Schloss Sanssouci palace, centerpiece for the annual Potsdamer SchlössernachtOnce each year on a summer night in August, in the little Prussian town of Potsdam, Germany, magic happens. For one enchanting evening, the town’s summer palaces of kings and the vast parkland around them are open to the public. In a marvel of historical reenactment, guests are greeted by Potsdam’s citizens, dressed in period costumes. The park, normally closed to visitors at night, sparkles with hundreds of tiny spotlights as dusk falls. When Tom and I attended the event , we were rewarded with an energetic, over-the-top step back in time.

Potsdamer Schlössernacht celebrates the romance of an era long past, and the “Prussian virtues” of architectural beauty, horticulture and gentility. It’s an evening that surprises with performance art popping up along paved and graveled pathways and music on temporary stages erected beside the opulent summer residences of Prussian royalty.

Sanssouci Park is 290 acres huge, its palaces set in luxuriant gardens. Grape vines on a terraced hillside, artfully arranged “ruins”, fountains and meandering waterways for noble boating–all evoke 18th-century luxury and leisure pursuits. Potsdam’s complex of palaces and parks were inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1990.

The players

Costumed Schlössernacht players add to the atmosphere as they greet visitors.Performance artist at Potsdamer SchlössernachtCostumed Schlössernacht players add to the atmosphere as they greet visitorsCostumed Schlössernacht players add to the atmosphere as they greet visitorsPotsdamer Schlössernacht, includes dramatic readings in the park.Costumed Schlössernacht players add to the atmosphere as they greet visitors.18th-century dress for Potsdamer Schlössernacht, a surprise around every corner.

The setting

Schloss Sanssouci– “Ohne Sorgen” or “Without Care” in German–was built in the French Rococo style in the 18th century by Frederick II (Frederick the Great). The palace is the centerpiece of Potsdamer Schlössernacht. The other buildings in the park–Charlottenhof Palace, Neues Palais, the Communs, the Orangerie, the Chinese house and others–all serve as backdrops for musicians, storytellers and dancers, as well.

Centuries-old trees lining the walkways, gardens in the then-new English style designed by Peter Lenné, and everything contributes to the mood. Even the towering trees at the entrance to the park become storytellers for the evening, reciting poetry and sharing historical anecdotes through loudspeakers perched in their branches.

Neues Palais, part of the Sanssoucii Park complexJazz for the annual Potsdamer Schlössernacht Charlottenhof Palace, part of Potsdam's Sanssouci Park complextSanssouci Palace, open for the annual Potsdamer SchlössernachtPotsdamer Schlössernacht evokes 18th-cetury leisure pursuits.

The magic

Potsdamer Schlössernacht is an entertaining way of looking at history, conducted entirely in German, which, except for dramatic readings at some of the picturesque venues, does not present a problem. For the most part, the occasion is a visual fantasyland, set to music–classical and jazz–and accessible to everyone.

Given the flat terrain through much of the park, the event is even wheelchair-accessible. Landscape architect Lenné was an indefatigable designer of parks and in his later years, an urban planner with a view toward providing commoners–not just nobility–with the relaxation of parklands. The annual Potsdam is a brilliant reflection of that point of view.

It’s astonishing to think of the effort that goes into creating such an unforgettable mood for just one night each year!

The palaces of Sanssouci Park, a breathtaking backdrop for Potsdamer Schlössernacht.During Potsdamer Schlössernacht, dancers make their way through the crowds around Sanssouci Palace.Schloss Sanssouci glows as darkness falls, and the park's paths and fountains are lit by small electric torches.

Pinterest-perfect images

Locals dress in period costumes for Potsdamer Schlösernacht, a magical summer evening in Potsdam, GermanyPotsdamer Schlösernacht, a magical summer evening in Potsdam, GermanyPotsdamer Schlösernacht, a magical summer evening in Potsdam, Germany

If you go

The number of attendees is limited to 33,000 and in this spacious setting, even that number is well accommodated. A portion of proceeds from ticket sales goes to continued reconstruction of the palaces and gardens. Check the Potsdamer Schlössernacht website for dates and times of entry, and ticketing details.
Potsdamer Schlössernacht is a one-evening event, but on the preceding evening it is possible to enjoy a symphony concert under the stars, and admire the Sanssouci Park after the music finishes.

  • Ticket holders can tour palaces and enjoy a boisterous close to the evening when the festival ends with a fireworks display at midnight.
  • Hotel rooms are in short supply in little Potsdam, so consider a room in Berlin, or elsewhere along the train route. It’s an easy commute.
  • Local transport services are beefed up for the event, with extra staff on hand to guide visitors traveling by train, bus and tram.
  • Plan to make an evening of it, and give yourself plenty of time to amble through the gardens and visit the palaces. Food courts are set around the park, offering risotto plates and wine, and even dishes from Asian woks and of course, German specialties such as sausages and beer (There is very little that is historic in the food offerings for Potsdamer Schlössernacht!)

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We were guests of Deutsche Bahn and Berlin Tourism, but pleasure under the stars was all ours.

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20 COMMENTS

  1. Thanks Anita and Tom for such fantastic pics of Potsdam. We visited Potsdam a couple of years ago and were awash in the history of the Frederick era as well as the vastness and beauty of the park. You have brought that feeling directly to us. Keep up the great work you are doing and sending it to us. Doris

  2. Wow! The costumes are so elaborate and it looks like a woman would need to plan carefully in some of them before she make a turn! The Potsdamer Schlössernacht looks like an event not to be missed and I’m going to check out the link for tickets as we’ll be in Europe again next year.

    • Thanks for commenting, Anita. Potsdam is good any time of year, but this event is really quite special, and I can recommend it for a relaxing evening. To see the palaces, though, I’d opt for another day, just to avoid the insanely long queues (there is always a line to get into Sanssouci Palace…)!

    • Me too, Kay. Thankfully, this evening is not entirely about re-enacting events, more of a mood-setting to enjoy good entertainment and gorgeous gardens. And it is not all that crowded either, except for the long lines to get into the palaces!

    • The townspeople really take the event seriously! For couple in gold and white, it was the first time to host, and they were so excited. Potsdam is great to visit, even without the night in the park: compact, with an atmospheric old town, great transportation, and plenty to do outside in nature, as well. Lovely place!

    • Hi Irene, it was a wonderful time! Yes, we knew in advance. We were guests of Deutsche Bahn and local tourist bureaus, visiting Wiesbaden Rheingauer Weinwoche and Berlin for last year’s summer festival campaign. We were able to pick our destinations, and chose Potsdam specifically to attend Schlossernacht, after hearing about it for a long time. So glad we went!

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