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A former wasteland
Of all the places in Berlin that has changed since the Wall came down, none has changed more than Potsdamer Platz. The former wasteland in the heart of the city is now a major traffic intersection and the site of Berlin’s most eye-catching skyscrapers. The contrast for us from our previous visit here was tremendous. But of course Potsdamer Platz wasn’t always a wasteland – far from it. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, when Berlin was one of the liveliest capitals in Europe, this was one of its liveliest quarters. But with the advent first of National Socialist rule, and then of war, the parties came to an abrupt end. Potsdamer Platz fell silent, and then, like much of the city, was reduced largely to rubble by the onslaught of Allied bombing raids. By the end of the war, only a handful of buildings remained. But whereas elsewhere in the city post-war reconstruction started to fill in the gaps left by bombs, Potsdamer Platz was left – because it had the misfortune to lie directly on the border between British, US and Soviet sectors. The line between them was marked first in the asphalt (in 1948) and then, in 1961, the Wall was driven through the heart of the city, and through the heart of Potsdamer Platz. At no other point on the Berlin Wall was there a wider death strip than here, and all buildings within the strip had to disappear. Furthermore, on the western side, the Berlin government purchased and destroyed unused ruins as they were considered dangerous, and not worth rebuilding so close to the Wall. This is the waste-landscape that we saw on our first visit, in 1985. Have a look at the postcard from that time which I have scanned as photo 3.
In 1989 the square became the focus of world attention. Only three days after the fall of the Wall, a section here was removed, a stretch of road asphalted and a border crossing installed – traffic was moving again on Potsdamer Platz. A few months later Roger Waters organised a concert in the no-man's-land between Potsdamer Platz and Pariser Platz (in front of the Brandenburg Gate). It was the largest concert in the history of rock music.
And with reunification came new life for Potsdamer Platz, its very emptiness becoming its strength, as it offered a blank canvas for the newly unified city planners. Soon this was the largest construction site in Europe, building “a city for the 21st century”.
Today, with businesses, tourist draws, bars, restaurants, hotels and shopping, it is once again the lively urban hub that it was 100 years ago, albeit in a very modern style. Attractions include the Panorama Punkt viewing point (see my separate tip), a nineteen screen cinema (the CinemaxX), Legoland, a casino, several nightclubs, and the Daimler 20th century art collection (www.sammlung.daimler.com). Of these we only visited the Panorama Punkt, which was fantastic, but even if you’re not especially interested in any of them you should still put Potsdamer Platz on your Berlin itinerary, in my opinion. You won’t find a public square in the usual sense of the word, but rather a series of connected public spaces clustered around the thoroughfare of Potsdamer Straße. The area buzzes with activity – buskers (this is where we first encountered the lively Rupert’s Kitchen Orchestra whom we were to see again the next day in the Mauerpark), tourists taking photos, local workers hurrying (or trying to hurry) through the crowds to get to meetings ... It’s a great place for people watching!
And as everywhere in this city, even here in its most modern manifestation, the past is with us. Look carefully and you will see the line of the Wall carefully recorded on the ground in a double row of darker stones (see photo in my Local Customs tip about the Wall). And there are actual fragments of the Wall too, which act as supports for a series of information boards about the history of the area (photo 4). Past, as so often in Berlin, meets present ...
- Historical Travel
One of several skyscrapers at the Potsdamer Platz is the Kollhoff-Tower. A modest (by New York standards) 25 storeys it is nevertheless a striking building due to the way it tapers to a sharp triangular point, to suit the shape of its plot. It has a restaurant and other public buildings on the ground floor, and offices above, but the main reason to visit is the Panorama Punkt, the name given to the public viewing terraces on the 24th and 25th floors. I saw a brief mention of these in our Lonely Planet “Berlin Encounter” book (“the best bird’s eye view in Berlin”) and we decided it sounded worth checking out – and so it proved to be.
There is a charge to go up (in May 2011 €5.50) and in my view it is well worth it. You will be whisked up to the 24th floor in what it is claimed is the fastest lift in Europe, moving at a dizzying 8.4 metres per second. There you can enjoy some great views over the city and also see the exhibition "Views of Berlin" which lines the inner wall of the viewing terrace and which, despite its all-encompassing name, tells the story of the Potsdamer Platz below:
” No other city square in the world has undergone as many transformations as Potsdamer Platz: from a quiet green to the pulsing heart of a major city, from the height of luxury to a field of rubble, from a no man’s land to the new heart of Berlin.”
But we found even better views, and fewer people, by climbing the steps to the 25th floor terrace above. Here you can walk around all three sides of the triangle, giving you a 360 degree panorama over the city. You can pick out famous landmarks such as the Reichstag, Brandenburg Gate, Tiergarten, Siegesaule (Victory Column), Television Tower, Rotes Rathaus and many more. And when you have had your fill of spotting and photographing the sights you can have a drink and maybe a bite to eat in the rather stylish café back on the 24th floor (see my separate Restaurant tip).
Opening hours are 10.00 am to 8.00 pm, with last entry at 7:30 pm. The café is open from 11.00 am to 7.00 pm. Weather permitting, the terrace remains open until sunset in summer. If, no when, I go back to Berlin I will definitely go up the Panorama Punkt again, but I think will do so late in the day or early evening, as it must be a wonderful place in which to enjoy a cocktail and watch the sun go down over the city.
Potsdamer Platz is located about 1km south from the Brandenburg Gate. In the 1920s & 30s it was a very busy traffic centre and in fact in 1924 it was home to Europe's first (hand-operated) traffic light.
After World War II it became a desolate wasteland, dissected by the Berlin Wall. In the 1990's it became the largest construction zone in Europe, with mass development creating a 'mini-city' with the city.
These days it is the heart of the new metropolis of Berlin, attracting tourists and Berliners to its shops, cinemas and restaurants, along with its stunning modern architecture.
The most interesting building is the Sony Centre, the headquarters of Sony Europe. It consists of several buildings surrounding an inner courtyard which is covered with a steel and glass dome-like structure.
Potsdamer Platz is also home to the European headquarters of DaimlerChrysler, the famous car manufacturer. Also in the area is Berlin's casino and the city's largest show stage.
We had a wander around this area, marvelling at the fabulous architecture.
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Architectural Masterpieces on the Death Strip
This glimmering and glittering square is the symbol of the new Berlin, and its new centre at the site of an historic centre. It has risen from nothing. Well, not really nothing… The area was occupied by the Wall, so was a kind of no man’s land on the western side and the death strip in the east. Incredible if you think that this square – in fact a whole quarter of about 50 hectares - had been a hub of busy city life, entertainment and culture for more than 200 years before World War II. In 1900 there were 92 restaurants, 10 distilleries, 13 cafés and 36 pubs. It attracted the rich and the famous, and became Europe’s busiest square.
To fill the after-war and Wall wasteland with life again was a big challenge, and a real prestige project. World-famous enterprises invested incredible amounts of money into innovative buildings since 1995, star-architects created 19 building complexes. The first massive high-rise inaugurated was the DaimlerChrysler complex in 1998. However, the Sony Center with its circus-like marquee has become the most photographed structure in the meantime.
Berlin’s biggest shopping centre (Arkaden), a multiplex cinema, an IMEX cinema, a musical theatre, the Philharmonie, a casino, hotels, a movie museum, and plenty of cafés and restaurants attract locals and visitors alike. Europe’s fastest lift takes people to the viewing platform of the DaimlerChrysler complex, 93 metres above the ground.
To me, Potsdamer Platz is an agglomeration of architectural masterpieces, where you admire the art of architecture, technology, and innovation. However, I did not feel the need to stay for a coffee. Ok, I would not have rejected a drink in one of the indoor-outdoor cafés of the Sony Centre but I do not feel the need to spend a lot of time in such ultra-modern atmosphere, with ultra-professional people around me, and hotel staff in tails and with stovepipe hats bowing low in front of their customers, like at the Ritz-Carlton in the art-deco Beisheim Centre. Everything seems a bit far away from real life.
Potsdamer Platz : A HUGE square
This landmark square in Berlin was one of the most liveliest and busiest in the world. It was a major public transport hub then and the area in the vicinity contained many bars, cafés and cinemas.
Left alone after the war, completely flattened with the construction of the wall in 1961 when the demolished buildings were pulled down, it was revived in the 1990s and is now several landmark towers, a shopping arcade, an entertainment center and residential buildings
Amongst the buildings there currently are the Debis tower, the Sony Center and the Kohlhof building.
The Sony Center is one of the recently built complexes in the "new" centre of Berlin. It was officially opened in 2000 and its most prominent feature is its dome.
The Sony Center host offices, apartments, restaurants, bars, cinemas (Cinestar & Imax), shops and the Berlin Film Museum
A little warning: the restaurants I tried belong to the category "Tourist Traps": mediocre to poor food and slow service.
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"Once the busiest traffic centres in all of Europe, the square was divided in two by the Berlin Wall, and subsequently became a ghost of its former self. In front of the main U-Bahn station we saw one of the few remnants of the wall, a tiny upright graffiti daubed slab, which groups of tourists huddled around for photographs." - from my travelogue
Like much of what was great in Berlin, the once lively Potsdamer Platz was left in ruins by allied bombing in 1943. After the war it was split by the Berlin wall, and never quite regained its prominence until German re-unification in 1989. The area then became the scene of the biggest construction work in Europe, and during the 90s many of the great buildings that can be seen there today, like the awesome Sony Center, were built. The area now is again thriving, under a skyline of glass and neon that sets it apart from much of the rest of Berlin.
Cinema with films in English
When I go away on holiday I enjoy a visit to the cinema to catch up on the latest films. It’s a good place to give your feet a rest after a hard days walking and the prices tend to lower than the UK. The problem being that some countries such as Germany dub the films into German. So it was good news to find this cinema that plays films in their original language at such a tourist location as Potsdamer Platz. The cheapest day is on a Tuesday when it costs about 6 euros to watch a film. I have discovered recentlo that it costs more to sit at the back than closer to the front where the seats are cheaper. The price go up a lot more towards the weekend.
The Sony Centre
Potsdamer Platz has always been one of Berlins’ important areas and meeting places. The area was laid waste during WW2 and it remained that way because the Berlin War ran across it. After reunification it was redeveloped and became the largest building site in Europe. One of the buildings is the Sony Centre which was completed in 2000 and is considered to be one of the most accomplished pieces of modern architecture in Berlin. The Sony Centre has become a place to meet and sit under its unusual roof. The only problem with the unusual roof is, its not rain proof so you have to pick your spot when its raining.
Sony Center: Welcome to Mt. Fuji!
On Potsdamer Platz you can't miss the impressive Sony Center with its unusual dome.
The center is composed of 7 buildings made of steel and glass, each one with its own unique shape; a large plaza in their center, with a pool and fountain; and the whole structure is topped above by the spectacular roof / dome, which is made to resemble Mt. Fuji.
It is snow-white by day, and from dusk until late at night it glows in purple and blue, in a cycle that alternates every 21 seconds. The ilumination was designed to highlight the roof structure of glass, steel and fabric.
The construction of the Sony Center took place between 1996-2000.
The place is bustling with life at all times, day and night. There are apartments, shops, restaurants, cafes and also the German Filmhaus with its Film Museum and the IMAX 3D theater (open daily 10:30 AM - 9:30 PM).
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Sony Center - the Star of the Square
The Sony Center is the star among the many spectacular buildings around Potsdamer Platz. It stands out from the skyscrapers of different styles, from the art deco-like Beisheim Center which intends to bring a kind of New York atmosphere into Berlin, and the many mirror-like ultra-modern facades of other buildings. Statistics say that the Sony Center attracts about eight million people every year.
You have to see the Sony Center in its entity. It consists of seven buildings made of glass and steel, and in the centre of it is a square – an oval forum - with a fountain, several cafés, restaurants, and a cinema. This square is under a roof shaped like a circus marquee, and made of fabric attached to a steel ring which sits on top of the surrounding buildings, so people can sit outside even when it rains.
Helmut Jahn, an architect from the city of Nürnberg living in Chicago, created this spectacular complex which was built from 1996 to 1999 on a triangular area. The highest building, facing Potsdamer Platz, is 103 metres high.
On photo 2 you see the forum with its fountain, cafés, and restaurants.
Many architects – one great Result
The genius idea behind the creation of Potsdamer Platz in the 1990’s was to choose one master plan and then make a joint effort to create diversity. Two architects named Renzo Piano and Christoph Kohlbecker won the design competition, and they were joint by five other designer teams. This guaranteed that the square became a homogenous unity but uniformity was avoided.
The big complexes are situated around Potsdamer Platz. So the square itself is an open space, and the building complexes are worlds of their own, undisturbed by the streets that cut through the square.
Four main complexes define the square that was dubbed Europe’s biggest building site during the years of construction. One is the famous Sony Center which ends at the new Potsdamer Platz. Next comes the DB Tower which is the site of Deutsche Bahn (German Railways). To its south is the Daimler complex which dominates the whole area with about 70,000 square metres. (They have changed their name twice since the start (first Daimler Benz AG, then DaimlerChrysler, now Daimler AG). They had purchased the whole area from Berlin’s Senate and initiated the creation of this new business and entertainment centre.
The Daimler complex includes the debis-Haus (now Daimler Financial Services), the 103 metres high Kollhoff Tower, and as the heart the Marlene-Dietrich-Platz with most entertainment and arts centres. The smaller brick buildings of the Beisheim Center complete the project. And further to the south you find the Park-Kolonnaden – but they are already some steps away from the main square, and not many tourists walk around there.
The original Potsdamer Platz is an octagon – already in “prehistoric” times it was called “Achteck”. It now sits at the site of the former city gate (Potsdamer Tor), right in front of the city wall (not: THE Wall).
On the square you also find a replica of the historic Verkehrsturm (traffic tower). It was the first traffic light on the square.
Obviously Daimler and Sony have just offered their centres for sale (Oct. 2007).
Modern architecture near the Potsdamer platz
Around the Potsdamer Platz you will find this amazing section with nice modern architecture. Look for the really big seesaws ('wip' in Dutch).
Can anyone tell me how this street or neighbourhoud is called? Please comment on this page!
Sony Center by night
The Sony center at the Potsdamer Platz by day is nice, but the Sony Center by night is breathtaking!
Also take a look at the DB-building (Deutsche Bahn, the German railways) and the Chrysler building, so wonderful!
If you like modern architecture (like me!) this is a paradise!
The discussions about the area of Sony Center, occupying northern part of the Potsdamer Platz complex, lasted for years in local newspapers and almost for decade in architectural circles. Is this the new definition of a public space or has the public sphere given way to total commercialisation.
Professional discussions aside, the Sony Plaza situated among the high-rise buildings under a huge tent-like roof is a fascinating piece of engineering and a very successful 24-hours-a-day paradise for urbaholics seeking entertainment, culture, shopping or simply enjoying in pavement cafe-culture.
The Sony Center complex was designed by Helmut Jahn and is definitely one of the most successful urban interventions in Europe of the 1990s.
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