Ruinenberg in Potsdam is a hill where the Prussian king Frederick the Great ordered a built water tank. This water tank had the goal to supply water to the gorgeous Sanssouci Palace close by, and it was decorated with some fake ruins. That is where the name comes from.
During a visit to Potsdam in the Summer of 2020, I wanted to see something different since I believe I have seen the most traditional sights in town a few times. And since there are many exciting sights in Potsdam, I decided to see something that felt a bit more unusual than expected, and this is how I found my way into the Ruinenberg.
A Short History of the Ruinenberg in Potsdam
Ruinenberg is a 74-meter high hill located on the north side of the Sanssouci Palace. Around it, tons of big green trees were a fantastic place to cool down after a long summer walk around Potsdam. Historically, this hill used to be part of the partridge and pheasant hunting grounds from the Prussian kings when it was still called Hünenberg. Frederick William I of Prussia used to hunt there. His son, Frederick the Great, decided to use the area for the future palace.
Frederick the Great had a few plans for the area, besides the Sanssouci Palace, and some of them demanded a lot of water. There were plans for a fountain complex, a marble colonnade, and a Neptune Grotto, that can be visited today close to the Obelisk entrance in Sanssouci Park.
Technically, the idea was to draw water from the Havel river through windmills and bring the water to the water tank on the hill. Then, it would flow under the park through a system of hollow tree trunks that would lead the water into the fountains.
Even though Frederick the Great poured a lot of money into the project, it didn’t work. Mostly because of the lack of technical knowledge from the people that were hired to develop this.
It all came to a full stop in 1780, and, a couple of years before, the king wrote to Voltaire about the failed project, as you can read in the text below, that we found on Wikipedia.
I wanted to have a water jet in my garden: Euler calculated the force of the wheels necessary to raise the water to a reservoir, from where it should fall back through channels, finally spurting out in Sans Souci. My mill was carried out geometrically and could not raise a mouthful of water closer than fifty paces to the reservoir. Vanity of vanities! Vanity of geometry!
As a way to save the project somehow, Georg Wenzeslaus von Knobelsdorff and Innocente Bellavite were brought into the project. They designed some fake ruins that would resemble a Roman pillar, a round temple, and the surviving walls of a Roman theatre. These antique ruins gave the Ruinenberg in Potsdam its name.
It was only a century after the construction of Sanssouci and its garden that Friedrich Wilhelm IV managed to realize Frederick the Great’s dream. Due to some technological improvements, mostly the steam engine and a modern piping system, the fountains that were designed years before, were put into place. A building was also constructed to house the steam engine and the pump machine. You can see this building next to the Havel river disguised as a mosque, designed by Ludwig Persius.
Ludwig Persius also extended the Roman theatre wall on the Ruinenberg with a look-out tower that imitates a medieval watchtower. That tower received the name Norman Tower and was built by Ferdinand von Arnim in 1846 after Persius’s early death.
The Ruinenberg is a great historical place to visit in Potsdam that most people don’t even know that is there. From the top, you have a unique view of the gardens in the Sanssouci Palace, as you can see in the drone video we shot from there. The fake ruins are unusual to see in a historical place like this. Still, it was quite interesting to understand more the reasons behind this during the research for this article.
If you want to visit the Ruinenberg in Potsdam, you need to find your way into Potsdam and follow the map below. It’s quite simple to get there and, if you do this in the summertime, you’d love how lush and green the hill is.
A Visit to the Ruinenberg in Potsdam
Potsdam – Germany