The architecture and mood of Berlin’s Potsdamer Platz

21 Nov ’12 by Sara Architecture, Street Life
A walk through Potsdamer Platz.

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 franchise restaurants and generic 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. Some Hollywood movies just need that atmosphere.

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 became more like Times Square; touristy and with a lack of organic neighborhood. After all, people aren’t supposed to live here. 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.

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- with European charm, for sure. Disregarding that nostalgic notion there’s also that underlying need to race the competition. A large airport? Impressive high rises? More consumerism?

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.

Potsdamer Platz 1, 10117 Berlin

Six comments

  1. I remember, that during construction of the area they set up the “Infobox”: a building of its own, a 60m long, hideous behemoth balanced on stilts, that rose from the construction site’s muddy soil. I used to visit the information center as a kid a couple of times to learn about the construction. In hindsight, what was not astonishing, is that I could barely picture the dimensions, but, as it turned out, as an East Berliner this site would never mean anything to me apart from being a bloated, cold office city that happened to have the once fun Imax theater and one of the best ice cream parlours out there. However, both have gone the way of the dodo.

  2. The Posdamer Platz doesn’t look very undergound, though I like your photos. Where can I meet a lot of hip Australian people in Berlin? I’m desperately looking for illegal raves without German people, any recommendations? Cheers, Ben

  3. Ben, the Potsdamer Platz is not at all underground. It’s quite the most touristy spot in Berlin.
    As for the rest: that’s quite the type of subtle trolling that I can truly appreciate, but I won’t bother replying. If you actually need to know where to find Australian people and raves without Germans: probably Australia.

  4. For those who want to relive the hole construction of the Potsdamer Platz there is a great Movie of it: “80000 Shots” from Manfred Walter. Impressive 80000 Stop-Motion Film of the Potsdamer Platz from destroying the Wall in 1990 till 2000. I have seen it for rent in the Filmkunstbar Fitz Caraldo or you can buy it in Manfred Walters († 2011] former shop ASA90 (Neuköln) :) enjoy!

  5. I have a hard time understanding why so many tourists want to go there, somehow it has achieved some kind of top-10 status in guidebooks or Berlin mythology, I think mainly based on the cold war situation and the proximity to Brandenburger Tor rather than what’s there today. (Then again, in Paris I made a point of visiting La Defence). I’m curious to see if finishing the reconstruction of Leipziger Platz will bring more life to the general area, but as it’s mainly more offices and shops I doubt it.
    To add to Sebastian’s Tipp: also check the film Berlin Babylon about the construction of the complex in the 1990s, with music by Einstürzende Neubauten.

Other opinions

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