No sign of what Berlin used to be – Potsdamer Platz

by Driss Claude Ortola

Potsdamer Platz has become a major place in Berlin. It is not only a square, it is a neighbourhood. And yet, if it is a single neighbourhood that attracts thousands of people every day, its architectural heritage is none-the-less quite contrasting.

First of all, it is supposed to be a symbol of Germany and of Berlin. Yet no sign of what Berlin used to be. No heritage. Everything has been hidden, torn down and rebuilt. Rebuilt in a (post)-modern way without taking into consideration the history of the place. I regret that such a place carries no typical symbol of the city except a fake traffic light.

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They wanted to make a European city, OK. The image I have of European cities is very different, not to mention the opposite. To me, a European city means a human city with smaller streets, buildings, ads, etc. Potsdamer Platz represents precisely the image given by huge American cities, take for example the Kollhoff-Tower that looks like it’s directly imported from New York. The place of the European city is a totally American Central-Business-District where there are located big worldwide brands like the Ritz, the Sony Center (not forgetting the big Apple advertisement). The European city is lost.

They wanted to create a modern city, the achievement of that is quite the opposite. No doubt about it, the buildings are brand new. But first, modernity is light, it is glass. And the Daimler-Viertel is everything but that in its west part with a heavy limit of the Staatsbibliotek. The atmosphere is even a bit uncomfortable when we stand between the two buildings. Modernity also means transportation. The problem is that you have only one metro station for the whole area. The western part of the Viertel is, as a matter of fact, not easily accessible at all. The cars are also very astonishing. Germany spends a lot of time pretending to be ahead of others in ecology. This new area is clearly made for cars, and big cars! It is probably the only heritage of the past that has been kept. And what’s more, they have put fountains there – very good idea – but it smells so bad. It gives an impression of dirtiness. Being between cars and dirty fountains…

None-the-less we have to admit that some buildings are made with a purpose to save energy (solar energy, water recycling, etc).

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The architecture is not new. It is said to be modern but it is not. I was talking about a building imported from New York, this shows that it’s not new architecture. The building of the Ritz-Carlton and the one on the right look very heavy and concrete, in total opposition with how we represent modernity. And finally, Rezo Piano’s building on Linkstrasse is inspired by the building of the Centre Pompidou in Paris. It was modern in the seventies; I don’t think we can see it still is with all those tubes and weird pieces. To finish with the architectural critique, this building has nothing in common with the Daimler buildings, which have nothing to do with Sony Center that has nothing to do with the rest, and so on and so forth. And the worst thing is that you have people living here, coming out of their apartments and heading directly into a mall.

The success of the Potsdamer Platz would be more linked to the history of the place and the gigantic constructions that are in it. The architecture is a mix of different types that hardly go together as a whole. Each building is quite beautiful but only individually. And the place is not more modern than another modern place, nor is it symbolic of a European city.

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