Looking for an easy escape from the big city? While Potsdam is probably one of the first places that comes to mind, if you stop 4km before you reach the Brandenburg capital you will find a lesser-known place that really does fit the category of hidden gem: the parklands and church at Sacrow. A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1990, the park is home to 26 hectares of tree-lined paths and handsome gardens that all look out onto the Havel river. The gardens are officially part of the Schloss Sacrow, an elegant but rather understated country house that was acquired by Kaiser Frederick William IV from a Swedish nobleman in 1840. The kaiser commissioned his architect Ludwig Persius to build what is now the star of Sacrow: the Heilandskirche (Saviour’s Church), an evangelist chapel finished in Italian style that juts out into the water like a ship at dock.
The church’s bell tower – or campanile – is a particularly unusual feature, giving a touch of Tuscany to the Havelland scenery. As you follow the yellow brick and blue tiled walls round as they curve towards the water, you are led to a perfect place to sit and enjoy the view as the sailing boats and water taxis float by. But underneath the tranquil vista is a long and often turbulent history: between 1961 and 1989 the site was stuck in a no man’s land between the GDR and West Berlin on the other side of the Havel, with border guards using the campanile as an ad-hoc watchtower. After the Wall came down, the then-derelict church was restored to its former glory, including the interior which you can now visit. Having explored the church site, you can continue your trip with a walk or cycle around the gardens, which offer endless spots for a rustic picnic with views out onto the river. Before you go, there is one last stop that is worth a visit: the giant English oak tree that stands 150 meters from the Schloss and is – amazingly – thought to be over a thousand years old.
Text: Benji Haughton / Photos: Savannah van der Niet