Potsdamer Platz is an important public square and traffic intersection in the center of Berlin, Germany, lying about 1 km 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 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 to waste during World War II and then left desolate during the Cold War era when the Berlin Wall bisected its former location.
Since German reunification, Potsdamer Platz has been the site of major redevelopment projects.
Europe's largest building site
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 center 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) organized 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 criticized in almost equal measure.
The four sites
DaimlerThe largest of the four parts went to Daimler-Benz, 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.
SonyThe 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.
BeisheimThe 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.
Park KolonnadenThe 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.