosted a huge Christmas market which engulfed the centre of the town. I spent an hour or two browsing idly, dining, warming myself with gluhwein mitt schuss, and soaking up the atmosphere.
The atmosphere. Yes, it was nice, very seasonal (so seasonal, in fact, that it would feel absurd to post pictures of a Christmas market at this time of year. You might venture that it's equally absurd to be writing about all this stuff now, and you may be right, but something compels me to do so). Something was missing though, something was nagging at me. I knew if I returned to the station and headed back to Berlin, I would feel unfulfilled. I was tempted to do so, however, since a week of spending many hours walking and exploring each day had taken their toll: a mere couple of hours on foot in Potsdam had left my feet and ankles aching badly.
Nonetheless, I exited the Christmas market and pressed further on. The aspect of the town changed once again, as even, cobbled streets slowly gave way to gorgeous, treelined avenues which took me uphill and down again. Voltaireweg was quiet and pleasant, and by now the December sunlight was gently making its presence felt. I strolled slowly along: due to the aforementioned fatigue, but also because it was the kind of place that demanded I take my time.
I eventually descended to a traffic island (yes, sounds lovely doesn't it), here were some of the main intersecting roads into the town: but on the other side, opposite me, was the entrance to Sanssouci.
Already, I knew I'd made the right decision to spend my day here, as I crossed over the island and walked up the slope and the steps. Sanssouci is one of the most beautiful, tranquil places I have ever been. In front of me at the top of the steps, was a palace stretching across the grounds, and overlooking a rather grand view onto the parklands below. I wandered and took many photos, and just allowed the serenity of the place to begin to seep its way into me.
I remember, as I slowly paced the length and breadth of the palace grounds, seeing an elderly couple stood on the gravel, embracing. The lady had tears falling down her cheeks, but was utterly calm - they both were. I felt like it would be intrusive to remain near them, but somehow they completed this particular scene, dignified and quietly emotional.
Just as the walk along Voltaireweg had served to dictate my pace, I felt no rush, but neither could I linger. The earlier fatigue was now almost forgotten, the splendour of the grounds stretching out magnificently all around. The way down into the park grounds was via an astonishing series of tiered walkways which I slowly negotiated, descending each level only after spending as much time as I could on each particular terrace.
This, really, was only the beginning.