I’ll be honest: there is literally nothing attractive about Potsdamer Platz and I’ll rarely ever pass by. It’s boring and disconcerting, pretty much the typical go-to tourist hot spot with a mix of fancy restaurants and posh office buildings. You can expect some stuff to see, but a colorless lack of human interaction. The only time you’ll find me there is when I need to see a movie on a proper blown up screen in its original language. Nevermind paying half my rent for a gallon of coke and a oil tanker sized bowl of popcorn, the cinemas at Potsdamer Platz are simply the kind of metropolitan entertainment stadions that make me leave my Kiez ritually.
Notwithstanding the boredom, the square is impressive– at night anyway. The Sony Center is in its traffic-beating heart, dressed in a fascinating light show. I remember someone telling me that the whole thing used to be Europes largest building site. I guess the results are, to some extent, deserving of that record. That was in 1991. What was the Potsdamer Platz before that? In a nutshell: when the Berlin Wall was built, it basically parted the busy traffic intersection on Potsdamer Platz in two. You will still see the memorials and remains of the Wall there. The Wall resulted in a deathlike isolation of the square. When it finally fell, a new opportunity opened up to investors who could now acquire lucrative land right in the middle of new Berlin. They probably wanted to compensate for the slow city development due to the history and fast forwarded to a ridiculously futuristic concept.
The new Potsdamer Platz was intended to connect Berliners, give them a new quarter to roam in. But it’s not really a Kiez for Berliners. It’s more like Times Square, at least in perspective to the visitors who seem to love it. It’s bustling with people even after dark, but all those tall buildings can’t make up for the lack of life. The mere fact that it lies so isolated within a lost part of the city center renders it dark and mysterious. Bleak and stale steel high rises dominate the panorama, one that feels uncomfortably strange here. Some perspectives, that nondescript loneliness, charged an association to Gotham City. Cold and complex.
Whenever modernisation crawls upon the familiar Altbau buildings, the shabby but charming 70ies architecture and the leftover constructions of the GDR, the city faces its initial tragedy. Berlins big complex is being the capital of a late bloomer nation. All the other states had their own respective metropolises — London, Paris, New York — but Berlin missed out due to the war(s) and the split. Its people therefore presently show traits of schizophrenic disorder. They want their conservative looking, culture preserving Berlin (and please don’t ask, because everyone has their own idea as to what this kind of Berlin resembles). Disregarding that nostalgic notion there’s also that underlying need to race the competition. A large airport? Impressive high rises? More commercialisation?
This dichotomy has grown into a very unique category of socio-structural characteristics. The Potsdamer Platz is a good example for that. It’s neither failure nor success. It seems displaced, out of context, attributes that simultaneously make the Platz so prototypical Berlin.