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Krongut Bornstedt

After extensive restoration, the faux Italian village at the royal estate Krongut Bornstedt reopened in June 2002 looking much as it did 150 years ago and selling many of the same goods. There's a wood-oven bakery, a candle maker, a glassblower, a potter and a jeweler. Everything sold there is created on premises, right down to the tailor shop with its whirring sewing machine and to the Bornstedter Bueffel (Bornstedt Buffalo), a rich, frothy brown beer brewed as it was in the 17th century.

For English-speaking visitors, Potsdam does present a few challenges. The city and tourism websites are in German, and public sightseeing tours are in German only. For that reason, you may want to consider hiring a private guide, especially if you have specific interests in history, architecture or culture - and don't mind spending 120-150 euros for a half-day. In addition, many city guides are also allowed to provide private tours which can cut considerable time from waiting.

The best time to visit Potsdam is from May through October, although the end of July through August can be hot and humid. Fewer tourists come in May and October and, with the flowers in full bloom, May and June are perhaps the most colorful.

For the parks - especially the palaces - go early in the day. This isn't just to avoid crowds but also total disappointment. As part of the preservation process, the palaces are limited to a certain number of visitors each day. When that number is reached, they close. Pay attention to which palaces are open on which days, since is shut on a different day. The New Palace is the only one open on Mondays. Don't neglect the less popular palaces - historic and architectural gems that often offer no lines, no waiting.

While the parks and palaces are the prime attraction, set aside some time to walk around the Baroque Old Town. Also, some of the best views of the parks and palaces are from the lakes and river. Relaxing cruises are offered in varying lengths and routes, from 90-minute lake tours to full-day excursions from Potsdam to Berlin and back. The tourist office - which does speak English - can help find and hire an appropriate guide. On a recent visit, Kevin Kennedy, an American who has lived in the Potsdam area most of his life and is working on a doctoral thesis relating to German history, was superb with his knowledge, passion and insight.

Potsdam features an efficient, comprehensive public transit system of trams and buses, which also connect with the S-Bahn and regional rail systems for travel to Berlin and throughout Brandenburg. Probably the least expensive way to explore Potsdam is on bus route 695, which makes an almost full circle past the major sights. Buy a single- or multi-day pass (3 euros for one day to 10 euros for a week), step on and off at leisure, and explore.