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Home Towns - Potsdam, Germany

Breite Straße (Wide Street)

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Under different names, Potsdam's "Wide Street (Breite Straße in German) has been connecting the center of town with the western parts since 1683. Until World War II, it ended at the Neustadt Gate. The gate was destroyed in the war and in 1973, the street was extended further west.

Our tour down Wide Street starts at an Egyptian looking obelisk, designed by Georg von Knobelsdorff in 1753. It is the only remaining piece of the original Neustadt Gate.

In case you wonder what the hiroglyphs mean: Nothing! Egyptian hiroglyphs were not deciphered until the 1820s and the "writing" on the obelisk is pure fiction.

The obelisk was restored and put back in place near its original location in 1981.


There are a lot of interesting looking and well preserved baroque houses in this street. The first one that caught our attention is now Potsdam's Museum of Natural History.

It was built in 1770 as the first of many creations of architect Georg Christian Unger and was originally used as meeting place of the district administrators. Ständehaus means "House of Nobles."

The building was severely damages in World War II but was restored soon and has been used as a museum since the mid 1950s.

XXXXXXXXGreat Military Orphanage

Right next is Potsdam's largest Baroque Ensemble, the Great Military Orphanage - a complex of four buildings, covering an entire city block.

When King Frederick William I created a foundation for the children of fallen soldiers, he ordered architect Pierre de Gayette to build an orphanage. Construction started in 1721 and ended in 1738. The first children arrived in 1724.

Later, in 1771, Frederick William's son and follower on the Prussian throne, Frederick the Great, ordered a complete makeover of the complex, which was done by Carl von Gontard.

Like many buildings downtown, the orphanage was damaged in World War II. It was partly restored after the war and kept serving as an orphanage. In 1992, the soldier-King's foundation was revived and the complete restoration of the building was finished in 2004.

Soldier King Frederick William I was frugal in everything that didn't concern the military. But when it came to his soldiers, he spared neither efforts nor expenditures. And that included the many surviving dependants of soldiers who died in the costly War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714).

In 1725, the foundation took care of 600 orphans and at the beginning of the Silesian War in 1740, over 1,500 children lived here. While this orphanage was a huge charitable effort by the Prussian state, it must be mentioned too that the children took very much care of their own food and accommodation, often working up to ten hours a day, very often "rented out" to local businesses - a dark back side of Prussian Role of Law.
The temple on top of the main building, called Monopteros, was designed by Carl von Gontard and reaches a height of 85 feet. It is topped by a sculpture called Caritas, Latin for Charity. The original figure was designed by sculptor Rudolf Kaplunger.

The temple was destroyed in World War II and the sculpture was lost. Rumor has it, that the copper-made "Charity" was melted to produce some of the last bullets of the war.

The entire ensemble was restored in 2004 and a replica, created by sculptor and conservator Andreas Hoferick, now commands again Potsdam's skyline.

In 2009, blogger, historian and tour guide Peter Degener had the chance to accompany a conservator on an inspection of the temple and the 12 feet tall sculpture. Check out his pictures (below).

XXXXXXXXHiller & Brandt Houses

Across the street from the Orphanage are two of the most marvelous baroque houses in town, the Hiller & Brandt Houses, named after their first tenants, merchant Johann Friedrich Hiller and tailor Johann Gebhardt Brandt.

Unfortunately, when we walked down Breite Straße, the building underwent some maintenance. So we borrowed an unobstructed picture from PotsdamWiki (below left).

The elaborate front of the building was designed by Georg Christian Unger and financed by King Frederick the Great. Unger's design was so successful that it earned him over 300 contracts for public buildings and living quarters in Potsdam and Berlin.

The small house between the two four-story buildings was used to house soldiers. Every house owner in Potsdam had to accommodate a certain number of soldiers from the large Potsdam Garrison. Often, this was done by adding a smaller side wing to the main building.

Frederick the Great was well known for his designs of fake facades. For esthetic reason, the windows in the forefront are all symmetrical, but they don't always correspond to the rooms behind them and quite a few of them are fake (picture below right).

XXXXXXPreacher-Widow's House

Right next to the Hiller & Brandt Houses stands "Potsdam's Oldest Building." It was built around 1674. Most likely, the original building was designed by Johann Gregor Memhardt and built by Joachim Ernst Blesendorf. Electress Sophia Dorothea, wife of the Great Elector, dedicated the house to the widows and children of Protestant priests.

The claim of being the oldest house in town might be a little bit farfetched. In 1827, the house was completely torn down and rebuilt. The only pieces left from the original building are the bust of the Great Elector and the pediment above it.


The next block was once the location of the Garrison Church (see next chapter). It is now occupied by a Data Processing Center, (Rechen-zentrum in German). The building itself is rather dull - just one of the thousands of concrete slab buildings in town - but it presents a rather interesting piece of art, one of the last big examples of Socialist Realism.

The ground level of the building is covered with over a dozen 6x6 ft frames forming a giant mosaic called "Man Conquers Space", created by Fritz Eisel. In true socialist tradition, the mosaic only features Soviet achievements.

Volker's favorite segment was a picture of the first space walk in history, conducted by Russian Alexsey Leonov in 1965.

Ironically, this part of the mosaic turned out utterly wrong. There were supposed to be three large tiles, composing a three-fold picture of earth. Instead, the tiles were placed with the wrong orientation, creating nothing but a giant mumble-jumble, that was not discovered until 2009.

To the right, you can see what the three tiles look like (above) and how they were supposed to look like (below).


The location of the Data Processing Center was once the location of Potsdam's most famous church, the Garrison Church, built in 1735, burned out in the last days of World War II and demolished in 1968.

Here we will focus only on the monument placed here today. But we have an entire site dedicated to the Church. Click the right turn sign to get there.

For a long time, there was only a granite plaque on the sidewalk, reading, "This was the location of the Tower Chapel of the Garrison Church."

A replica of the church's gate, placed at its original location was one of the other few reminders of what was lost here.

Then, the cornerstone for a new church was laid on April 14, 2005, at the 60th anniversary of the British air raid.

Currently, the city discussed several plans to rebuild the church for the 500 anniversary of the Reformation in 2017.

XXRoyal Exercise Grounds

The "Royal Exercise and Riding Hall" was built originally in 1734 based on planes by Pierre de Gayette. It stretched 500 feet all the way to the City Canal and was soon only called the Long Stable.

In 1781, Georg Christian Unger added a grandiose Forefront to it (left).

The pictures to the right show the "Big Stable" and the Garrison Church in 1944. Both buildings burned down during the British air raid a year later - only the southern front survived.

There are a lot more interesting baroque buildings in neighboring streets. Some are nicely restored ,like the State Court of Auditors in the pictures above. Others, like in the picture left and right, still need some work.

And then there is one more building a little bit uphill, that didn't fit in any of our sites:

House of Parliament (former Imperatorial War Academy)

Originally, there was just a 150 ft high lookout tower, built in 1804 by King Frederick William III for his wife, Queen Louise. In 1813, a number of small fortifications was added.

In 1899, Emperor William II ordered a large building in the style of British country houses. It was designed and built by Franz Schwechten and finished in 1902.

The building served as Military Academy from 1902 until 1919 and then, until 1945 as Imperial Archive. After World War II it was used by the Soviet Military Administration and from 1952 until 1989 it was the seat of the Communist Party's district committee.
Remains of the giant Communist Party logo can still be seen at the tower, which is why people still call it by the name it had throughout the entire communist period: "The Kremlin." In 1991, it was completely renovated and became seat of the Brandenburg State Parliament.

And with that, we have reached 1 Breite Straße - the very first building in the street, the only remaining building of Potsdam's Renaissance period and the only remaining original part of the City Castle: The Royal Stables, built in 1685 by Johann Arnold Nering.

Today, the building is home of Germany's oldest Film Museum.

Across the street is one of Potsdam's tallest buildings, the 17-floors high Hotel Mercure, built in 1969.

XXXXXXXXRoyal Stables and Hotel Mercure
We have an entire extra site about the Royal Stables, but we couldn't think about anything to write about a tall concrete slab building that is called "The Box" by locals.

This site is part of our Potsdam, Germany site. Click the left turn sign to get back to the Potsdam Start Site.

If you came here from our Vacation 2010 sites, click the green traffic light to return.

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