1945 Potsdam Conference’s Cecilienhof Palace

Autumn 2021. In theory we could travel to other continents, but destinations we had in mind such as Japan or the United Kingdom were impossible to plan ahead. Instead we organised a rail trip to Eastern Europe, travelling to Berlin, Gdańsk, Wrocław, Karlovy Vary, Pilsen, Bratislava, Poprad, Vienna, Linz and Salzburg. By travelling to Germany, Poland, Czechia, Slovakia and Austria, we explored an area which was in a not too distant)past bonded together by the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation and by Austria-Hungary.

Entrance of Cecilienhof.

World War II is never far away when visiting Germany. Our 2020 Germany and Austria Covid Safe Rail Adventure featured several war-related visits.

In Potsdam we jumped from Frederick II of Prussia‘s 18th century to 1945 and the Potsdam Conference at Cecilienhof Palace

Conference table.

About Cecilienhof

Cecilienhof Palace or Schloss Cecilienhof is a palace built from 1914 to 1917 – so during World War I – in the layout of an English Tudor manor house. Cecilienhof was the last palace built by the House of Hohenzollern that ruled the Kingdom of Prussia and the German Empire until the end of World War I. It is famous for having been the location of the Potsdam Conference in 1945, in which the leaders of the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom and the United States made important decisions affecting the shape of post World War II Europe and Asia. Cecilienhof has been part of the Stiftung Preußische Schlösser und Gärten Berlin-Brandenburg and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1990. 

Cecilienhof is located in the northern part of the large Neuer Garten park, close to the shore of the Jungfernsee lake.

The park was largely redesigned as an English landscape garden according to plans by Peter Joseph Lenné from 1816 onwards, with lines of sight to nearby Pfaueninsel, Glienicke Palace, Babelsberg Palace, and the Sacrow Church

Cecilienhof was built for Crown Prince Wilhelm (William) and his wife, Duchess Cecilie of Mecklenburg-Schwerin. After their marriage in 1905, Wilhelm and Cecilie had previously lived at the Marmorpalais for most of the year and at the Berlin Kronprinzenpalais in winter.

On 13 April 1914 the Imperial Ministry and the Saalecker Werkstätten signed a building contract that envisaged a completion date of 1 October 1915 and a construction cost of 1,498,000 Reichsmark for the new palace. The architect was Paul Schultze-Naumburg.

The was based on English Tudor style buildings, arranged around several courtyards featuring half-timbered walls, bricks and 55 different decorative chimney stacks. With the start of World War I in August 1914, construction stopped but was resumed in 1915.

Crown Prince Wilhelm was so impressed with cottage and Tudor style homes like Bidston Court in Birkenhead (England) that Cecilienhof was inspired by it.

Also, due to princess Cecilie’s family ties, German tudor-styled Gelbensande Manor near Rostock in Mecklenburg-Schwerin was an inspiration. 

Interbellum

In between the wars, the couple was allowed to reside in the palace. n January 1945, Wilhelm left Potsdam for Oberstdorf for a treatment of his gall and liver problems. Cecilie fled in early February 1945 as the Red Army drew closer to Berlin, without being able to salvage much in terms of her possessions. At the end of the war, Cecilienhof was seized by the Soviets.

Potsdam Conference

The Potsdam Conference, officially the Berlin Conference, took place from 17 July to 2 August 1945. It was the third and longest summit between the heads of government of the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom and the United States, the major forces in the anti-Hitler-coalition that had just won the war after VE day, 8 May 1945. 

The conference was mainly organized by the Soviets. Although the British prime minister Winston Churchill had refused to hold a summit “anywhere within the current Soviet military zone”, US President Harry S. Truman and Soviet leader Josef Stalin had agreed in late May 1945 to meet “near Berlin”. As Berlin itself had been too heavily damaged by Allied bombing and street-to-street fighting, Cecilienhof in Potsdam was selected as the location for the conference. The delegations were to be housed in the leafy suburb of Potsdam-Babelsberg, which had suffered only slight damage in the bombing raids and also offered the advantage that the streets to the conference venue were easy to guard.

Soviet soldiers repaired the streets connecting Babelsberg to Cecilienhof, built a pontoon bridge to replace the Glienicker Brücke, which had been destroyed during the last days of the war, planted trees, bushes and flower beds—including the Soviet red star in the Ehrenhof of the palace. At Cecilienhof, 36 rooms and the great hall were renovated and furnished with furniture from other Potsdam palaces.The furniture of Wilhelm and Cecilie had been removed by the Soviets and stored at the Dairy.

Harry S. Truman’s desk.

The main rooms used for the conference were as follows:

  • Cecilie’s music salon or White Salon, used by the Soviet delegation as a reception room. On the first day of the conference, this was also the site of a buffet Stalin provided to the other delegations.
  • Cecilie’s writing room or Red Salon, used by the Soviet delegation as a study.
  • The Great Hall. This was the conference hall, fitted by the Soviets with a round table of 10 feet diameter.
  • Wilhelm’s Smoking Room. The study of the American delegation.
  • Wilhelm’s Library. The study of the British delegation.
  • Wilhelm’s Breakfast Room, possibly used as a secretary’s office.

However, according to the official guide to the palace, evidence has recently emerged that indicates that the current designation of the British and American studies may have been switched by the Soviets after the conference.

The exhibition

A visit to Cecilienhof focuses on the Conference. Panels and audioguide clips guide you from the genesis of the conference through the many meetings and the aftermath. There was no mention of a possible switch of allocated rooms. 

The audioguide was more practical and interesting than the ones at Sanssouci. You could also read the text, which is more efficient. 

The Potsdam Conference is a well-know moment in history, but few of us know how it was conducted and what happened. The tour was very insightful. Protocol, sensitivities and anecdotes are explained.

Cecilienhof wasn’t on our initial planning, but turned out to be very interesting. 

2021 Rail Tour of Imperial Europe

  1. POTSDAM 2021 | Schloss Sanssouci.

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