Potsdamer Platz is the sleek, shiny and energetic success story of Berlin. Twenty years ago, the square was a bombed-out wasteland; today the restored Potsdamer Platz is once again full of restaurants, business centers, shopping malls and nightclubs.
Glass and steel at Potsdamer Platz. Image azschach via Flickr
Until the mid-1800s, Potsdamer Platz used to be an area just outside the walls of the old city of Berlin, and even had a gate similar to the Brandenburg Gate. Noticing the queues of people waiting to cross into the city, locals started offering food and drink, and Potsdamer Platz started to be an attraction in itself. The facilities on the area grew, more roads connected to the central square, and one of the first railway stations opened up there. By the 1920s, Potsdamer Platz was the most exciting place to be in Berlin. Huge theaters, nightclubs and themed restaurants opened up, and anyone cultured had to be seen in a Potsdamer Platz venue. This came to an end in 1943, when Allied bombing utterly destroyed the buildings around the square. After the war, the square was divided by the Berlin Wall, with the infamous Death Strip running alongside it.
Postadamer Platz streetscene. Image y ivan via Flickr
When the wall came down in 1990, there were strong expectations from the unified city to show that it could restore Potsdamer Platz to its former glory. The restoration of the 480,000 square meter complex is today seen as a success story, and as having lived up to those expectations. Today, modern and futuristic buildings in a range of cutting-edge architectural styles surround Potsdamer Platz. Highrise glass buildings stand next to sleek, curved malls and the famous Sony Center, with a unique structure inspired by Mount Fuji. The ‘square’ itself is a large open space, with underground passes under the wide streets, trees, cafes and restaurants. The former route of the Berlin Wall is marked on the pavement, and the contrast between the desolation just over 20 years ago, and today’s reality, is striking.
As well as being a popular shopping location (the ‘Arkaden’ mall contains over 130 shops, for example), there are other things to do around the Potsdamer Platz. There are three cinemas, including the large-screen Berlin IMAX and an English-speaking cinema, and a film museum. The popular Berlin Film Festival is based in Potsdamer Platz too, and you can find names of film stars who have walked down the red carpet here. There is a large theater called Theatre am Potsdamer Platz, which stands above an underground nightclub, Adagio (Friday and Saturday, 10 Euro entrance fee). A big casino, the Spielbank Berlin, offers poker, blackjack and roulette, and is open day and night. There are a number of art galleries around the square, including the Daimler Contemporary in the Haus Huth (11am-6pm, free), which holds works of modern art by German and international artists.
An estimated 70,000 people walk through the Potsdamer Platz a day, with the number rising to 100,000 on weekends, who come to shop, dine or visit cultural institutions. The area is well connected by U-Bahn and S-Bahn, and is walking distance from the Tiergarten, the Holocaust Memorial and the Brandenburg Gate.