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The heart of East Berlin
Like Potsdamer Platz, Alexanderplatz was a hub of the city’s nightlife when Berlin was in its heyday in the 1920s, and like it was badly damaged by Allied bombing raids during the Second World War. But unlike its counterpart to the west, Alexanderplatz lay entirely in one sector, the East, so was rebuilt and redeveloped after the war by the German Democratic Republic government. It became something of a showcase of Soviet-style city planning and was consequently one of the places we made sure to visit on our one day in East Berlin back in 1985.
The centre of the square seems little changed today, although since reunification many of buildings around it have been modernised and new ones have been built, notably a large shopping mall, Alexa. We didn’t check that out, but did have a short stroll around the square itself to relive memories of that earlier visit.
On both occasions it was a pretty lively place. Last time we were here that was mainly due to the large number of people passing through, and many others lingering here to meet friends by the Brunnen der Völkerfreundschaft ("Fountain of Friendship between Peoples"). This is the rather ugly but much loved centre-piece of the square; it is a protected monument and was renovated in 2002.
This time round it was a Saturday morning, and we found the square preparing for some sort of fair/exhibition, apparently promoting holidays in the countryside. There were animal pens created with bales of hay, displays of tents and other camping equipment, lots of “fresh from the farm” food stalls ... all a little incongruous in such an urban setting. We left the locals to enjoy all of this and instead headed over to the other iconic monument, the Weltzeituhr (World Time Clock). This shows the names of a number of foreign cities in different time zones. It too has been restored since our last visit (in 1997) and now includes a number of cities that were originally left out for political reasons were added, namely Jerusalem, St. Petersburg and Cape Town. On top of the clock is a model of the solar system.
Right next to Alexanderplatz, and indelibly associated with it, is the Fernsehturm or TV Tower. This is the second tallest structure in Europe and can be seen from all over the city. When the sun shines it is reflected from the windows near the top in the shape of a cross (see photo 4). In the days of the Cold War and East/West division this effect was nicknamed “the Pope’s revenge” – the Soviet regime might have done its best to stamp out Christianity (and all religions), but the Pope had a way of making sure the Christian symbol could still be seen everywhere in East Berlin.
Alexanderplatz is a vast square and was the former East Berlin's main commercial hub. It is called 'Alex' by the locals and was one of the most vibrant parts of Berlin prior to the second World War.
At the centre of Alexanderplatz stands the Weltzeituhr (world time clock) and the - impossible to miss - TV Tower.
You can also see the Marienkirche, Berlins second oldest church, built in 1270 though extensively remodelled in the 15th century. The small steel cross on the churches spire can sometimes be seen reflected in the TV Tower, which used to cause upset for the East German government.
Nearby is the Neptunbrunnen - Neptune Fountain - built in 1891-95. The fountain depicts the sea god Neptune, surrounded by four female figures which symbolise 4 German rivers.
By now you will have noticed the Rotes Rathaus, Berlins town hall, which was built between 1861-69. It is home to the Governing Mayor and Senate. It is nicknamed 'Red Town Hall' due to the colour of the bricks used in its construction, nothing to do with its socialist past.
If the weather is fine, why not perch on the edge of the fountain and watch the world go by for a while.
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Centre of the East has become the Centre of it All
This was the place where we met up with relatives from the East when we visited Berlin during the times of German separation, mostly at the Weltuhr (World Time Clock) – sorry, forgot to take a picture of that on our last visit LOL
On and around the Square that everybody calls Alex you find an array of important buildings, as the Fernsehturm (TV Tower), Brunnen der Völkerfreundschaft (Peoples Friendship Fountain), Marienkirche (St. Mary’s Church), Neptunbrunnen (Neptune Fountain), Rotes Rathaus (Red Town Hall), today known and used as the Berliner Rathaus (Berlin Town Hall) and the historic Berolinahaus – today transformed into a huge department store (C&A).
The Alex was the centre of East Berlin, and thanks to the dominant 368 metres high Fernsehturm we never forgot about our Ossi brothers LOL
Alex is named after the Russian Tsar Alexander I who visited in 1805. Then it was a suburb and had conserved its rural character. Cattle fairs were held here, and the surrounding barracks used the area as a site for parades. Only when the S-Bahn was finished in 1882 and a central market hall built in 1886, the Alex started to become the most important traffic and shopping area for Berlin’s eastern suburbs. A big department store (1904 to 1911) was added, and also the U-Bahn got a stop there (in 1913). Due to traffic jams and chaos, a roundabout was built around the square in 1928.
During World War II the area was terribly destroyed, so the square was redesigned, firstly by expanding its size, so it lost its enclosed character. You nearly got lost in the huuuuuuuuuuuge pedestrian area, surrounded by multi-lane roads for the through-traffic.
Past & Future
At the beginning of the 19th century, the Alexanderplatz was one of the busiest squares in the city. Originally it was called the Ochsenmarkt or oxen market, but after a visit by Tzar Alexander I it was renamed to Alexanderplatz. The locals simply call this large square 'Alex'.
Most of the buildings on the square were destroyed by bombing during the second world war. As the center of East-Berlin, the square was used as a showcase of socialist architecture. This resulted in some plain bulky buildings and a huge television tower.
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A View Around Berlin
Berlin's highest edifice, the Fernsehturm; (TV-Tower), was opend in 1969 and is known to the vernacular as "Telespargel".
In clear weather you can enjoy a spectacular view over 40 kilometres fro its revolving Panorama café.
Opend: 9 -1 a.m (March-oct) and 9-0 a.m. (Nov - Feb)
Price: 6,50 Euro
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Brunnen der Völkerfreundschaft (Friendship Fount.)
Although the name of this fountain on Alexanderplatz is Friendship Fountain of Nations (or: Peoples) we had the impression is was a place for gay guys to find and reinforce their friendships LOL We nearly felt like outsiders, being straight LOL
Well, this might have been a coincidence on this particular day. But it is clear that this fountain is a very popular meeting place. The wide rims are perfect for sitting down, chatting and watching people.
Nothing special about this fountain from GDR times. The main materials are copper sheets, coloured tiles, enamelled plates and glass crystals, reflecting the sunlight in the water.
The major feature are 17 water-crowned rhombae-shaped bowls on sturdy legs, placed in spiral order in a round two-storey basin. The water fountains spiral their way down from one bowl to the next until it reaches the big upper basin. The outside of this basin has a very colourful enamal design, matching the colours of the nearby World Time Clock, so mainly from yellow over orange to red, and featuring butterflies, flowers and trees. From this basin the water flows into the exterior basin through several openings.
"The wide-open and empty space of Alexanderplatz is the focal point of East Berlin, and the subject of major remodeling by this part of the city's former Socialist masters. Der Alex was intended to be the showpiece of a utopian socialist republic, but in retrospect looks a little sorry for itself, and barely merits a mention in my 1100 page guide book to Germany. It was also the scene of the million strong demonstration that led to the tearing down of the wall in 1989, hence its iconic use in the opening titles of the wonderful film, "Goodbye, Lenin!" Personally I loved it, and found its sad reminders of former Stalinist glories quite endearing, but then again I'm a sucker for hard luck stories, and der Alex seemed like exactly that." - from my travelogue
Der Alex is all hustle and bustle, and has plenty of great places to eat, drink and shop. If you are on the east side, then you'll want to stop off here at some point, or you'll be missing out on a good part of what Berlin is, and was, all about. It also serves as a great starting point for a walk to the Brandenburg gate, taking you along the wide Under den Linden boulevard, across the elegant river Spree, past the nasty old Palast der Republik, and into Pariser Platz. Personally this was one of my favourite parts of Berlin, although it only gets a passing mention of a couple of sentences in my 1100 page Rough Guide to Germany. Der Alex also includes an impressive sight of its own, the unmissable, in many senses of the word, Fernsehturm.
Since I first visited in 2004 a brand new shopping centre has been added, blocking views from Alexanderplatz to the marvelously socialist House of Teachers.
I visited Alexanderplatz a number of times during my visit to Berlin. It is one of those areas that is always seems busy and it is an important hub in the transport system. The whole area was flattened during WW2 and was redeveloped in a typical socialist style during the 1960’s. Though there were plans to redevelope the area again after reunitification those plans have been put on hold at this time though there has been some tinkering around the edges with a new shopping centre. For those in a hurry there are numerous fast food outlets waiting to have their wares sampled. For those in need of retail therapy there is the upmarket Galeria Kaufhof. Two Tall structures dominate the area these are the Fernsehturm and the Park Inn Hotel, but closer to earth are the world clock and friendship fountain.
At the beginning of the 19th century, the Alexander-platz was one of the busiest squares in the city. Originally it was called the Ochsenmarkt or oxen market, but after a visit by Tzar Alexander I it was renamed to Alexanderplatz. The locals simply call this large square 'Alex'.
A big Building Site for quite a While
When we visited in August 2007 the square was a huge building site, with fences, cranes, diggers and ditches everywhere. You could already imagine that some day also this monumental square will get new life.
Quite good examples of reviving Alexanderplatz are the huge renovated department stores Kaufhof and C&A, the latter now being in the former Berolinahaus.
In the center of former East Berlin - is Alexander Plaz.
Berliners name its - Square Alex in honour of the Russian emperor Alexander the First on the occasion of his stay in Berlin. The next square is named Marx's and Engels. Very close there are Charles Libkneht and Clara Tsetkin's streets. It is surprising, that Germans have kept names of founders of communism in names of streets and the squares, being guided by which ideas experiment has been put in East Germany . The experiment, thanks to God, has failed. However, there are streets Vilgelmshtrasse and Fridrihstrasse perpendicular to these streets, named in memory of Prussian emperors.
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Berolinahaus, a corner building built by Peter Behrens in 1930, was one of two buildings that were not destroyed in the Second World War. In the 1960s the huge area developed into East Germany's central plaza with huge proportions of the square, a department store and a hotel tower.
The plaza has two focuses - a popular World Clock showing time around the world and a colorful fountain officially called "Friendship among Nations" and little less officially "Hooker's Brooch" (Nuttenbrosche).
Most buildings were under huge rennovations in 2005, and the square will apparently see some significant redesign in the following years.
The former Architecture of Alexanderplatz
A lot of buildings have been demolished around Alex after the reunification but you can still see the character of the 1960s architecture. Ugly concrete skyscrapers adorned by even interesting facades with colourful painted scenes of socialist life. A very propaganda-like look.
But I must admit, I liked it on my revisit, as it reminded me of the time long gone by, and the days when we succeeded to smuggle pocket calculators and Led Zeppelin LP’s into the East, and queued in front of the bookshops on Alex to spend our East-Marks we were forced to exchange on entering GDR, and everything was so cheap that spending the money was really a problem if you did not want to have lunch three times within an hour ;-)
Wandering The City #17 - The City Centre?
Even though Alexanderplatz (known locally simply as Alex) isn't in the physical centre of the city it feels as though it should be the de facto City Centre. This is where tourist Berlin and the day-to-day Berliner's Berlin inhabit the same space. The shoppers shop, the commuters commute, the drunks drink, the punks pose and intermingled with it all are us tourists taking our pics.
The TV Tower and the Park Inn Hotel are landmarks visible from miles away and several of the other buildings have distinctive presences but to my mind it is the hulking pragmatic S-bahn station which defines the square and its surrounding area. This, along with its less visible U-bahn station, is the hub of the city's public transport system through which much of the city's urban rapid transit passes heading to and from all quarters.
As well as the S and U-bahn lines the station also serves several regional train services and immediately adjacent are the interchange stops for city-wide tram lines and buses.
Thus over the course of time everybody and their dog eventually passes through here, some merely in transit, others to hang awhile on the square itself or in the shops, bars and restaurants.
Alexanderplatz - Worth Visiting
A large square in the former East Berlin surrounded by high rise buildings. The morning we visited we caught the metro from Stadtmitte underground station for a quick ride to Alexanderplatz. The train arrived at the square and as we emerged from the underground we were greeted by a fairground atmosphere.
A very busy platz, colourful activities that would please both adults and children. Market stalls, food vendors plus the cheap German sausage in a bun.
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