Saturday, October 27, 2007

Radfahr from Wannsee to Potsdam

As athletic and robust as I think I am, today totally wiped me out, in a good way. I met my friend Sidra Stich at the American Academy in Wannsee, where she gave me an enlightening tour of the house and grounds. It's on the Wannsee, overlooking a long lawn and a harbor filled with sailboats belonging to nearby American expats. The house itself was beautifully updated by the Nazis, with gold leaf tile mosaic, secessionist grilles, etc. Owned by the Academy for the past 10 years, it houses 8 or so scholars at a time in fair luxury and enables them to progress in their research. Sidra is going to invite me to her presentation in December, and I can hardly wait.

So, we go down to the boat house to retrieve the bikes, a couple of vintage-types with a bit of cob webs, but no matter. Mine was a one-speeder (from the 60s?) whose tires we pumped up and !ready to go! we were off to the Pfauen Insel, or Peacock Island, a retreat for Willhelm II and his friends. The ferry runs regularly only till the 30th, so we wanted to be sure to see the island before then. It was a foggy day but we spent more than an hour walking the island and inspecting the wildlife (including a couple of tame foxes who nonchalantly walked right by us a couple of times) and the fantasy structures built as was the fashion in the 19th century to invoke the sense of far away places such as - a ridiculously fake looking crenellated castle, and a mini-greek temple. The trees were for the most part mature, remaining apparently untouched by the last war and its aftermath that decimated other local forests.

I was hungry, so we ate lunch at the shoreline restaurant. The Tages Angebote was Schweinhaxe, Kartoffeln and Kraut. I washed it down with a Gluhwein. Sidra only had the wine... I don't know how she made it through the rest of the day on only that because we were off again this time to Potsdam. I mentioned that my bike was a single speeder with fat tires so that you'll understand my legs ached at this point already. The fog settling on the Wannsee, the imposing forest, the wide paths and the orange carpet of leaves made me forget my quads for a while. Sorry no photos. Presently we came to the Potsdam Brucke, and we crossed into the town.

Our destination was Sans Souci Park and buildings built in the 18th century by Friedrich der Grosse. The enormous formal gardens are carefully populated by various structures... the well-touristed Schloss Sans Souci, a giant windmill, a Dragonhouse, a Chinese house, a Roman bath... you get the picture. What we were totally unprepared for, because the photo on the postcard is so small, was the Neue Schloss on the west end of the park. It was entirely gigantic and constructed of rose-colored brick with full-height statuary crowning each floor as it went up. Gold leaf details crowned the sculptures at intervals. The ediface, I said was enormous, but this word doesn't describe it adequately. I've never seen anything like it. Facing the Neue Schloss are two matching buildings with limestone collinades and copper domes that the map calls "liegenden Communs."

I would have liked to show photos, but I didn't bring my camera. Google the topic, it's worth it. And when you visit Berlin, don't miss San Souci.

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