There is nothing attractive about Potsdamer Platz and I rarely ever pass by. It’s disconcerting in contrast to the residential neighborhoods of Berlin. The generic formula – skyscrapers, lots of steel and glass, franchise chain restaurants – has transformed this particular area into a fortress of solitude.
Notwithstanding the lack of human interaction (and not counting bumping into confused tourists), the square is impressive at night. The Sony Center especially. I remember someone telling me that the whole thing used to be Europe’s largest construction site. I guess the results are, to some extent, deserving of that record. That was in 1991. What was the Potsdamer Platz before that?
The Second World War left a devastated place, which then became the “border triangle” between the Soviet, British and American sectors. The Wall divides the square as Potsdamer Platz spends more than 40 years in slumber; an urban wasteland between East and West. The only intact building in the no man’s land is the Weinhaus Huth next to the remains of the Hotel Esplanade. At the end of the 80’s, a magnetic train was used on Potsdamer Platz on a 1.6 km long route.
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. But it became more like Times Square; touristy and with a lack of a neighborhood. Maybe the roaring 20ies inspired the re-construction of post-war Potsdamer Platz, but today, nothing roars around here. Office workers are smoking cigarettes. Suppliers chat with security people. In the late afternoon, young cinema-goers come, later tourists who visit the “Blue Man Group” by bus load.
And although many Berliners hate what the lifeless slab of concretes have become, Berlin has done it again: in 2018, Mercedes Platz across the Spree in Mitte / Friedrichshain is just as cold and bleak. A stadium, a new cinema and a Five Guys: a nothingness of consumption. If you really want to experience Berlin, I suggest making a detour around these anonymous tourist purgatories.