A Short History of Potsdam

Potsdam is the capital and most populous city in the state of Brandenburg. It borders directly with the capital Berlin to the northeast and belongs to the metropolitan region of Berlin – Brandenburg.

The city is especially known for its historical legacy as a former capital and royal city of the Kingdom of Prussia with its numerous and unique palace and park complexes, most known of which being the Sanssouci Park which includes palaces like Sanssouci and the New Palace.

Potsdam has become a center of science since the mid-19th century. Today, three public colleges and more than 30 research institutes are located in the city.

The urban area was probably inhabited ever since the Early Bronze Age. The town is considered to be founded by a Slavic tribe called Hevelli in 7th century. It is first mentioned in a document in 993 as Poztupimi. After the foundation of the Holy Roman Empire, the area started to become Germanized. In 1415, the Hohenzollerns gained the rule of the city with the rest of Brandenburg.

The town was drastically damaged in the Thirty Years’ War (1618 – 1648), as it lost about half of its population. But under the reign of the Great Elector Freidrich Wilhelm, the town began to flourish. He gradually made the city become the core of his administration and his newly formed royal standing army. The growth accelerated after the declaration of the Edict of Potsdam in 1685 which encouraged Protestants from all over Europe to move to Potsdam in order to freely live their religion.

The edict attracted about 20.000 Protestants from the Netherlands, France and Bohemia.

Later in 18th century, under the soldier king Friedrich Wilhelm I. the city became an important army garrison location.

This led to a strong increase in population and required the construction of new residential quarters. Furthermore, he also ordered the constructions of the Garrison Church and St. Nicholas Church. In the newly created military orphanage, children of the military were cared for and educated.

The Soldier King’s son Frederick II the Great appreciated the ideas of the Enlightenment and reformed the Prussian state. He finally decided to turn Potsdam into a residential city from the cityscape, prompting massive changes to the appearance of streets and squares.

Among other things, the Old Market was completely redesigned and the town houses received new Baroque facades. Frederick II also had the park Sanssouci designed. In 1745, his summer residence Sanssouci Palace was built here. Later, after his victory in the Seven Years’ War (1756 – 1763), the New Palace was built.

The city palace and the pleasure garden in the city center were designed to be his winter residence. The achievement of the architect Georg Wenzeslaus von Knobelsdorff was particularly noteworthy.

Potsdam was no longer a residential city for Prussian royalty after Frederick the Great, that caused the city’s growth to come to a halt. In October 1806 NapolĂ©on Bonaparte reached the city of Potsdam with his troops.

The lasting effects of the occupation led to reforms in the state. Napoleon visited the tomb of Frederick the Great in the crypt of the garrison church. After the end of the Napoleonic invasion, the city again gained some attraction. In 1838, Prussia’s first operational railway was established between Potsdam and Berlin.

In 19th century, the royal palaces in the city were often used by family members especially during summers but the city had already lost its administrative offices to Berlin. Even though the city had lost its former glory to Berlin, it was still one of the most developed cities in the region of Brandenburg. An airship base was opened in 1911 in Potsdam.

The war declaration of Germany against the Entente powers was signed by Kaiser Wilhelm II. in the New Palace in Potsdam in 1914. And four years later, with the end of World War I and the end of Hohenzollern rule, Potsdam finally lost its status as a royal residential city.


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