Potsdammer Platz in Berlin’s Mitte district may look and feel like a busy intersection filled with tall buildings, cinemas and shops. But like much of Berlin its significance runs much deeper; in many ways Potsdamer Platz physically embodies the city’s unification, the principals of urban renewal and Germany’s renaissance.
During the belle époque, Postsdamer Platz was an elegant thoroughfare. It was flanked by graceful grand hotels and palaces and was a popular meeting place for the elite. By the 1920s it had taken on a ‘Times Square’ ambiance, with cabarets, beer halls, neon lights and lots of lots of traffic. Appropriately, Potsdamer Platz can also lay claim to Europe’s first traffic lights which were controlled manually by traffic policemen: a replica of one can be seen today in the same spot where it first stood. WW2 of course put an end to all this of course, and most of Potsdamer Platz was destroyed during the Allied air raids.
During the Cold War, the Berlin wall ran straight through it, with a wide strip being occupied by the infamous ‘No Man’s Land’. When the wall came down in 1990 local authorities were quick to contact top tier architects for this stellar piece of real estate on the south-eastern tip of Tiergarten Park. The largest of Potsdamer Platz’s ‘plots’ went to Daimler-Benz for whom the Italian architect Renzo Piano built no less than 19 office buildings whilst the German-American architect Helmut Jahn nabbed the towering glass and steel Sony Centre with its distinctive plaza sheltered by a daisy-shaped structure.
Although the redevelopment of Potsdamer Platz has attracted much criticism for ‘commercialising’ the area, just like its heyday it is thronged 24/7, proving that it’s a hit with visitors and Berliners. As well as a major transport hub, there are plethora of shops, trendy bars, restaurants and cinemas to choose from. Take what is supposedly Europe’s fastest lift to the observation deck (visit Panoramapunkt, Potsdamer Platz, 1) for a view over the frenzy below and the rest of Berlin’s skyline.