The RIAS Berlin fellows wrapped up a long week today. We put on our most comfortable attire and headed on a bus trip to Potsdam – the vacation home of “King Frederick the Great of Prussia.” Despite the beautiful gardens, lakes and castle-like homes, this was a political day trip. Our drive out of Berlin first took us past the SPD Headquarters – Social Democratic Party. They suffered a big loss in the last big election, getting only 25% of the vote. Chancellor Angela Merkel is leader of the CDU – Christian Democratic Union. She’s Germany’s leader because her party grabbed 40% of the vote.
Before hitting the “freeway,” we passed by “Adolf Hitler’s” airport and private landing strip (massive area in Berlin; ceased operation in 2008). The size of Tempelhof Airport, was said to be second in size to The Pentagon, according to our fellowship executive director, Rainer Hasters. That’s big! That would mean it is also becoming an eyesore. An article in The Atlantic is titled, “Hitler’s Airport: Berlin has buried every trace of the Third Reich – with one big exception,” explains why Tempelhof is still here, even though it housed the only concentration camp in Berlin.
Of course, Hitler shut down Tempelhof – cutting off supplies to West Berlin. The American military would eventually control the airport. Remember the “Berlin Airlift?” Remember the “Candy Bomber,” the American pilot who would drop sweets from little parachutes to kids in the neighborhood!
Our first stop was Wannsee – “The Villa Marlier.” In 1942, the highest of Reich officials met at this lush site to discuss the final intended deportation and murder of European Jews. It was called a meeting in “bourgeois ambience.” The museum sign outside the villa read, “Although an abundance of documents report in detail about the genocide…no further comparable proof of such an overall master plan (exists).” That’s the Wannsee Conference.
It’s hard to imagine living near this mansion – historical or otherwise. It’s surrounded by vacation homes, likely everyday, semi-wealthy people who want peace in the suburbs of Berlin. The tiny, winding road was full of tour buses, people visiting from around the world. Where is the peace in that!
From 1942 to 1945. My journalist friends and I would come to the “Cecilienhof Palace” in Potsdam. In the Summer of 1945 – The Potsdam Conference – would make history. The three leading powers after WWII would meet at the palace – British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, US President Harry S. Truman and Soviet President Joseph Stalin. History says leaders wanted the meeting in Berlin, but it was too “bombed out,” no suitable meeting place.
The room where the “Big Three” meeting took place to negotiate the terms for the end of WWII and what to do with Germany, looks like it did almost 70 years ago – large table, red velvet or velvet-like covering, red covered chairs and the flags of the “Big Three” nations on the walls and on the table. There was a museum fee to visit the palace and another fee to take pictures. I don’t remember paying that fee, but I did snap one photo (after seeing someone else do it)! The grounds were immaculate, like the grounds of a palace should look. Also, just as it was during these historic negotiations, is the star of red geraniums out front, also historically framed with blue hydrangeas, just for the conference.
Our last stop in Potsdam was at the vacation home of King Frederick the Great of Prussia.” Rainer told us it used to be a “KGB Secret City!” The constant rain almost spoiled the stop, but it was worth seeing this level of opulence. Berlin’s “Where” Magazine calls the home, “the lakeside gem right on Berlin’s doorstep…a miniature Versailles.” At the top of the palace is the term “Sans Souci” – French for “no worries.” It was raining so hard at one point, me and Vivian Chakarian, a Program Coordinator at Voice of America, ducked into the gift shop! (They are smart, you did not have to buy a ticket to go INSIDE the castle, to get to the gift shop!) Vivian purchased a beautiful device that is used to slice boiled eggs! I really wanted one of those. I got a “royal kitchen” apron for my sister, Cassaundra the Chef! Again, all worth the adventure!