The city of Potsdam, Germany, is most often seen as a day trip from Berlin.

Located an hour's drive south of Berlin, Potsdam was the scene of one of the most important events at the end of World War II. It was there that the Big Three—the U.S., Great Britain and the Soviet Union—met, carved up a defeated Germany and set the tone for the Cold War that followed. It was not necessarily a friendly meeting and, when it was over, the fate of war-torn Europe had been sealed for decades to come.

Today, Potsdam, restored to its former glory, is one of the most expensive areas to live in the former East Germany. There are still distinct areas of the city—the Dutch quarter, the Russian colony of Alexandrovka and the pricey Babelsberg enclave—that are all distinguished by their unique architecture.

The main reason to visit is to tour the palaces and royal parks built around the edge of the city. But Potsdam's beautiful lakes and slower pace (compared to Berlin) are additional draws.

Visitors to Potsdam also will see reminders of espionage in the Cold War, which ended with the reunification of Germany after the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall. For example, the more than 300-year-old Glienicke Bridge was the scene of many real-life spy swaps. It was there that the Soviets and the U.S. met face to face when making prisoner exchanges, a scene recounted in many spy movies and novels.

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