(English 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 developing within the space of little over a century from an intersection of rural thoroughfares into the most bustling traffic intersection in Europe, it was totally laid waste during World War II and then left desolate during the Cold War era when the Berlin Wall bisected its former location, but since the fall of the Wall it has risen again as a glittering new heart for the city and the most visible symbol of the new Berlin.
Potsdamer Platz began as a trading post where several country roads converged just outside Berlin's old customs wall. The history of Potsdamer Platz can probably be traced back to 29 October 1685, when the Tolerance Edict of Potsdam was signed, whereby Frederick William, Elector of Brandenburg-Prussia from 1640 to 1688, allowed large numbers of religious refugees, including Jews from Austria and Huguenots expelled from France, to settle on his territory (indeed, for a while as much as 20% of Berlin’s population was French-speaking). Two other things resulted from this huge influx. Firstly, Berlin’s medieval fortifications, recently rebuilt from 1658-74 in the form of a Dutch-style star fort, on an enormous scale and at great expense (and similar to examples still in extant today in the Netherlands like Naarden and Bourtange), became virtually redundant overnight; and secondly, the already crowded city became even more congested.
So several new districts were founded around the city's perimeter, just outside the old fortifications. The biggest of these was Friedrichstadt, just south west of the historic core of Berlin, begun in 1688 and named after new Elector Frederick William III, who later became King Frederick I of Prussia. Its street layout followed the Baroque-style grid pattern much favoured at the time, and was based on two main axes: Friedrichstraße running north-south, and Leipziger Straße running east-west. All the new suburbs were absorbed into Berlin around 1709-10. In 1721-3 a south-westwards expansion of Friedrichstadt was planned under the orders of King Frederick William I, and this was completed in 1732-4 by architect Johann Philipp Gerlach (1679-1748). In this expansion, a new north-south axis emerged: Wilhelmstraße.
In 1735-7, after Friedrichstadt’s expansion was complete, a customs or excise wall, 17 km long and 4.2 m high, was erected around Berlin’s new perimeter. Consisting of a wooden palisade at first, it was later replaced with a brick and stone wall, pierced by 14 gates (later increased to 18), where roads entered the city. Here taxes were levied on goods passing through, chiefly meat and flour. The most prestigious gate was the Brandenburg Gate, for the important road from Brandenburg, but 1 km to the south was the entry point of another road that gained even greater significance.
This road had started out in the Middle Ages as a lane running out from Berlin to the hamlet of Schöneberg, but it had developed into part of a trading route running right across Europe from Paris to St. Petersburg via Aachen, Berlin and Königsberg. In 1660 the Elector Frederick William had made it his route of choice to Potsdam, the location of his palace, which had recently been renovated. Starting in 1754 a daily stagecoach ran between Berlin and Potsdam, although the road was in poor shape. But in 1740 Frederick II had become King. Not a great lover of Berlin, he later built a new palace, the Sanssouci, at Potsdam in 1744-7, followed by the New Palace in 1763-9, so the road now had to be made fit for a King, plus all his courtiers and staff. After numerous other improvements, in 1791-3 this section was made into Prussia's first all-weather road. It later became Potsdamer Straße; its point of entry into Berlin, where it passed through the customs wall, became the Potsdamer Tor (Potsdam Gate); once inside the gate Leipziger Straße was its eastwards continuation, and Wilhelmstraße was the first north-south thoroughfare that intersected with it. It was around this gate that Potsdamer Platz was to develop.
As a physical entity, Potsdamer Platz began as a few country roads and rough tracks fanning out from the Potsdam Gate. According to one old guide book, it was never a proper platz, but a five-cornered traffic knot on that old trading route across Europe. Just inside the gate was a large octagonal area, created at the time of Friedrichstadt's expansion in 1732-4 and bisected by Leipziger Straße; this was one of several parade grounds for the thousands of soldiers garrisoned in Berlin at the height of the Kingdom of Prussia. Initially known appropriately as the "Achtech" (Octagon), on 15 September 1814 it was renamed Leipziger Platz after the site of Prussia's final decisive defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte at the Battle of Leipzig, 16-19 October 1813, which brought to an end the Wars of Liberation that had been going on since 1806. The Potsdam Gate itself was redesignated the Leipziger Tor (Leipzig Gate) around the same time, but reverted to its old name a few years later. By this time however, Leipziger Platz was no longer a parade ground, and there was much speculation about a possible complete redesign for the whole area. Back in 1797 had come the first of two proposed schemes that would have afforded the future Potsdamer Platz the appearance of a proper square. Under both schemes the old rural intersection just outside the Potsdam Gate, and the Octagon (Leipziger Platz) just inside, were to be joined together to create a long rectangular space, with a gargantuan edifice standing in the middle of it (indeed, Potsdamer Platz and Leipziger Platz, being side by side, have frequently been regarded and discussed as one entity). The 1797 scheme came from the renowned Prussian architect Friedrich David Gilly (1772-1800), who proposed a monument to the former Prussian King, Friedrich II. Though containing some Egyptian and French neo-Classicist features, the design was basically a huge Greek temple in the Doric style, loosely modelled on the Parthenon in Athens, though raised up on an enormous geometric plinth and flanked by numerous obelisks (the Egyptian element). A grand new Potsdam Gate formed part of the design. It was never built, but eighteen years later in 1815 Gilly's pupil, Karl Friedrich Schinkel (1781-1841), put forward plans for a National Memorial Cathedral to commemorate the recent victories in the Wars of Liberation. To be known as the Residenzkirche, it was again, never built due to lack of funds, and in any case the national fervour of the period favoured the long-awaited completion of Cologne Cathedral over a new building, but Schinkel went on to become one of the most prolific and celebrated architects of his time.
So the layout stayed put, although in 1823-4 Schinkel did get to rebuild the Potsdam Gate. Formerly little more than a gap in the customs wall, it was replaced by a much grander affair consisting of two matching Doric-style stone gate-houses, like little temples (a nod to Friedrich Gilly perhaps), facing each other across Leipziger Straße. The one on the north side served as the customs house and excise collection point, while its southern counterpart was a military guardhouse, set up to prevent desertions of Prussian soldiers, which had become a major problem. The new gate was officially dedicated on 23 August 1824. The design also included a new look for Leipziger Platz. Attempts to create a market there to draw off some of the frenetic commercial activity in the centre of the city had not been successful. And so Schinkel proposed to turn it into a fine garden, although this part of the design was not implemented. It was a rival plan by gardener and landscape architect Peter Joseph Lenné (1789-1866), drawn up in 1826, that went ahead in 1828 but with modifications. In later years Lenné would completely redesign the Tiergarten, a large wooded park formerly the Royal Hunting Grounds, also give his name to Lennestrasße, a thoroughfare forming part of the southern boundary of the park, very close to Potsdamer Platz, and transform a muddy ditch to the south into one of Berlin's busiest waterways, the Landwehrkanal.
Meanwhile, country peasantry were generally not welcome in the city, and so the gates also served to restrict access. However, the country folk were permitted to set up trading posts of their own just outside the gates, and the Potsdam Gate especially. It was hoped that this would encourage development of all the country lanes into proper roads; in turn it was hoped that these would emulate Parisian boulevards - broad, straight and magnificent, but the main intention was to enable troops to be moved quickly. Thus Potsdamer Platz was off and running.
It was not called that until 8 July 1831, but the area outside the Potsdam Gate began to develop in the early 1800s as a district of quiet villas, for as Berlin became even more congested, many of its richer citizens moved outside the customs wall and built spacious new homes around the trading post, along the newly developing boulevards, and around the southern edge of the Tiergarten. Initially the development was fairly piecemeal, but in 1828 this area just to the west of Potsdamer Platz, sandwiched between the Tiergarten and the north bank of the future Landwehrkanal, received Royal approval for a more orderly and purposeful metamorphosis into a residential colony of the affluent, and gradually filled with houses and villas of a particularly palatial nature. These became the homes of civil servants, officers, bankers, artists and politicians among others, and earned the area the nickname "Millionaires' Quarter" although its official designation was "Friedrichvorstadt" (Friedrich's Suburb), or alternatively the "Tiergartenviertel" (Tiergarten Quarter).
Many of the properties in the neighbourhood were the work of architect Georg Friedrich Heinrich Hitzig (1811-81), a pupil of Schinkel who also built the original "English Embassy" in Leipziger Platz, where the vast Wertheim department store would later stand, although Friedrichvorstadt's focal point and most notable building was the work of another architect - and another pupil of Schinkel. The Matthiaskirche (St. Matthew's Church), built in 1844-6, was an Italian Romanesque-style building in alternating bands of red and yellow brick, and designed by Friedrich August Stüler (1800-65). This church, one of fewer than half a dozen surviving pre-World War II buildings in the entire area, forms the centrepiece of today's Cultural Forum.
Meanwhile, many of the Hugenots fleeing religious persecution in France, and their descendants, had also been living around the trading post and cultivating local fields. Noticing that traffic queues often built up at the Potsdam Gate due to delays in making the customs checks, these people had begun to offer coffee, bread, cakes and confectionery from their homes or from roadside stalls to travellers passing through, thus beginning the tradition of providing food and drink around the future Potsdamer Platz. In later years larger and more purpose-built establishments had begun to take their place, which in turn were superseded by even bigger and grander ones. The former district of quiet villas was by now anything but quiet: Potsdamer Platz had taken on an existence all its own whose sheer pace of life rivalled anything within the city.
By the mid-1860s direct taxation had made the customs wall redundant, and so in 1866-7 most of it was demolished along with all the city gates except two – the Brandenburg Gate and the Potsdam Gate. Though deprived of their function, Schinkel’s temples lived on for eight more decades. More significantly though, the removal of the customs wall allowed its former route to be turned into yet another road running through Potsdamer Platz, thus increasing still further the amount of traffic passing through. This road, both north and south of the platz, was named Königgrätzer Straße after the Prussian victory over Austria at the Battle of Königgrätz on 3 July 1866, in the Austro-Prussian War.
The railway had first come to Berlin in 1838, with the opening of the Potsdamer Bahnhof, terminus of a 26 km line linking the city with, perhaps appropriately, Potsdam, opened throughout by 29 October (in 1848 the line would be extended to Magdeburg and beyond). Since the city authorities would not allow the new line to breach the customs wall, still standing at the time, it had to stop just short, at Potsdamer Platz, but it was this that kick-started the real transformation of the area, into the bustling focal point that Potsdamer Platz would eventually become.
Just three years later a second railway terminus opened in the vicinity. Located 600 metres to the southeast, with a front facade facing Askanischer Platz, the Anhalter Bahnhof was the Berlin terminus of a line opened on 1 July, 1841, as far as Juterbog and extended to Dessau, Kothen and beyond later.
Both termini began life as fairly modest affairs, but in order to cope with increasing demands both went on to much bigger and better things in later years, a new Potsdamer Bahnhof, destined to be Berlin's busiest station, opening on 30 August 1872 and a new Anhalter Bahnhof, destined to be the city’s biggest and finest, following on 15 June 1880. This latter station benefitted greatly from the closure of a short-lived third terminus in the area - the Dresdener Bahnhof, located south of the Landwehrkanal, which lasted from 17 June 1875 until 15 October 1882.
In addition, a railway line once ran through Potsdamer Platz itself. This was a connecting line opened in October 1851 and running around the city just inside the customs wall, crossing numerous streets and squares at street level, and whose purpose was to allow goods to be transported between the various Berlin stations, thus creating a hated traffic obstruction that lasted for twenty years. Half a dozen or more times a day, Potsdamer Platz ground to a halt while a train of 60 to 100 wagons trundled through at walking pace preceded by a railway official ringing a bell. The construction of the Ringbahn around the city's perimeter, linked to all the major stations, allowed the connecting line to be scrapped in 1871, although the Ringbahn itself was not complete and open for all traffic until 15 November, 1877.
In later years Potsdamer Platz was served by both of Berlin's two local rail systems. The U-Bahn arrived first, from the south, in 1902, with a new and better sited station being provided in 1907, and the line itself being extended north and east in 1908. In 1939 the S-Bahn followed, its North-South Link between Unter den Linden and Yorckstraße opening in stages during the year.
By the second half of the 19th century, Berlin had been growing at a tremendous rate for some time, but its growth accelerated even faster after the city became the capital of the new German Empire on 18 January 1871. Potsdamer Platz and neighbouring Leipziger Platz really started coming into their own from this time on. Now firmly in the centre of a metropolis whose population eventually reached 4.4 million (the third largest city in the world after London and New York City), the area was ready to take on its most celebrated role. Vast hotels and department stores, hundreds of smaller shops, theatres, dance-halls, cafes, restaurants, bars, beer palaces, wine-houses and clubs, all started to appear. Some of these places became internationally known.
Also, a very large government presence, with many German imperial departments, Prussian state authorities and their various sub-departments, came into the area, taking over 26 former palaces and aristocratic mansions in Leipziger Platz, Leipziger Straße and Wilhelmstraße. Even the Reichstag itself, the German Parliament, occupied the former home of the family of composer Felix Mendelssohn (1809-47) in Leipziger Straße before moving in 1894 to the vast new edifice near the Brandenburg Gate, erected by Paul Wallot (1841-1912). Next door, the Upper House of the Prussian State Parliament occupied a former porcelain factory for a while, before moving to an impressive new building erected on the site of the former Mendelssohn family home in 1899–1904 by Friedrich Schulze Colditz (1843-1912). This building backed on to an equally grand edifice in the next street (Prinz-Albrecht-Straße), also by Colditz, that had been built for the Prussian Lower House in 1892-9.
In addition, the former Millionaires' Quarter just to the west of Potsdamer Platz became a much favoured location for other countries to site their embassies. Hence the area gradually acquired the new designation "Diplomatic Quarter."
The heyday of Potsdamer Platz was in the 1920s and 1930s. By this time it had developed into the busiest traffic center in all of Europe, and the heart of Berlin's nightlife. It represented the geographical centre of the city, the meeting place of five of its busiest streets in a star-shaped intersection deemed the transport hub of the entire continent. These were:
As well as the stations and other facilities and attractions already mentioned, in the immediate area was also one of the world’s biggest and most luxurious department stores (Wertheim), also mentioned earlier, together with a huge multi-national-themed eating establishment (the Haus Vaterland), that could hold 8,000 people, and containing the world’s largest restaurant, which could seat 2,500 on its own.
It is widely claimed (although this is subject to some disagreement), that the world's first electric street lights were installed at Potsdamer Platz in 1882 by the Berlin-based electrical giant Siemens. What is not refuted is that Europe's first traffic lights were erected here on 20 October, 1924, in an attempt to control the sheer volume of traffic passing through. This traffic had grown to extraordinary levels. Even in 1900, more than 100,000 people, 20,000 cars, horse-drawn vehicles and handcarts, plus many thousands of bicycles, had passed through the platz daily. By the 1920s the number of cars had soared to 60,000. The trams had added greatly to this. The first four lines had appeared in 1880, rising to 13 by 1897, all horse-drawn, but after electrification between 1898 and 1902 the number of lines had soared to 35 by 1908 and ultimately reached 40, carrying between them 600 trams every hour, day and night. Up to 11 policemen at a time had tried to control the traffic, but with varying success. The traffic lights, again from Siemens, were mounted on a five-sided 8.5 m high tower shipped over from the USA and actually modelled on a similar one erected on Fifth Avenue in New York in 1922, although towers like this had been a feature of the Big Apple since 1918. A solitary policeman sat in a small cabin at the top of the tower and switched the lights around manually, until they were eventually automated in 1926. Yet some officers still remained on the ground in case people did not pay any attention to the lights. The tower remained until c.1936, when it was removed to allow for excavations for the new S-Bahn line (on 26 September, 1997, a replica of the tower was erected, just for show, close to its original location by Siemens, to celebrate the company's 150th anniversary. The replica was moved again on 29 September, 2000, to the place where it stands today).
At 8.00 p.m. on 8 October, 1923, Germany's first radio broadcast was made, using the world's first medium-wave transmitter, from a building (Vox-Haus) close by in Potsdamer Straße. Despite several upgrades between December 1923 and July 1924, the nearby Grand Hotel Esplanade's formidable bulk prevented the transmitter from functioning effectively and so in December 1924 it was superseded by a better sited new one, but Vox-Haus lived on as the home of Germany's first radio station, Radiostunde Berlin, founded in 1923, renamed Funkstunde in March 1924, but it moved to a new home in 1931 and closed in 1934.
As was the case in most of Berlin, almost all of the buildings around Potsdamer Platz were turned to rubble by air raids and heavy artillery bombardment during the last years of World War II. The three most destructive raids (out of nearly 400 that the city suffered), occurred on 23 November 1943, and 3 February and 26 February 1945. Things were not helped by the close proximity of Adolf Hitler's enormous new Reich Chancellery building (built for him by his architect friend Albert Speer just one block away in Voßstraße), and many other Nazi government edifices nearby as well, and so Potsdamer Platz was right in a major target area.
Once the bombing and shelling had largely ceased, the ground invasion began as Soviet forces stormed the centre of Berlin street by street, building by building, aiming to capture the Reich Chancellery and other key symbols of the Nazi government. When the city was divided into sectors by the occupying Allies at the end of the war, the square found itself on the boundary between the American, British and Soviet sectors.
Despite all the devastation, commercial life reappeared in the ruins around Potsdamer Platz within just a few weeks of war’s end. The lower floors of a few buildings were patched up enough to allow business of a sort to resume. The U-Bahn and S-Bahn were partially operational again from 2 June, 1946, fully from 16 November, 1947, (although repairs were not completed until May 1948), and trams by 1952. Part of the Haus Vaterland reopened in 1948 in a much simplified form. The new East German state-owned retail business H.O. (Handelsorganisation, meaning Trading Organisation), had seized almost all of Wertheim’s former assets in the newly-created German Democratic Republic but, unable to start up the giant Leipziger Platz store again (it was too badly damaged), it opened a new Kaufhaus (department store) on the ground floor of Columbushaus, a ten-storey edifice built on the site of the former Grand Hotel Belle Vue in the early 1930s by architect Erich Mendelsohn (1887-1953). An office of the Kasernierte Volkspolizei (literally "Barracked People’s Police") - the military precursor of the Nationale Volksarmee (National People’s Army), occupied the floor above. Meanwhile, a row of new single-storey shops was erected along Potsdamer Straße. Out on the streets, even the flower-sellers, for whom the area had once been renowned, were doing brisk business again.
The area around Potsdamer Platz had also become a focus for black market trading. Since the American, British and Soviet Occupation Zones converged there, people theoretically only had to walk a few paces across sector boundaries to avoid the respective Police officials.
Meanwhile, friction between the Western Allies and Soviets was steadily rising. The Soviets even took to marking out their border by stationing armed soldiers along it at intervals of a few metres, day and night, in all weathers. Since there was not, as yet, a fixed marker, the borders were prone to abuse, which eventually resulted in white lines in luminous paint appearing across roads and even through ruined buildings to try to deter the Soviets from making unauthorised incursions into the American and British zones. These measures were only partially successful: after further skirmishes in which shots were fired, barbed wire entanglements were stretched across some roads, a foretaste of things to come.
Remembering how the Nazis had loved propaganda, the opposing camps later began berating one another with enormous signs displaying loud political slogans, facing each other across the border zone. That on the western side was erected first, in direct response to the ban on sales of Western newspapers in East Berlin, and comprised an illuminated display board 30 m wide and 1.5 m deep, supported on three steel lattice towers 25 m high and topped by the words DIE FREIE BERLINER PRESSE MELDET (The Free Berlin Press Announces). Important messages were spelt out on the display board using up to 2,000 bulbs. The sign was switched on for the first time on 25 October 1950 and lasted until 1974, a victim of its own high maintenance costs. Not to be outdone, East Berlin had meanwhile erected its own sign, although this had a much shorter life, proclaiming DER KLUGE BERLINER KAUFT BEI DER H.O. (The Wise Berliner Buys With The H.O.) Underneath were the words NACHSTE VERKAUFSSTELLEN (Next Sales Premises), between two arrows pointing left and right, suggesting that large shopping developments were forthcoming in the immediate vicinity, although these never appeared. Each side occasionally raised or lowered its sign, deliberately to obscure clear sightlines of their opponents' constructions from certain key viewpoints.
Columbushaus got in on the act too, its battered facade providing a ready-made notice board of huge dimensions, which the East Germans were only too quick to exploit in this new propaganda battle.
More significantly, living and working conditions in East Germany were rapidly worsening under Communist rule. Tensions finally reached breaking point and a Workers’ Uprising took place on 17 June 1953, to be quickly and brutally crushed when Soviet tanks rolled in; 401 people were killed including numerous tourists and media reporters who got too close, 105 executed under martial law, 1,838 injured, and 5,100 arrested (1,200 of them later being sentenced to a total of 6,000 years in penal camps), and some of the worst violence occurred at Potsdamer Platz. For the second time in eight years, the "busiest and most famous square in Europe" had been transformed into a bloody battleground. Columbushaus, with its H.O. store on the ground floor and military police station above, had been a prime target in the insurrection and had been burnt out yet again, along with the Haus Vaterland and other premises. This time, they were not rehabilitated.
As Cold War tensions rose still further during the 1950s, restrictions were placed on travel between the Soviet sector (East Berlin) and the western sectors (West Berlin). Lying on this invisible frontier, Potsdamer Platz was no longer an important destination for Berliners. Similarly, neither East Berlin nor West Berlin regarded their half as a priority area for redevelopment, seeking instead to distance themselves from the traditional heart of the city and develop two new centres for themselves, well away from the troubled border zone. West Berlin inevitably chose the Kurfürstendamm and the area around the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, while East Berlin built up Alexanderplatz and turned Frankfurter Allee (which they renamed Stalinallee in 1949, Karl-Marx-Allee in 1961), into their own showpiece boulevard. Potsdamer Platz, meanwhile, was more or less left to rot, as one by one the ruined buildings were cleared away, neither side having the will to repair or replace them. On the western side things did improve later on with the development of the Cultural Forum, whose site roughly equates with the former Millionaires' Quarter.
With the construction of the Berlin Wall on 13 August, 1961, along the intracity frontier, Potsdamer Platz now found itself physically divided in two. What had once been a busy intersection had become totally desolate. With the clearance of almost all remaining bomb-damaged buildings on both sides (on the eastern side, this was done chiefly to give border guards a clear view of would-be escapees and an uninterrupted line of fire), almost nothing was left in an area of dozens of hectares. The area would remain like this for the next 28 years. Below ground, the U-Bahn section through Potsdamer Platz had closed entirely; although the S-Bahn line itself remained open, it suffered from a quirk of geography in that it briefly passed through East German territory en route from one part of West Berlin to another. Consequently Potsdamer Platz S-Bahn station became the most infamous of several "Geisterbahnhofe" (ghost stations), sealed off from the outside world, patrolled by armed guards and which trains ran straight through without stopping.
During its nearly three decades in limbo, Potsdamer Platz exuded a strange fascination towards many people on the western side, especially tourists and also visiting politicians and heads of state. For the benefit of the former, the row of post-war single-storey shops in Potsdamer Straße now sold a wide variety of souvenir goods, many of which were purchased by coach-loads of curious visitors brought specially to this sad location. An observation platform had been erected, primarily for military personnel and police but used increasingly by members of the public, so that they could gaze over the Wall at the wilderness beyond. Meanwhile, among the many V.I.P.s who came to look were U.S. Senator Robert F. Kennedy (22 February 1962), H.M. Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom (27 May 1965), H.R.H. Charles, Prince of Wales (3 November 1972), U.S. President Jimmy Carter (15 July 1978), and U.S. Vice President (later President) George H. W. Bush (George Bush Senior) (1 February 1983).
Some scenes of the 1987 Wim Wenders movie Der Himmel über Berlin (English title: Wings of Desire) were filmed on the old, almost entirely void Potsdamer Platz before the Berlin Wall fell. In one scene an old man named Homer, played by actor Curt Bois (1901-91), searches in vain for Potsdamer Platz, but finds only rubble, weeds and the graffiti-covered Berlin Wall. The movie thus gives a good impression of the surroundings at the time, which are completely unlike what can be seen today.
After the fall of the Berlin Wall on 9 November, 1989, ex-Pink Floyd member Roger Waters staged a gigantic charity concert of his former band's rock extravaganza The Wall on 21 July, 1990, to commemorate the end of the division between East and West Germany. The concert took place at Potsdamer Platz - specifically an area of the former "No Man's Land" just to the north of the Reich Chancellery site, and featured many guest superstars. Ironically it was preparations for this concert, rather than historical interest, that brought about the first detailed post-Cold War survey of the area with a view to determining what, if anything, was left of Hitler's bunker and any other underground installations. Although sections of the main Führerbunker were found, partially destroyed or filled in, another bunker complex was found further north that even the East German authorities had apparently missed, plus other cavities beneath land bordering the east side of Ebertstraße, although these turned out to be underground garages belonging to a former SS accommodation block.
After 1990, the square became the focus of attention again, as a large (some 60 hectares), attractive location which had suddenly become available in the centre of a major European capital 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.
The Berlin Senate (city government) chose to divide the area into four parts, each to be sold to a commercial investor, which then planned new construction. 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 a master plan for the new construction. The individual buildings were then built by many individual architects according to that plan. This includes the remarkable Potsdamer Platz No. 1 by Hans Kollhoff, now home to a number of prestigious law firms. Potsdamer Platz No. 1 is also home to the "Panoramapunkt" viewing platform, located 100 m above ground level, which is accessed by riding Europe's fastest elevator. 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.
The second largest part went to Sony, which erected its new European headquarters there. This new Sony Center by Helmut Jahn, an impressive yet light monolith of glass and steel, is considered by many to be one of the finest pieces of modern architecture in Berlin. Its 26-storey "Bahn Tower" is so named because it houses the corporate headquarters of Deutsche Bahn AG, the German state railway system.
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 new development is a top shopping mall (the "Arkaden"), this did not form part of the plans until the Berlin Senate belatedly insisted that a shopping mall be included. 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 site left a huge gap in the central Berlin cityscape that is only now finally being redeveloped.
However, 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. It is a particularly popular attraction for visitors: the "Arkaden" shopping mall contains around 150 shops and restaurants on three levels, the lowest (basement) level being a food floor; there are also four major hotels, and Europe's largest casino (the "Spielbank Berlin").
It is also very popular with film fans, as it has nearly 30 screens in three cinemas, including an IMAX cinema and an English speaking cinema, plus a film academy and a film museum. There is also an 1,800-seater theatre, the "Theater am Potsdamer Platz," which doubles up as another cinema (the "Berlinale Palast") and the principal venue of the annual Berlin International Film Festival. This venue sits above a popular night-spot: the "Adagio Nightlife," located entirely underground.
The U-Bahn and S-Bahn stations have both been refurbished and reopened; a new underground main-line station or Regionalbahnhof (Bahnhof Potsdamer Platz) has been constructed. A new U-Bahn station has also been built, although a decision is still pending on whether to proceed with completion of the line passing through it; in the meantime the station area serves as an impromptu art gallery and exhibition space. There are also plans to reintroduce trams to Potsdamer Platz. In addition, many bus routes pass through the platz, while for people with their own cars there are some 4,000 parking spaces, 2,500 of which are underground.
On 2 March 2008, a statue by the Berlin artist Alexander Polzin dedicated to Italian philosopher, priest, cosmologist, and occultist Giordano Bruno (1548-1600), was erected inside one of the entrances to the Potsdamer Platz Regionalbahnhof
Whilst on the surface the new Potsdamer Platz appears so far to have lived up to its expectations as a futuristic centre of commerce at the heart of Europe's youngest capital city, its long term success and viability are harder to judge at a time of growing worldwide financial uncertainty. Daimler and Sony caused a surprise in October 2007 when both announced that they were putting their respective complexes at Potsdamer Platz on the market. Daimler had recently come through a painful separation from its former American subsidiary Chrysler and needed a quick injection of cash in order to refocus on automotive production. Sony put its decision down to a need to review its global strategy in the face of a changing worldwide economic climate. The implications for Potsdamer Platz were ominous, with suggestions that overall confidence in the project was faltering, and more pessimistic claims that the development had largely failed in its original intentions.
In December 2007, Daimler announced that it was selling its 19 buildings at Potsdamer Platz to SEB Asset Management, a Frankfurt-based subsidiary of the Swedish banking group SEB. In February 2008, Sony made a similar announcement, of impending sale to a consortium led by American investment banking giant (now bank holding company) Morgan Stanley. Both deals were finalised in March 2008. Whilst the amounts involved have not been publicly disclosed, it is believed that neither Daimler nor Sony recouped all of their original investments. The long-term benefits (or otherwise) of these sales, remain to be seen.
Meanwhile, Deutsche Bahn AG is due to relocate to a purpose-built new structure at Berlin's new main train station (Berlin Hauptbahnhof), when the lease on the Sony Center's Bahn Tower expires in 2010.