Potsdamer Platz (literally Potsdam Square) is an important public square and traffic intersection in the centre of Berlin, Germany, lying about one kilometre south of the Brandenburg Gate and the Reichstag (German Parliament Building), and close to the southeast corner of the Tiergarten park. It is named after the city of Potsdam, some 25 km to the south west, and marks the point where the old road from Potsdam passed through the city wall of Berlin at the Potsdam Gate.
After 1990, the square became the focus of attention, as a large (some 60 hectares), attractive location which had suddenly become available in the centre of a major European city. It was widely seen as one of the hottest, most exciting building sites in Europe, and the subject of much debate amongst architects and planners. If Berlin needed to re-establish itself on the world stage, then Potsdamer Platz was one of the key areas where the city had an opportunity to express itself. More than just a building site, Potsdamer Platz was a statement of intent. In particular, due to its location straddling the erstwhile border between east and west, it was widely perceived as a "linking element," reconnecting the two halves of the city in a way that was symbolic as well as physical, helping to heal the historical wounds by providing an exciting new mecca attracting Berliners from both sides of the former divide. Whether fairly or unfairly, a great deal was riding on the project, and expectations were high. The Berlin Senate (city government) organised a design competition for the redevelopment of Potsdamer Platz and much of the surrounding area. Eventually attracting 17 entrants, a winning design was announced in October 1991, that from the Munich-based architectural firm of Hilmer & Sattler. They had to fight off some stiff competition though, including a last-minute entry by British architect Richard Rogers. The Berlin Senate then chose to divide the area into four parts, each to be sold to a commercial investor, who then planned new construction according to Hilmer & Sattler's masterplan.
During the building phase Potsdamer Platz was the largest building site in Europe. While the resulting development is impressive in its scale and confidence, the quality of its architecture has been praised and criticised in almost equal measure. The largest of the four parts went to Daimler-Benz (later Daimler-Chrysler and now Daimler AG ), who charged Italian architect Renzo Piano with creating an overall design for their scheme while sticking to the underlying requirements of Hilmer & Sattler's masterplan. A major development bordering the west side of the former Potsdamer Bahnhof site, some of its 19 individual buildings were then erected by other architects, who submitted their own designs while maintaining Piano's key elements. One of these was Richard Rogers, who played a part in the development after all (his great British rival, Norman Foster, was putting the new dome on the Reichstag at about the same time). The first spade at the start of the Daimler-Benz development was turned by the Mayor of Berlin, Eberhard Diepgen, on 11 October 1993, and the finished complex was officially opened by the Federal President of Germany, Roman Herzog, on 2 October 1998, in a glittering ceremony featuring large-scale celebrations and musical performances. The 19 buildings include the offices of Daimler-Benz themselves (actually their subsidiary debis, whose 21-storey main tower rises to 106 metres and is the tallest building in the new Potsdamer Platz development), also offices of the major British professional services company PricewaterhouseCoopers, Berliner Volksbank (Germany's largest cooperative bank ), and the remarkable 25-storey, 103-metre-high Potsdamer Platz No. 1, known as the Kollhoff Tower by architect Hans Kollhoff, home to a number of prestigious law firms. Potsdamer Platz No. 1 also houses the "Panoramapunkt" viewing platform, located 100 m above ground level, which is accessed by riding Europe's fastest elevator (8.65 metres per second). From the Panoramapunkt one can see such landmarks as the Brandenburg Gate, Reichstag, Federal Chancellery, Bellevue Palace, Cathedral, Television Tower, Gendarmes Market, Holocaust Memorial and Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church. Unfortunately the Kollhoff Tower's facade needed major repairs due to water penetration and frost damage just seven years after completion, and is still partly under scaffolding now. The Daimler complex also contains the former Weinhaus Huth, now restored to its former glory and occupied by a restaurant, café, and Daimler AG's own art gallery ("Daimler Contemporary").
The second largest part went to Sony, who erected their new European headquarters on a triangular site immediately to the north of Daimler-Benz and separated from it by the re-routed Potsdamer Straße. This new Sony Centre, designed by Helmut Jahn, is an eye-catching monolith of glass and steel featuring an enormous tent-like conical roof, its shape reportedly inspired by Mount Fuji in Japan, covering an elliptical central public space up to 102 metres across, and thus differing substantially from Hilmer & Sattler's original plan for the site. Its 26-storey, 103-metre-high "Bahn Tower" is so named because it houses the corporate headquarters of Deutsche Bahn AG, the German state railway system. Surviving parts of the former Hotel Esplanade have been incorporated into the north side of the Sony development, including the Kaisersaal which, in a complex and costly operation in March 1996, was moved in one piece (all 1,300 tonnes of it), some 75 metres from its former location, to the spot that it occupies today (it even had to make two right-angled turns during the journey, while maintaining its own orientation). Nearby is a new Café Josty, opened early in 2001, while between the two is "Josty's Bar," which is housed in the Esplanade's former breakfast room. This, like the Kaisersaal, had to be relocated, but here the room was dismantled into some 500 pieces to be reassembled where it stands now. Topped out on 2 September 1998, the Sony Centre was formally opened on 14 June 2000 (although many of its public attractions had been up and running since 20 January), in another grand ceremony with more music - this time with Sony's Japanese Chairman Norio Ohga himself conducting the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. A keen lover of classical music, he had helped to choose the site because of its close proximity to the orchestra's home in the Cultural Forum.
The third part became the Beisheim Center and adjoining buildings, on another triangular site bordered on the east side by Ebertstraße, financed entirely out of his own pocket by the German businessman Otto Beisheim, the founder of the diversified retail and wholesale / cash and carry group Metro AG, based in Germany but with operations throughout Europe and in many other countries around the world.
The fourth part is the Park Kolonnaden, a range of buildings running down the east side of the Potsdamer Bahnhof site, parallelling Daimler-Benz. This complex occupies the site of the former Haus Vaterland, and its principal building, which for a few years was the headquarters of the large German trade union ver.di (Vereinte Dienstleistungsgewerkschaft, meaning United Services Union), rises to 45 metres and has a curving glass facade designed to evoke the shape of that erstwhile landmark.
Other developments, more piecemeal in nature, are gradually recreating the octagonal layout of neighbouring Leipziger Platz immediately to the east. Jean Chrétien, and it was officially opened on 29 April 2005.
The whole project has been the subject of much controversy from the beginning, and still not everyone applauds how the district was commercialised and replanned. For example, the decision by the Berlin Senate to divide the land between just four investors, when numerous others had submitted bids, had raised many eyebrows. Additionally the remarkably low price for which Daimler-Benz had been allowed to secure their plot had prompted questions from the Berlin Auditor-General 's office and the European Union in Brussels, after which Daimler-Benz were billed for an additional sum. There were wrangles over land-usage: although a central feature of the Daimler-Benz development is a top shopping mall - the Arkaden (Arcades), this did not form part of the plans until the Berlin Senate belatedly insisted that a shopping mall be included, and the plans were altered accordingly. Despite its undoubted success, this in turn led to what many saw as an "Americanisation" of the area, with even its private security force kitted out in something resembling New York Police uniforms. Further wrangles effectively brought work on the north side of Leipziger Platz to a complete stop for several years; even now there are some "fake facades" where completed new buildings should be, while a long-running dispute over who owned the Wertheim department store site (or had claims to the revenue from its sale by the government), has to this day left another large gap in the central Berlin cityscape that is only now finally being redeveloped. This development brought about the demise (after several stays of execution), of the legendary Tresor nightclub and centre for techno music. Founded on 8 Mar 1991 in the basement strongrooms of the former Wertheim store's bank, these having survived the decades largely undamaged, the club finally closed on 16 April 2005 (it later reopened on 24 May 2007 in a renovated power plant on Köpenicker Straße). In spite of the controversy, the rebuilt Potsdamer Platz now attracts around 70,000 visitors a day, rising to 100,000 at weekends, and some critics have been surprised by the success of the new quarter. Fears that the streets would be dead after 6pm have proven false. At almost any time of the day, the place is alive with people.
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|Geographical coordinates||52.5094000, 13.3765000|
|Address||Berlin, Potsdamer Platz|
|Construction dates||1993 - 2000|
|More information||official website|