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What and Where Is Potsdamer Platz?

Updated: May 5, 2024

Located in a coveted position near the Brandenburg Gate, the Reichstag, and Tiergarten, Potsdamer Platz is a bustling hive of activity in central Berlin - the perfect place to catch a film, sip a latte, or shop for some designer duds.

Once a cultural and social dead zone owing to its location in the shadow of the Berlin Wall, the Potsdamer Platz of the 21st Century has thrown off its grim communist past and embraces fashion, entertainment, and commerce in a big way!


History of Potsdamer Platz

Potsdamer Platz has a long history as both a public gathering place and a rural crossroads.

People from around Europe have been trading at this very site since the seventeenth century.

Unsurprisingly, the square derives its name from the city of Potsdam, approximately twenty-five kilometers southwest, as historically it was where the road from that city snaked joined to other major Berlin roads.

Potsdamer Platz
By Ansgar Koreng / CC BY-SA 3.0 (DE), CC BY-SA 3.0 de, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=52320299

By the 1930s, the once sleepy country road had developed into the busiest automobile junction in Europe, only to be completely destroyed in World War Two.

In 1961, the Berlin Wall was built directly through the center of the once iconic square, owing to its strategic position at the nexus of the American, British, and Russian sectors of East and West Berlin.

As a result, the area was unremarkable and abandoned throughout the latter half of the twentieth century.


The Modern Structure of Today

But after the fall of communism, throughout the 1990s things were changing in a big way.

For over a decade, Potsdamer Platz was the largest construction site in Europe, with mega-companies like Sony bidding for a now-desirable spot in the newly envisioned consumer mecca.

The architects sought to design a gathering place for the modern, unified Berlin - one that would cast a nod to the square’s parochial beginnings while signaling to the world that the former ‘East Berlin’ was open for business.

Potsdamer Platz is now home to over a dozen modernist skyscrapers, a full-sized shopping mall, the largest 3D film theatre in Germany (also, original movies in English can be seen here), cutting-edge art and historical exhibits (including pieces of the Berlin Wall), as well as countless restaurants, shops, and service providers.

What was a rural crossroads and marketplace in the distant past is once again a place for people of all cultures and nationalities to meet, mingle, and shop.

Chances are, if you are in Berlin for more than a brief stopover, you will find yourself wandering through this modern crossroads with a look of awe on your face – and with daily visitor numbers topping 100,000, you’re certainly not alone!

++Extra Tip: If you like to see the Potsdamer Platz from above, consider taking a ride in the supposedly fastest elevator in Europe to the PanoramaPunkt at the Kolhoff Tower.

It’s located right opposite the DB tower on Potsdamer Strasse and it’s open daily from 10 am - 7 pm.

Admission is €9 (adults), €7 (children), and FREE (kids aged 6 and younger).++

+++Don't forget to check out our pay-what-you-like walking tours of Berlin!+++

Written by Jessica O'Neill

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About The Author

Anne Wittig

Anne was born in East Berlin and came of age in the unified city. She has an intimate relationship with her city of birth and still calls Berlin home. For the past 10 years, she has managed and written Free Tours by Foot's Berlin blog, detailing the best places to go, where to stay, and what to do in her hometown. This blog has been featured on Berlin's official website, mainstream press like Berlingske, and local blogs like Berlinforallthefamily.com. Over 14,000 visitors to Berlin have taken a tour from Free Tours by Foot.
Updated: May 5th, 2024
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