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Contemporary history in Potsdam

Retracing the 20th Century

Potsdam was a Prussian centre of bureaucracy, garrison, and imperial residence. Its specific character outlasted the resignation of the last German emperor and the ascendancy of the Weimar Republic. Continuities and changes through the ages will be documented by the Potsdam Museum in a future permanent exhibition in the old city hall (Altes Rathaus). Furthermore the House of Brandenburg-Prussian History embeds local history into the context of Brandenburg and Prussian regional history.

Potsdam and the Third Reich

In the course of the Nazi seizure of power, the “Day of Potsdam” was imposingly staged on 21 March 1933 in the Garrison Church. The occasion of the opening of the Reichstag offered a welcome opportunity to stress the bond of the new leaders to the virtues of “old Prussia”.
The horrible crimes committed under Nazi rule are remembered throughout Potsdam. A memorial plate at Platz der Einheit marks the former synagogue, that was destroyed during Kristallnacht in 1938 and a gravestone commemorates the victims of forced labour at the Goethe cemetery in Babelsberg.  
Visitors interested in resistance movements against the Nazi regime should see the memorial at Lindenstraße 54/55, where opponents were imprisoned until 1945. It was here that the Nazi “Hereditary Health Courts” sentenced thousands of people to forced sterilization.
An exhibition on Henning-von-Tresckow-Straße documents that numerous civilians and army officers from Potsdam were involved in the assassination attempt on Hitler on 20 July 1944.

The Post War years and East Germany

After the end of the Second World War, the Allies met at the Potsdam Conference in summer 1945 to decide upon the future of Europe.  The Cecilienhof palace, which served as the conference venue, is now a museum.
Not far from this historical site a whole quarter of Nauen was sealed off by the Soviet army. Here, in their “military town no. 7”, they built up the headquarters of military counterintelligence. The central remand prison was located at Leistikowstraße. While this prison was in a closed area, the remand prison of the Russian security agency KGB was located right in the city centre at Lindenstraße, visible to the public. In 1952 the prison was taken over by the Ministry of State Security (“Stasi”). At both Leistikow- and Lindenstraße, different aspects of the repression after 1945 are documented.
After the isolation of West Berlin in 1952 and the building of the Wall in 1961, the Glienicke Bridge, separating Potsdam from West Berlin, turned into a symbol of the Cold War. The division of Germany is commemorated by a foot path along the former Wall (Berliner Mauerweg) and further exhibitions in the tower at a former check point in Drewitz. Right next to the “Bridge of Spies” (Glienicke Bridge) you can visit the Cold War Museum at Villa Schöningen.
A different and more detailed insight into the East German way of life is given in the Filmmuseum with its exhibitions and excellent selection of films, many dating from the period between 1949 and 1989. Some of the exclusive films have only been made public in the last years of the GDR or even later.
The peaceful revolution of November 1989 and the last days of the GDR in Potsdam are shown at the memorial Lindenstraße 54/55.