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Home Towns - Potsdam, Germany

The Old Market Square

Old Town Hall & Knobelsdorff House

This site is part of our Old Market Square page, which is part of our Potsdam, Germany site. Click left the left turn sign to return to the Old Market Square site or the u-turn sign to get back to our Potsdam Start Site.

In the 1730s a number of houses were built at the east side of the Old Market Square, but they didn't last for very long. When King Frederick the Great ordered a total reconstruction of the Square, the inhabitants had to leave and all houses at the east side - with the exception of Bakery Windelband – were demolished and new buildings were designed in their place.

Knobelsdorff House in 1928
Knobelsdorff House

In 1750, architect von Knobelsdorff built a baroque house at the right side of the square's east front. The renowned architect never lived in the house, but until this day, it bears his name.

Potsdam's most famous sculptor, Johann Peter Benkert, designed three sculptures for the roof of the house. In accordance with the Roman theme of the square, the depict the Roman deities Flora, Pomona and Vertumnus.

Like all other buildings, the Knobelsdorff House was severely damaged in world War II, but the facade has been restored beautifully. It is now part of Potsdam's art and cultural center.

Old Town Hall in 1928...
...and in 1945
Old Town Hall

For almost 500 years, this place has been the home of Potsdam's city administration. The first town hall was built here in 1524, but it was completely destroyed only twelve years later in the town's worst fire on June 24, 1536. A second town hall was built soon after. This second building was in use until 1722, when the growing town demanded a larger, more representative building. This third town hall, a frame house with a wooden steeple was used for thirty years, but soon, is was too small too.

Frederick the Great, who ordered the construction of a new, fourth town hall had a way larger building in mind, but Mr. Windelband, one of the town's most popular Bakers intervened and eventually was allowed to keep his hous, thus limiting the space for the new town hall. The new town hall building was complete in 1755 by architect Johann Boumann. It is the one we still see today.

Ironically, for the first 120 years of its existence, it didn't serve as a town hall, but as – the town jail. Only 1875, the city council moved into the building, with the jail still occupying parts of it. By 1916, the administration ran yet again out of space and moved to the south side of the square into the Palais Barberini. However, the city treasury remained in the building until the end of World War II.

Like St. Nicholas Church, the town hall survived the British bombing but sustained heavy damage from Soviet artillery fire. Fortunately, some of the main parts of the house, the facade and the center part with stairway and dome were salvageable. Reconstruction started in 1960, and in 1966, the building was opened to the public, now serving as the town's art and cultural center.

Today, the house hosts a huge variety of exhibitions, lectures, conferences and musical performances. In addition, there is a permanent exhibition about its very own history.


Here, the architects confused Roman history with the 1,000 years older Greek Mythology and made Greeks Titan Atlas one of the central features of the square. The original statue was made of gold-plated lead but turned out to be too heavy and fell down after only two years. Since 1877, the statue consists of gold-plated copper. Being a true Titan, Atlas survived everything the last 250 years threw at him – from hail storms to carpet bombing – and is now one of Potsdam's most recognizable landmarks.

Potsdam's citizen didn't care much about Greek or Roman mythology and, somewhat disrespectfully, called the statue "The Doll." Consequently, the jail under Atlas' roof was called "The Doll-House."

Windelband House in 1835, sandwiched between Town Hall and Knobelsdorff House
Bakery Windelband

The Windelband house was built in 1735 and was supposed to be demolished together with the other houses at the east front to make room for a larger town hall building. But the owner, baker Windelband successfully intervened and was allowed to keep his house - it just got a new baroque forefront.

Unfortunately, what could have been the oldest building in town was demolished in the beginning of the 20th century and replaced with a functional building, connecting the other two houses. That building was destroyed in World War II and later replaced with a modern one.
Post-war replacement of the Windelband House

Behind the Scenes

The spirit of "The Old Fritz" never really left Potsdam and his concept of creating historic looking facades while keeping the back more practical still works in his town today. Behind the facade, all three buildings at the Square's east side are one complex, as this picture of the back the Knobelsdorff House reveals.

Palais Barberini

For completeness sake, here is the building that once covered the south front of the square. Palais Barberini was built in 1771 by architect Carl Phillip Christian von Gontard. The pictures to the right show front and back in 1940, when the Palais hosted the city administration, a library, a museum and a hostel. It was destroyed in 1945 and later completely demolished. It will be rebuilt together with the City Palace by 2012.

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