Munich in English - selected by independent Locals for Cosmopolitans, Newcomers and Residents - since 1989

back to overview

March 1997

Where Mud Reigns : Berlin construction draws big crowds

The reconstruction of Berlin makes the city a hot spot for tourists

For decades it was a no-man's land, blasted and empty. Bomb-wrecked in World War II, later sliced in two and scarred by the Wall, the heart of Berlin is now whole again and pumping new life into the city. Since the fall of the Wall, Berlin's center has become its Manhattan, attracting enormous amounts of creativity, energy and capital. Long before the government decided to reinstate Berlin as Germany's capital, future-thinking investors recognized the city's potential. Today, Berlin is in the midst of an unprecedented building boom that's not just overdue gentrification, but an architect's dream come true: the creation of an entire city-center from the drawing board. The area around Potsdamer Platz is Europe's biggest construction site, extending over an area of 67,000 square meters. In a project worth DM four billion, companies such as Daimler-Benz, Sony and AT&T are creating a conglomerate of office buildings, apartments, shopping and entertainment complexes, and they plan to be finished by the end of next year. For the moment, however, "this is where the mud reigns," as the weekly news magazine Spiegel dryly commented in a recent issue; because, due to extremely high groundwater, combined with the area's sandy soil, construction sites inevitably turn into giant mud holes. Specially trained divers have to construct the foundations of the buildings underwater-a miserable ordeal for the construction companies but an attraction for the curious. WHEN SITES BECOME SIGHTS Perhaps the only drawback to the wall's fall in '89 was the loss of the city's most famous tourist attraction. But Berlin's tourist office needn't have worried, since its marketing department has successfully married the skyline of cranes to a futuristic vision, billing the cityscape "under construction" as a place of fascination. This summer, the tourist office and its marketing associates Berlin Partner will capitalize on the excitement surrounding Berlin's redevelopment by hosting a building-site festival. Schaustelle Berlin '97, or "Showcase Berlin," will offer hundreds of guided tours of the sites, as well as cultural activities all summer long. Running from June through September, Schaustelle Berlin will set up stages at sites around the city where residents and tourists will be treated to live music, dance, theater and cabaret. By all accounts, last year's Schaustelle Berlin demonstrated the potential pull that Berlin's facelift has for visitors; by the end of 1996 more than two million people from around the world had visited the site's bright red Info Box, which at its peak attracted more than 10,000 visitors daily. The eye-catching and angular building is hoisted on stilts and was installed at Leipziger Platz in October 1995 by the financial backers of Potsdamer Platz. Visitors enter the Info Box, something like a walk-in billboard, via its space-age staircase. Inside the InfoBox, films, computer simulations and 3-D animated displays reveal what Potsdamer Platz will soon look like, and the building's rooftop viewing-platform provides an excellent vantage point for watching the proceedings. The guided tours don't interfere with the construction work in progress, so visitors can experience firsthand a city-in-the-making. Building sites are still noisy, ugly and sometimes muddy places, but in Berlin they also offer a glimpse into the future of Europe's most happening city.

tell a friend