(English Potsdam Square) is an important public square and traffic intersection in the centre of Berlin, Germany, lying about one kilometre south of the Brandenburg Gate and the Reichstag (German Parliament Building), and close to the southeast corner of the Tiergarten park.
It is named after the city of Potsdam, some 25 km to the south west, and marks the point where the old road from Potsdam passed through the city wall of Berlin at the Potsdam Gate.
After developing within the space of little over a century from an intersection of rural thoroughfares into the most bustling traffic intersection in Europe, it was totally laid waste during World War II and then left desolate during the Cold War era when the Berlin Wall bisected its former location, but since the fall of the Wall it has risen again as a glittering new heart for the city and the most visible symbol of the new Berlin.
After the fall of the Berlin Wall on 9 November 1989 (it was actually breached at Potsdamer Platz before the Brandenburg Gate), ex-Pink Floyd member Roger Waters staged a gigantic charity concert of his former band's rock extravaganza The Wall on 21 July 1990, to commemorate the end of the division between East and West Germany. The concert took place at Potsdamer Platz - specifically an area of the former "No Man's Land" just to the north of the Reich Chancellery site, and featured many guest superstars.
Ironically it was preparations for this concert, rather than historical interest, that brought about the first detailed post-Cold War survey of the area with a view to determining what, if anything, was left of Hitler's bunker and any other underground installations. Although sections of the main Führerbunker were found, partially destroyed or filled in, another bunker complex was found further north that even the East German authorities had apparently missed, plus other cavities beneath land bordering the east side of Ebertstraße, although these turned out to be underground garages belonging to a former SS accommodation block.
After 1990, the square became the focus of attention again, as a large (some 60 hectares), attractive location which had suddenly become available in the centre of a major European capital city. It was widely seen as one of the hottest, most exciting building sites in Europe, and the subject of much debate amongst architects and planners. If Berlin needed to re-establish itself on the world stage, then Potsdamer Platz was one of the key areas where the city had an opportunity to express itself. More than just a building site, Potsdamer Platz was a statement of intent. In particular, due to its location straddling the erstwhile border between east and west, it was widely perceived as a "linking element," reconnecting the two halves of the city in a way that was symbolic as well as physical, helping to heal the historical wounds by providing an exciting new mecca attracting Berliners from both sides of the former divide. Whether fairly or unfairly, a great deal was riding on the project, and expectations were high.
The Berlin Senate (city government) organised a design competition for the redevelopment of Potsdamer Platz and much of the surrounding area. Eventually attracting 17 entrants, a winning design was announced in October 1991, that from the Munich-based architectural firm of Hilmer & Sattler. They had to fight off some stiff competition though, including a last-minute entry by British architect Richard Rogers.
The Berlin Senate then chose to divide the area into four parts, each to be sold to a commercial investor, who then planned new construction according to Hilmer & Sattler's masterplan. During the building phase Potsdamer Platz was the largest building site in Europe. While the resulting development is impressive in its scale and confidence, the quality of its architecture has been praised and criticised in almost equal measure.
The largest of the four parts went to Daimler-Benz (later Daimler-Chrysler and now Daimler AG), which charged Italian architect Renzo Piano with creating an overall design for their scheme while sticking to the underlying requirements of Hilmer & Sattler's masterplan. A major development bordering the west side of the former Potsdamer Bahnhof site, some of its 19 individual buildings were then erected by other architects, who submitted their own designs while maintaining Piano's key elements. One of these was Richard Rogers, who played a part in the development after all (his great British rival, Norman Foster, was putting the new dome on the Reichstag at about the same time). The 19 buildings include the remarkable Potsdamer Platz No. 1 by Hans Kollhoff, now home to a number of prestigious law firms. Potsdamer Platz No. 1 is also home to the "Panoramapunkt" viewing platform, located 100 m above ground level, which is accessed by riding Europe's fastest elevator. From the Panoramapunkt one can see such landmarks as the Brandenburg Gate, Reichstag, Federal Chancellery, Bellevue Palace, Cathedral, Television Tower, Gendarmes Market, Holocaust Memorial and Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church. The complex also contains the former Weinhaus Huth, now restored to its former glory and occupied by a restaurant, café, and Daimler AG's own art gallery ("Daimler Contemporary"). The first spade at the start of the Daimler-Benz development was turned by the Mayor of Berlin, Eberhard Diepgen, on 11 October 1993, and the finished complex was officially opened by the Federal President of Germany, Roman Herzog, on 2 October 1998, in a glittering ceremony featuring large-scale celebrations and musical performances.
The second largest part went to Sony, which erected their new European headquarters on a triangular site immediately to the north of Daimler-Benz and separated from it by the re-routed Potsdamer Straße. This new Sony Center, designed by Helmut Jahn, is an eye-catching monolith of glass and steel featuring an enormous tent-like conical roof, its shape reportedly inspired by Mount Fuji in Japan, covering an elliptical central public space up to 100 m across, and thus differing substantially from Hilmer & Sattler's original plan for the site; yet it is considered by many people to be one of the finest pieces of modern architecture in Berlin. Its 26-storey "Bahn Tower" is so named because it houses the corporate headquarters of Deutsche Bahn AG, the German state railway system.
Surviving parts of the former Hotel Esplanade have been incorporated into the north side of the Sony development, including the Kaisersaal which, in a complex and costly operation in March 1996, was moved in one piece (all 1,300 tonnes of it), some 75 metres from its former location, to the spot that it occupies today (it even had to make two right-angled turns during the journey, while maintaining its own orientation). Nearby is a new Café Josty, opened early in 2001, while between the two is "Josty's Bar," which is housed in the Esplanade's former breakfast room. This, like the Kaisersaal, had to be relocated, but here the room was dismantled into some 500 pieces to be reassembled where it stands now.
Topped out on 2 September 1998, the Sony Center was formally opened on 14 June 2000 (although many of its public attractions had been up and running since 20 January), in another grand ceremony with more music - this time with Sony's Japanese Chairman Norio Ohga himself conducting the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. A keen lover of classical music, he had helped to choose the site because of its close proximity to the orchestra's home in the Cultural Forum.
The third part became the Beisheim Center and adjoining buildings, on another triangular site bordered on the east side by Ebertstraße, financed entirely out of his own pocket by the German businessman Otto Beisheim, the founder of the diversified retail and wholesale/cash and carry group Metro AG, based in Germany but with operations throughout Europe and in many other countries around the world.
The fourth part is the Park Kolonnaden, a range of buildings running down the east side of the Potsdamer Bahnhof site, parallelling Daimler-Benz. This complex occupies the site of the former Haus Vaterland, and its principal building, which for a few years was the headquarters of the large German trade union ver.di (Vereinte Dienstleistungsgewerkschaft, meaning United Services Union), has a curving glass facade designed to evoke the shape of that erstwhile landmark.
Other developments, more piecemeal in nature, are gradually recreating the octagonal layout of neighbouring Leipziger Platz immediately to the east. One of these is Kanada Haus, the new Embassy of Canada, on the platz's north-west diagonal. Its turf-cutting ceremony was carried out on 18 February 2002 by the Canadian Prime Minister, Jean Chretien, and it was officially opened on 29 April 2005.
"A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step." -- Lao Tzu
Copyright © Demetrios the Traveler