The thousand-year history of the city of Potsdam has been shaped by many ups and downs. The history of Potsdam is briefly summarized here. You can find a detailed description of the history of the city of Potsdam on our partner site on Potsdam’s city history.
We have also compiled important facts and biographies on Potsdam personalities from Potsdam’s history as well as historical pictures for you:
- Personalities of Potsdam History
- historical pictures and recordings of Potsdam
Table of contents
Start of the Potsdam story with the foundation of the city of Potsdam
As early as the 7th century, the Heveller, a Slavic tribe, are said to have built a castle complex on the Havel at the confluence of the Nuthe. It was first recorded in writing for Potsdam’s history, however, by Emperor Otto III. As a 13-year-old emperor, he left the towns of Poztupimi et Geliti to his aunt Marthilde, who was the abbess of Quedlinburg, with her signature and seal.
Poztupimi [Slavic “under the oaks]“
Re-establishment of the city of Potsdam
In 1050, Margrave Albrecht I of Brandenburg (Albrecht the Bear) reestablished a German stone tower castle at the Havel crossing, about 700 meters from the Slavic castle, which was preserved. It was not until 1220 that a small service settlement developed at the foot of the hill. In 1304 Potsdam was first mentioned as “Stedeken” (little town) and in 1317 as a castle and above all as a civitas (city) under the name Postamp.
Postamp [Slavic: place of the Postapim, (personal name)]”
Friedrich VI., The first Hohenzollern in Potsdam
The burgrave Friedrich VI. was the first Hohenzollern in Potsdam’s history. Better known later under the name of Elector Friedrich I. In 1416 he had a bridge built from the eastern mainland over the Havel to the island of Potsdam. This laid the foundation for the later rise of Potsdam.
The rise of Potsdam can be traced back in particular to the absolutist period under Elector Friedrich Wilhelm I. He shaped the history of Potsdam. Due to the Edict of Tolerance he issued in Potsdam in 1685, the areas of Potsdam that had been thinned out by the Thirty Years’ War could be repopulated due to increasing immigration. Many persecuted Protestant Huguenots from France fled to Potsdam and the other Brandenburg areas. Around 20,000 people took up the offer and helped the economy to flourish with their specialist knowledge.
Potsdam under the soldier king
Under the soldier king Friedrich Wilhelm I, the city became an important garrison location for the Prussian army. The increase in the number of inhabitants (including the soldiers) required the construction of new residential quarters as the first and second urban expansion. The old houses in the old town were demolished and two-story half-timbered houses were built. The population grew to 12,000 by 1740. Every third resident was in the military. As the city grew, the city wall moved north in 1732 into today’s Hegelallee. Potsdam defied the military in the reign of the soldier king. These were feared everywhere.
Frederick the Great rules over Potsdam
In the time of Frederick II, Potsdam became a royal seat. Unlike his father, he was not a soldier king. This was made clear by his first official act: dissolution of the royal body regiment. After the wars, he began working on the city palace and converting the “desert mountain” into a terrace area. On April 14, 1745, the foundation stone for the Sanssouci Palace was laid there. In addition to the Sanssouci Palace, the town was expanded and new city gates and barracks were built. In 1779, 19,552 civilians and 8,192 military personnel lived in Potsdam.
More about the time of Frederick the Great: “Friedrich der Große regiert über Potsdam (1740-1786)”
The glamorous period of Potsdam’s history ended with the death of Frederick the Great. Friedrich Wilhelm II. (1786-1797), also called the “fat Wilhelm”, enjoyed life more than government business. With his death in 1797, the economic situation in Potsdam was very critical. However, it was in the reign of Friedrich Wilhelm III. (1797-1840) no better. After Prussia’s defeat against Napoleon in 1806, the situation became even more catastrophic. It was only after 1814, when Napoleon’s power was crushed, that a new era dawned in Potsdam.
Construction activity peaked in the 19th century
The art-loving Friedrich Wilhelm IV became king in 1840 and through him the Potsdam cultural landscape was further enriched. As well as he was active in the arts, he had little time for government work. He held on to his divine right for a long time and prevented important reforms due to his conservative nature.
End of the Hohenzollern
The coming period and Potsdam’s history were militarily shaped. After the death of Friedrich Wilhelm IV, his son followed as Kaiser Friedrich III. 1888 ruled for a short time until he was replaced by his son after his death: Wilhelm II. He ruled until 1918 and signed the “Declaration of War” on July 31, 1914 in the New Palais. Potsdam had 58,455 inhabitants in 1895. Around every seventh of these were members of the military. The last building of the Hohenzollern was the Cecilienhof Palace in 1913-1917. This marked the end of the era of the imperial family and in 1918 the last emperor of Potsdam fled into exile in Holland.
Potsdam after 1918
Potsdam lost its residence city status with the end of the Hohenzollern family, but remained loyal to it for a long time. For a long time they did not want to accept it and continued to call the city the royal seat. A date steeped in history is the “Day of Potsdam” on March 21, 1933, when Hitler bowed obsequiously to the Reich President General Field Marshal von Hindenburg in the Garrison Church in Potsdam and then shook hands. This happened on the occasion of the inauguration of the new Reichstag.
Potsdam in ruins
Potsdam was spared during the Second World War, but this changed at the end of the war. On April 14, 1945, Potsdam was reduced to rubble by British bombers. Thousands died in the hail of bombs.
Potsdam in the GDR
Great Britain, the USA and the Soviet Union met after Germany’s capitulation in Cecilienhof Palace for the Potsdam Conference. The so-called Potsdam Agreement defines the democratization, demilitarization, denazification, decartelization and decentralization of Germany and went down in history.
Potsdam became a district town in 1952 under the leadership of the SED and it was supposed to be rebuilt and a more beautiful Potsdam emerged. Unfortunately this also meant that the hated Prussian townscape had to be removed. As a result, many houses and buildings that were drowned in the hail of bombs were simply blown up. For this purpose, prefabricated buildings and high-rise buildings based on socialist models were built in these places. Due to the numerous facilities, the population grew to 130,000 over the years.
After reunification, Potsdam flourished again. In 1990, Potsdam was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. The maintenance of the historical buildings and gardens is now in the foreground. The historical center is also being rebuilt. Since the fall of the Wall, there has been a consistent approximation of the historical city plan.
More “Potsdam Heute (nach 1989)”
You can find out more about the history of the city of Potsdam on our partner site on Potsdam’s city history.