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by Owen Lipsett
New York, New York
December 9, 2009
Potsdamer Platz was originally the site of a customs gate that restricted peasant access to Berlin during the 18th century (yes, feudalism was alive and well at that time.) It subsequent served as a military parade ground, and, as the city grew, a major traffic junction. The inevitable traffic jams engendered by the customs post led Huguenot refugees from France to begin to establish roadside stands to feed passing travelers which later grew into more sizable and permanent establishments. Its prosperity grew as first two railroad termini (appropriately enough, one was to Potsdam) were established nearby, followed by both of Berlin’s internal railway systems (the U-bahn and the S-bahn). With the city’s expansion (following the end of feudalism and direct taxation), Potsdamer Platz became its commercial center and music halls, hotels, and government ministries were all located in the vicinity.
Between the First and Second World Wars, Potsdamer Platz was the busiest traffic intersection in Europe, and the area had a vibrant nightlife to match. Fashionable hotels, theaters, and luxurious department stores opened up nearby. One of these, Wertheim, was the largest in the world when it opened in 1897 and was progressively expanded so that by 1937 it was twice the size of the Reichstag Building. Unfortunately, it was essentially expropriated from its Jewish owners by the Nazis as part of their "Aryanization" campaign (compensation claims are still being fought over in court today); the Nazis also renamed many of the surrounding streets to glorify party figures.
The area was essentially obliterated during the Second World War, having been a particular Allied target because it contained many Nazi government offices. It was the epicenter of the sometimes violent struggle for control between the various occupying forces in Berlin, and ultimately was divided almost equally between the Soviets and the other Allied zones of occupation. Although there was briefly a checkpoint between the zones on Potsdamer Platz itself, once the wall was built, passage possible only through nearby Checkpoint Charlie.
While it became a popular nostalgia stop for visiting dignitaries to West Berlin, the small stores that abutted the wall were a pale reflection of its past glories. Perhaps given its prior importance, it shouldn’t be surprising that the section of the Berlin Wall stretching across Potsdamer Platz was among the first breached in November 1989. After reunification in 1990, the Berlin Senate held a competition for a design to redevelop the area, which was won by the Bavarian Firm of Hilmer and Sattler in October 1991. So much construction took place that it became known as "Europe’s Largest Building Site." While the result isn’t to everyone’s taste, it appears to have served its purpose of redeveloping the area into a futuristic business district. In any case, as it’s a major transit hub, you’re likely to pass through it on the way to Checkpoint Charlie, Topography of Terrors, the Reichstag or the Brandenburg Gate, so it’s worth taking a minute to take a look at the area and to this about its history, which may be every bit as impressive as its future.
From journal Berlin - Monuments
Manchester, United Kingdom
July 26, 2005
What is it?
The Potsdamer Platz centres around a central area that is 20+ stories high with a covered roof that is open at the sides so that one has the experience of being in the open air, yet without the dangers of inclement weather! As well as the main ‘dom’, there’s a range of restaurants, visitors' attractions, and the Potsdamer arcade, which features over 100 hundred shops in the immediate area.
The Platz is within walking distance of Checkpoint Charlie and is located 5-10 minutes' walk away from the Tiergarten and Brandenburg Gate. Access the Platz via the u-bahn (subway) exiting at the Potsdamer Platz exit (green line)
The Platz features a wide range of restaurants, including a cool Australian bar and restaurant, Italian, Mexican, and a whole range of dining opportunities ranging from cheap and cheerful pizzas to luxurious dining--lots of things to suit any palate and budget! Be sure to try the coffee and cakes at one of the eateries. If nothing takes your fancy in the main area ,there are lots of hotels in the local vicinity, as well as a great sushi and fish bar. There are also more ‘fast-food’ choices in the shopping arcade.
Check out the huge cinema, which also includes an IMAX 3D screen; if this is busy, head down the road to the Discovery Channel IMAX. Most features are in German, but pick up a programme to find showings in English and other major languages. Have a look at the Sony Center and check out the latest Volkswagen cars in their interactive show room
If you don’t like all the modern architecture, then keep your eyes peeled for original structures from the area that have been restored in the renovation process.
From journal Bonanza in Berlin!!
March 3, 2001
Potsdamer Platz encompasses several buildings worth taking a close look at. There is the Preussischer Landtag, formerly housing the Prussian parliament, then the official residence of the East German prime minister, and these days serving as the seat of Berlin's regional parliament. If you like contemporary art, stop by the Martin-Gropius-Bau on the square, where exhibits reflecting Berliner art from the 19th century to the present take place. The Sony Center is worth a walk-around just for its sleekly dazzling exteriors. A true sign of the times as you walk from one location to the next around Potsdamer Platz: the outdoor vendors with their tables of communist era medals, weaponry, uniforms and other military kitsch, now only the collectibles of another of Germany's periods finally overcome.
From journal Glass, Steel, Water: Hello to Berlin
July 17, 2001
This is worth seeing to marvel at how quickly things can change in the new Berlin. Of course, the architecture is top-rate modern and though some areas have the feel of an upscale mall, it exudes a sense of whimsical and sophistication.
The Info Box building (see my entry in this journal) is the logical first stop. There are exhibits, architectural models, and a special mail box to send your postcards with a special Info Box postmark. Once you understand the development that has taken place (and continues to this day), walk over to the complex where Sony, Deutsche Bahn, and Daimler-Chrysler have a strong physical presence. There are restaurants, shops, cinemas, and a man-made lake. It comes complete with its own Cinestar multiplex and an interactive museum.
In reality, this is a man-made environment and a commercial area. But the atmosphere is fun and the energy level high. There are many corporations and apartment complexes here, an urban oasis for living and working. It reminded me of Times Square in New York, but on a much larger scale and with brand new high caliber buildings.
I recommend this as a must-see to fully comprehend the changes Berlin has made in the past few years. Potsdamer Platz is well-covered in many travel articles about the city and it is worth spending a short afternoon here.
From journal The New Berlin
November 1, 2000
Inside this bright red building (you can't miss it), there are exhibits, some interactive and computerized, to show the history of the site and the process leading up to the new construction. Most of the explanations were bilingual. On the top floor, there are many beautiful models of the urban planning of the area. To reach the roof (called the Observation Platform) you need to pay DM2. I found the view from the lower terrace sufficient. There was a hot-air balloon a short distance away that took viewers up for a couple of minutes. It looked like fun but I would imagine the roof view would be easier to get to and cheaper!
There is also a small gift shop with postcards, books and various small items for sale. You can buy a stamp at the cashier and drop your postcard in the special mail box. It will have a special postmark from the Info Box.
Jersey City, New Jersey
July 8, 2004
There is a great museum on-site, called the Info Box. It's a big red building. It talks all about the development of the site, how decisions were made regarding what to put there, how was involved, and the high-tech role. It's very interactive, and take it from me - someone who hates museums - this is worth it.
From journal Berlin, Germany, on a budget!
December 10, 2003
Definitely worth a couple of hours (especially the Details lingerie store - spent several hours there trying everything on - great changing rooms too!)
From journal Berlin - The best city ever!
February 7, 2003
From journal Weekend in Berlin