The Pfingstberg during the Cold War

From Tourist Attraction to Secret Location

Numerous postcards from the period around 1900 show that the Belvedere – Pfingstberg was a popular excursion destination and attraction in Potsdam for Brandenburgers and Berliners of that era. If a visitor adhered to certain rules – for instance, forgoing tobacco and not bringing along dogs – he or she could also take a stroll through the colonnades and enjoy the view.

Postcard motifs dated c. 1900, © W. Hilbert Collection

The complete ensemble passed into the care of the Verwaltung der Staatlichen Schlösser und Gärten (Administration of the State Palaces and Gardens) in 1927. The Belvedere Potsdam was renovated again in 1936 in preparation for the Summer Olympics in Berlin – otherwise, very little is known about the period under National Socialist rule. Filled-in trenches indicate that fighting took place nearby towards the end of the war. Moreover, the Temple of Pomona was used as a recreation area by anti-aircraft guards. The Potsdam palace came through World War II nearly unscathed but fell into increasing decline over time.

Winston Churchill, Harry S. Truman and Josef Stalin in the garden at Ceclienhof Palace, 1945. Photographer unknown or unidentified – U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, public domain, Wikimedia Commons

Too Many Beautiful Views: The Fate of the Panorama Palace after 1945

At the end of World War II, in 1945, the Potsdam Conference took place quite near the Belvedere at Cecilienhof Palace (Verlinkung). The “Big Three” – American President Harry S. Truman, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill (followed by Clement Attlee), and Premier of the Soviet Union Joseph Stalin – deliberated there about the future of Europe. Germany was divided into East and West as a consequence, and the Cold War began.

The Belvedere in the 1980s, © Igor Pilatowitsch

Although the Potsdam palace remained publicly accessible to visitors throughout the 1950s, tourism came to an end with the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961. Due to its immediate proximity, and a good view of the new inner-German border and the military facilities of the Soviet garrison, the Belvedere became restricted terrain. In addition, the Soviet Military Camp No. 7 (Militärstädtchen Nr. 7), had been located at the foot of the Pfingstberg since 1945. It accommodated the Soviet SMERSH (Special Methods of Spy Detection) counter-intelligence alongside a KGB remand prison.

The Belvedere in the 1980s, © Igor Pilatowitsch

Day Trip Destination Even during the Cold War

The Belvedere eventually became a deserted location. The widow of the last castellan moved out of the apartment at the northern front of the Belvedere in 1964. Windows bricked shut with concrete and barricaded doors bear witness to an abandonment that gave free reign to vandalism. There were hardly any guidebooks or publications about the site, and the Pfingstberg ensemble disappeared entirely from the map of Potsdam in 1980.

The western tower at the end of the 1980s, © R. Rosenkranz

All in all, it might be assumed that the Pfingstberg was not a place that people sought out during the Cold War. Yet, the ensemble’s appeal continued to be so great that Potsdamers could not be stopped from visiting the palace and gardens despite it being a restricted area – they came secretly, and regardless of any danger. Among other threats the palace ruins themselves were not safe, providing little protection from falls or building collapse. Soviet soldiers, in particular, left their marks behind during this period: At the end of the 1980s, the palace walls were covered in graffiti of names and dates, some of which were intentionally preserved during the reconstruction of the palace.

The Belvedere at the end of the 1980s, © Peter Frenkel

The Younger Generation Committed Itself to the Ensemble at the end of the 1980s

There are numerous photographs taken by eyewitnesses, mostly from the 1970s and 1980s, which prove that this “secret place” in Potsdam continued to attract many visitors. Last but not least, the Förderverein Pfingstberg (friends’ association) shares its own history with this movement. Young and committed Potsdamers, who no longer wanted to be solely responsible for saving what had once been the most beautiful vantage point in Potsdam’s plethora of gardens, banded together under the umbrella of the Cultural Association of the GDR as the Arbeitsgemeinschaft (AG) Pfingstberg. The park was freed from brushwood and undergrowth, and the eastern lawn and the paths were cleared. Following German Reunification, the newly founded Förderverein Pfingstberg in Potsdam e.V. managed to successfully acquire numerous donations for the reconstruction and renovation of the Belvedere.

Learn more about the Belvedere’s Cold War history and the story of the Förderverein in the
permanent exhibition
at the Belvedere.