In 1877, Fisk University’s Jubilee Singers were on tour in Germany when they were invited to Potsdam to perform for the country’s crown prince and princess. The group traveled internationally raising money for their financially-strapped college, an institution tasked with educating newly freed slaves. Audiences across Europe were mesmerized by singers’ beautiful voices and unique perspective. For most, hearing gospel hymns performed by former slaves was a first, and many were not prepared for the emotional experience born from hearing the music.
The royal visit in Potsdam was arranged after Queen Victoria of England, saw the group in the UK and was so taken with the Jubilee Singers that she wrote to her daughter, Princess Victoria of Germany and said she must see them. Not only did she see the ensemble, the Princess was so moved by their performance that she sobbed loudly while they performed.
Ella Sheppard, a member of the ensemble, recorded in her diary that evening that the princess “hoped we did not think her silly, but she could not help weeping. She is in mourning, I think, for a child and the song probably reminded her of the lost one.” The music of the Fisk Jubilee Singers had moved her to her very core. Sitting in the audience and listening to the African American ensemble perform for the royal family, the princess had become transfixed by the power of their songs. After that evening’s affair, word soon spread across Germany about the Fisk Jubilee Singers and their ability to make royalty weep, pastors recite poetry, and local townsfolk renew their faith in God with their beautiful, soul-stirring music.
It is a beautiful moment, that isn’t a part of the tour when you visit Potsdam, but it’s a story that needs to be told. Like the singers more than a century ago, Potsdam will take your take your breath away. Designated as a Unesco World Heritage site, it’s just 45 minutes by car, less then 30 mins from Berlin on the train. Listen be smart and take the train, catch the Regional Express from the central station in Berlin and your trip will only take 20 minutes.
There are so many sites to see, from the Bridge of Spies, made famous in the Tom Hanks film, to the Royal Palace, the other Castles, the massive buildings and the magical gardens. Wear comfortable shoes because you will do lots of walking, both inside and outside. The thing I loved about Potsdam is that it makes you feel like you have stepped back in time. Back to when Fredrick the Great and other Prussian Royalty roamed the grounds and ruled the region.
So if you are in Berlin I highly suggest you add Potsdam to your itinerary and never forget the group of freed slaves, who moved a Princess to tears.