“Freeeeedoooommmm!!!” are the eternal words of William Wallace, courtesy of Braveheart. While a Scot has absolutely nothing to with Germany, the sentiment is universal. After living with a strict (though necessary schedule), the autonomy presented was refreshing. Although, it was planned by Jörge, Lauren, and I to essentially run and act like any other busy day with TOP. The main curveball would be the weather as gloomy skies and a less than favorable forecast were in the mix. Being from Michigan, Lauren and I were ready to brace the rain in an effort to see the self-hyped Potsdam yellow palace. While I knew nothing historically about the palace, from the few pictures I saw, I knew coming home and not seeing this would feel like a waste. When we set the time to leave for 10, this was a much needed day of sleeping in. When it came time to game plan in the lobby of the Motel One, everyone was ready to go, when Brett popped up and said he was still thinking of going. He made our jaws drop when he told us that he had never ridden a bike since he was a kid. This would be the last place I’d want to learn to bike, with the presumed winding roads and biking next to traffic, but he was up for the challenge. We were off to the train station to pick up a few last Euros before riding the train. I’m so grateful that Jörge was willing to go with us, even with a 75% chance of rain, he was game to join us. Along the train ride, we took in the views of Berlin, which juxtaposed beauty and modern architecture with gritty, graffiti and youthful expression. Arriving in Potsdam, we immediately walked to the nearby bike rental shop and hopped on our cruiser bikes. It had been a year since I last rode one, but I was excited to tour Potsdam on two wheels. Watching Brett fumble with his bike made me worry for how he was going to make it. Continually he was last behind us and the look on Jörge’s face, constantly checking on him, told that he was worried about how this would end. Biking down the streets of what looked like Grosse Pointe with the older, remodeled houses felt reminiscent of home. It was a stark departure from all the other places and modes of transportation we had used previously. Looking at the sky frequently, we were worried as to whether or not mother nature was going to cooperate. I took out my phone and decided to try and get some video for my eventual movie I was to make. The scenery was spectacular as we whizzed by homes that looked like it would take several lifetimes to try and afford. Jörge pointed out the places of stay for Joseph Stalin, Winston Churchill, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. I was under the misconception that the famous Potsdam conference was held at the yellow palace, so when we finally arrived 3 miles later to see the actual location Cecilienhof Palace, a building which reminded me of Meadow Brooke Mansion, I was quite surprised. It’s amazing to me that simply the place of this conference has turned this building into a historical monument. When we finally arrived at the palace, Jörge asked us if we wanted to take a tour, but since this wasn’t the actual location I thought it was and nothing stood out, I voted to forgo the tour and see the yellow palace instead. Rain finally started to show, but I secured my camera in my rain coat, all the while sneaking pictures and video with my camera. Cruising further down the roads, we eventually made our way to the yellow palace, Sans Souci. Locking up our bikes, we headed past the large windmill and saw the entrance to the building. Being so accustomed to having either one of our guides or Jenny accompany us on tours, we let out sad and confused puppy dog faces unintentionally when Jörge told us he was going to wait outside for us on the tour. It felt like he was abandoning us, but he smirked and reassured us we’d be alright without him. While waiting in line we saw the back of the palace, the recreated ruin site, and we ventured into the front of the palace. I couldn’t help but associated the look with where I was married, Boulder Pointe, for it also had a similar yellow theme. The palace overlooked a wondrous courtyard and foundtain, with rows and rows of carefully sculpted boxwood plants. Unfortunately due to time, we weren’t able to venture for a closer look. Jörge gave us insights into who Frederick the Great was; an iconoclast, great leader, who had a flair and passion for the arts. Walking in to the palace, instantly we were besieged with large, gaudy, glittering gold and bronze adornments. Frederick the great led a tragic life due to the poor relationship with his father. After watching his father have his best friend killed, this led Frederick to want to have the capital of the Prussian empire in the new location in Potsdam. We used headsets to explain to us throughout the self guided tour. Entering the first main room, it radiated with gold accents on the walls and crystal chandeliers hung over our heads as we walked past the statues and paintings. While the entire tour lasted only 45 minutes and took us in to about 6 rooms, each room clearly showed a meticulous attention to detail. Upon exiting, the group seemed content to head back and finish the bike tour, but I made sure to spend several minutes and take pictures outside of the palace. The ride back was so peaceful and serene. After making our way back to drop off our bikes, we rode the train back to Alexanderplatz. Jörge presented us with the opportunity to purchase souvenirs at a mall he recommended. The mall was typical of Lakeside Mall, with 3 levels of stores. In typical Berlin fashion, the original Berlin wall must have run through the mall as their were large historical markers and pieces of the wall on display. Using the restroom, I again had to pay a Euro to use it. The first thing I did was get a Döner kebab with Jörge, though this one was nowhere near the level of taste as the one found two days prior. After perusing the mall, it was evident that this store had no ideal place to buy souvenirs, which worried me slightly as I hoped to finish my shopping for my wife here. I did take Jörge’s recommendation for the best Gelato and simply ordered what the lady in front of me had, a vanilla and chocolate scoop and a raspberry vanilla scoop. It was creamy and delicious. Afterwards, we headed straight to the Egyptian restaurant for the final group meeting. We were in a conference room and the lady facilitating the meeting was there to greet us as we waited for the rest of the group. They offered me a mint lemonade, which was truly unique. It tasted earthy, like fresh grass clippings, with a hint of sour, and full of mint. Not my ideal drink by any means, so I decided to gorge on still water, drinking over a liter on my own. Working through 3 reflective activities, we finished the night with a dinner together. When it came time to closing, I was asked to present Jörge with the group gift. When I got everyone’s attention, I briefly said thank you to Jörge and Katarina, their hospitatlity, and out of nowhere he gave me a hug and followed it up with a much better and longer speech. He praised our group and Americans for their hospitality. He also said that it’s great when you find people with similar interests and humor. Later, Katarina and Jenny received their gifts and we headed back to the hotel. It was a wonderful opportunity to close out our last meeting and dinner as a group. Later on at the hotel, I said my final goodbyes to Christina, Kristin, Tom, and Amy. We listened to Kristin’s one liner notebook and guessed who said what. I had made the book at least perhaps too many times. Finally, we all said good night and I went back and packed up one last time, gearing up for making my way back home.
About Matthew Cottone
Experience the World! This is my creed I bring to my classroom and my life. I'm a World Studies teacher at Van Hoosen Middle School and I have a passion for learning and experiencing the world.