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It was announced that on Wednesday 1 July Canada Day, Canadians will be allowed to travel to Europe for the first time since all international air travel for touristic purposes was stopped in mid-March. Already Air Canada and other airlines are flogging seats and tempting people with European vacations. On Friday the Confederation Bridge linking over 12 Km this Island to the mainland of Canada will also re-open for travel restricted to people living in the Maritime Provinces. People are already salivating for the opportunity to go to Moncton to shop at Costco, really people? You must be joking but hey so is life. A Costco run will cost $47. Canadian dollars to cross the fabled bridge and you can return same day the distance between Charlottetown and Moncton being only a total of 2 hours by car. I won’t be going, no Sir not me.

Continuing my interest in Urban renewal in Germany and in Russia, I have been following since the mid-1990’s the rebuilding of cities like Dresden and Potsdam, both heavily bombed by the Allies in the dying days of the Second World War. These old historical cities were targeted because of the art and culture centre they were. Dresden especially, being the old Capital of Saxony and a centre for porcelain Meissen and for the arts with its beautiful museum collections. Potsdam was known as the Secret Capital of Prussia, the Kings since 1701 lived in Potsdam and administered the Kingdom from this location. Berlin was the ceremonial Capital for Official Acts, receptions and the seat of Government and the Parliament. Think of Potsdam like we think of Windsor.

I first visited Potsdam which is 30 minutes by train from Berlin centre about 1997, the old market or Alt Markt was nothing more than ruins and craters full of weeds. Here and there a few University buildings built by the Communist regime in the brutalist style of the 1970’s and in the former gardens of the City Palace a 16 floor Hotel Mercure which was suppose to symbolize according to Socialist thinking modernity in the Communist State. The 3 Star Mercure chain in Europe and in other third world countries 63 in all, was then owned by France who used the brand to further French diplomacy and its agenda. Lobbies full of prostitutes often on government payroll and French wines. Marriott owns the chain today under Accor management.

The main attraction of Potsdam was the Royal Park with the palaces and other architectural gems. Sans Souci being the most important one and the Neues Palais being the other. Under Communism both had suffered from neglect and minimal maintenance and wholesale theft by the Red Army of 18th century fine furniture and works of Art.  Some of which was returned by the Russians after 1989. I was happy to visit Potsdam for its history and many sites but it would get better in the years after 2000.

What is interesting about any urban renewal scheme in former East German towns is the influence of former Communist politicians who sometime sit still on City Councils and will resist any move to renew cities and get rid of the old decrepit architecture and infrastructure built between 1950-1989. Given the constant lack of funds and building materials, buildings were quickly and cheaply built and decayed rapidly due to lack of maintenance.

Since 2000 the City Council in Potsdam has developed with private developers a plan to rebuilt the old Market Square (city centre) of Potsdam. The Square was before 1945 flanked by the St-Nicholas church, the City Hall, the Barberini Palace and the City Palace Residence of the King of Prussia. After the war only the City hall and the St-Nicholas church remained though is a ruined state. The other palaces had being bombed out of existence.

images.jpeg Potsdam City Palace in 1945. It was rebuilt completely in the last 5 years and is now the Parliament of the State of Brandenburg.

Since 2000 a vast plan to re-build the historical streets, water canals of the city centre, historical bridges and churches is underway. The Finance Faculty of the University which was built in the 1960’s has been demolished and on this site the former buildings with historical facade will be rebuilt with modern interior for today’s use as businesses, apartments etc. Rebringing the baroque charm of Potsdam.

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The City Palace today.

Across the street at the moment is a very large vacant lot where the Financial Faculty building was,  as of next year the area will be redeveloped with buildings along what was there previously.

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This view shows 3 yellow squares of what was once the Faculty buildings, they were demolished a few years ago. The green dome is St-Nicholas church, the City Palace is in front. Behind the Palace is the Hotel Mercure with the former gardens of the Palace. It is hoped that this modern hotel will be demolished and the area returned to what it was once a garden space and parade grounds for the Grenadiers of the King.

Here are some views of the proposed new buildings in keeping with historical street scape.

More of the same idea has been developed in Dresden where the entire old city centre was rebuilt.

I remember the old Financial Faculty on this site and how ugly it was and out of place with the historical buildings. Though this kind of re-building may be seen by some critics as Disneyesque, the will and vision for the future is to allow Potsdam to re-claim its former baroque charm with its canals as the Venice of Prussia.

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Here is a photo showing the entire area rebuild, green roof is the Palace, the colonnade connects the Palace to the former stables. By 2023 this should be done. The understanding being that though all buildings are historical renditions the inside are modern and adapted to the plans of each owner. It is very costly to rebuild in this fashion, many artisans and stone masons are required many of whom work on the nearly completed City Palace in Berlin and on many other sites in Germany.

If you wondered what the East German Finance Faculty looked like before it was demolished, here is a picture

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