For most visitors POTSDAM means Sanssouci, Frederick the Great's splendid landscaped park of architectural treasures which once completed Berlin as the grand Prussian capital. However, Potsdam's origins date back to the tenth-century Slavonic settlement Poztupimi, and predate Berlin by a couple of hundred years. The castle built here in 1160 marked the first step in the town's gradual transformation from sleepy fishing backwater to royal residence and garrison town, a role it enjoyed under the Hohenzollerns until the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm II in 1918. World War II left Potsdam badly damaged: on April 14, 1945, a bombing raid killed four thousand people, destroyed many fine Baroque buildings and reduced its centre to ruins. Less than four months later – on August 2 – the victorious Allies converged on Potsdam's SchlossCecilienhof to hammer out the details of a division of Germany and Europe. Potsdam itself ended up in the Soviet zone, where modern "socialist" building programmes steadily erased many architectural memories of the town's uncomfortably prosperous imperial past.
North from the train station beyond Lange Brücke is the Alter Markt, the fringe of Potsdam's town centre. From here the northbound and arterial Friedrich-Ebert-Strasse leads to its pedestrianized main shopping street Brandenburger Strasse. Part of a Baroque quarter, it's best appreciated off the main drag, but in truth the town's attractions are minor in comparison with what awaits in Park Sanssouci. There are more things to see across the Havel in Babelsberg, which is best known as the site of the most important studio in German film history.