“Where were you in Berlin?”, visitors to Berlin are often asked. Most then answer “Alexanderplatz”, but do they really mean Alexanderplatz?
What many visitors to Berlin do not know is that the TV Tower, the Neptune Fountain and the Red City Hall are not located on Alexanderplatz. They stand on an open space (Park am Fernsehturm) in the central area of the former old town of Berlin.
Alexanderplatz is located on the northeastern edge of the historic center of Berlin. The history of the square began as early as the 13th century, when a free square was created in front of the George Gate in the Berlin city wall. This square was simply called “Square in front of the city gate”.
From 1681, a cattle market was established on the “square in front of the city gate” and the square was given the name Ochsenmarkt or Ox Square. Around the square, despite the building ban, a suburb slowly developed, the Georgenvorstadt. This already consisted of about 600 houses around 1700.
On May 6, 1701, the Prussian King Frederick I entered Berlin through the Georgentor. Shortly after, the gate was renamed Königstor (King’s Gate) and the “square in front of the gate” was given the name “Königs Thor Platz” (King’s Gate Square).
With the construction of the Berlin Customs Wall in 1734, the King’s Gate lost its importance and was demolished, but the square remained. Later, seven three-story buildings were built around the square. Heinrich von Kleist lived in the inn “Zum Hirschen” until his suicide and Karl Friedrich Schinkel was a permanent tenant for some time.
After the Seven Years’ War, the Old Fritz had an 80-meter-long and 17-meter-wide riding and drill hall built next to the “Königs Thor Platz”, which was completed in 1800. For almost 150 years, this building dominated the area. The southern part of the square was separated from traffic by trees and served as a parade ground, the northern part was used as a market.
In 1805, the Russian Tsar Alexander I came to visit the square. It was named Alexander Square in his honor. Despite the aristocratic name, the square was frequented by the lower classes of the population, such as fishwives, water carriers, rag merchants and day laborers.
As early as 1847, Alexanderplatz began to develop into the city’s transportation hub. Horse-drawn omnibuses ran every 15 minutes. In the early 1870s, the former fortress moat was filled in and the Berlin Stadtbahn was built on it. The Alexanderplatz light rail station was built.
At the beginning of the 20th century Alexanderplatz experienced its heyday. The department stores Tietz, Wertheim and Hahn were built. The Berlin Teachers’ Association built the Lehrervereinshaus. Illuminated signs flickered on the buildings and life pulsated. Traffic also increased more and more.
There were three underground subway lines, long-distance and commuter rail traffic stopped at Alexanderplatz, and buses, horse-drawn streetcars and streetcars ran across the square. At the end of 1920, traffic collapse was imminent, so the then city councilor for construction suggested redesigning the square. First of all, the Alexander and Berolina houses were built, which were parallel to the Stadtbahn. A traffic circle with 6 converging streets was created. The world economic crisis and the enormous sums of money needed for the purchase of land slowed down further construction activities on Alexanderplatz. Even during the National Socialist era, no further buildings were erected here.
However, between 1941 and 1943 one of the largest air raid shelters in the city was built underground.
During World War II, the square was severely destroyed by Allied air raids. The Wehrmacht had entrenched itself in the tunnels of the subway and, a few hours before the end of hostilities, blew up the north-south tunnel under the Landwehr Canal, which led to the flooding of large parts of the subway system.
Before Alexanderplatz could be rebuilt, the war ruins first had to be cleared away. During this time, a popular black market developed on the square
It was not until the 1960s that the East Berlin administration began to redesign the square. The Alexanderhaus and Berolinerhaus were preserved, but a pedestrian zone was created from a busy traffic circle. All streetcar lines were moved from the square. By 1970, the Interhotel Stadt Berlin (today Park Inn) and the HO-Centrum department store (today Galeria Kaufhof), the Haus der Berliner Verlages, the ten-story Haus der Elektroindustrie, the Haus der Statistik, and the seventeen-story Haus des Reisens were built around the square. The square itself was redesigned with the Fountain of Friendship of Peoples and the World Time Clock. Wide streets separated Alexanderplatz from the neighboring residential quarters.
After the completion of the square in 1971, several major events were held there, such as the X.World Youth Festival in 1973. Gradually, the center of East Berlin developed here.
In November 1989, one of the largest demonstrations in Berlin’s history took place on Alexanderplatz. Today, it is considered a milestone of the peaceful revolution in the GDR.
After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the square became the most visited area in Berlin. Every day, 360,000 passers-by are on the move here. For tourists it is a popular starting point for forays through the city.
Socialist urban planning no longer corresponded to the ideas for the city center. It was quickly decided to reconnect the streetcar network and thus reconnect the surrounding urban neighborhoods. In an ideas competition, the development plan by Berlin architect Hans Kollhoff (who also planned the Kollhoff Tower on Potsdamer Platz), which envisaged a horseshoe-shaped development, was the winner and was selected by the Berlin Senate as the basis for the design of Alexanderplatz.
In 1995, the redevelopment of the Alexanderhaus was completed, in 1998 the first streetcars ran over the square and since 2000 the final development plan has been in place. Implementation is taking place in small steps.
In 2004, the Centrum Warenhaus, which has been operated as Galeria Kaufhof since reunification, was rebuilt. In 2005/06, the Berolinahaus was renovated.
The renovation of the listed subway station was completed in 2008.
The entire square was paved with light yellow granite and gray mosaic stones. In 2009, a six-story building opened in the east of the square, which reduced the square area.
Arrival at Alexanderplatz station
Alexanderplatz station is one of the hubs in Berlin. The S-Bahn lines S3, S5, S7 and S9 as well as the regional trains RE1, RE2, RE7, and RE14 run here. On weekends, you can take the Harz-Berlin-Express from Alexanderplatz to the Harz Mountains. In addition, one of the largest subway stations in the city is located here. The U2, U5 and U8 lines meet here. Yes, and then the M2,M4, M5 and M6 streetcars depart from 3 different stops at Alexanderplatz, not to mention bus lines 100, 200, 300 and 245 (night lines N5, N8, N42 and N 65). The Berliner Verkehrsbetriebe describe the station as the most important transfer station, more than 120,000 people board or change trains here every day.
Honestly, I don’t find it easy to find my way around here and get lost on a regular basis.
I find the station visually quite impressive, the old viaduct arches, which now house some stores, are quite something. You have to get to know the numerous pedestrian tunnels under the square before you can find your way around. On the one hand, they provide direct access to the subway, but they also lead to destinations around the square (e.g. to the congress hall bcc).
Buildings at Alexanderplatz
The postal address Alexanderplatz is now only used by the stores and houses located directly on the square. Until June 2006, the address was still valid for buildings north and east of the square. With the redesign, the street section was renamed Alexanderstraße.
This resulted in the following new division:
- Alexanderplatz 1: Berolinahaus
- Alexanderplatz 2: Alexanderhaus
- Alexanderplatz 3: Berlin Congress Center (bcc) / Congress Hall, new: Alexanderstraße 11
- Alexanderplatz 4: House of the Teacher, new: Alexanderstraße 9
- Alexanderplatz 5: House of Travel, new: Alexanderstraße 7
- Alexanderplatz 6: House of the Electrical Industry, new: Alexanderstraße 1, 3 and 5
- Alexanderplatz 7: Lower building of the hotel high-rise with stores
- Alexanderplatz 8: Hotel Park Inn
- Alexanderplatz 9: Galeria Kaufhof (formerly: “Centrum” department store)
Other points worth seeing on Alexanderplatz:
- Fountain of Friendship between Nations
- World time clock
Berolina- and Alexanderhaus
Today, both buildings are listed as historical monuments. They are the only buildings that were realized by the 1929 development plan on Alexanderplatz.
The eight-story buildings are of reinforced concrete skeleton construction with a distinctive facade. In the houses there is a direct access to the distribution floor of the subway station.
The first floors were planned for stores. On the second floor there is a glass gallery for restaurants. The other floors were planned for offices.
After the reconstruction, the buildings, which were heavily damaged during World War II, were used as an HO department store, a post office and an administrative building for the Mitte district.
After reunification, the Alexanderhaus was renovated first and the headquarters of the Berliner Sparkasse now uses the building. The Berolinahaus stood empty for a long time and it was not until 2005 that renovation work began. Today, the lower floors are occupied by a clothing store, a drugstore and an association office. The upper floors are used as offices.
Hotel building at Alexanderplatz
In 1970, the Interhotel Stadt Berlin with its 1982 beds in 1006 rooms opened its doors at Alexanderplatz. The building had a 125-meter high body with 39 floors and a three-story low building. The hotel employed about 1,000 people and, in addition to the usual services such as a hairdresser, also offered a car service with a workshop and car wash.
The four-star hotel was the preferred accommodation for delegations from Warsaw Pact countries and well-paying foreign currency earners.
After reunification, the building began to be renovated in sections. Since 2003, the hotel has been called Park Inn by Radisson Berlin Alexanderplatz. Guests from all over the world are now accommodated here in 1028 rooms and suites. The hotel is one of the highest-turnover hotels in Berlin.
On the roof of the hotel there is a roof terrace open to the public with a viewing platform.
Today, the low-rise building provides space for restaurants and stores.
Department store at Alexanderplatz
Already at the beginning of the 20th century Hermann Tietz built a department store on Alexanderplatz. The building was too badly damaged during the war and had to be demolished.
The current building on Alexanderplatz was built in 1967-70 and contained the HO-Centrum department store. The sales area of about 15,000 m² made it the largest department store in the GDR. In the six-story building there was an area for food and beverages of 1900 m².
After the political change the owner changed, it was modernized and with a sales area of 20,000 m² Galeria Kaufhof opened its doors. In 2004, in the course of the implementation of the Kollhoff plans, the building was renovated again and the sales area increased to 35,000 m².
Brunnen der Völkerfreundschaft (Fountain of Friendship of Peoples)
In the middle of Alexanderplatz stands the Fountain of Friendship of Peoples. This fountain was inaugurated in October 1970.
The fountain consists of an outer water basin, which has a diameter of 23 meters and a water spiral of 6.20 meters high. This spiral is made of copper, glass, enamel and ceramic. At the highest point, the water emerges and flows down in a spiral over 17 bowls.
In GDR times, the fountain was pejoratively called “hooker brooch”, referring to the prostitution that took place in the area and the colorful enameling.
Since 1980, the fountain has been listed as a historical monument.
Weltzeituhr (World clock)
Probably the most famous building on Alexanderplatz is the world time clock. This is where people meet when they have an appointment at the Alex.
At the end of September 1969, the world clock was handed over to the public. It was to complete the redesign of Alexanderplatz. Designed by Erich John, 120 experts completed the clock in nine months.
In the center of a wind rose, which is set into the ground as a stone mosaic, there is a column 2.7 meters high. On this column is a three-part cylinder with 24 corners and sides. Each of the sides corresponds to one of the 24 main time zones of the Earth. The names of 146 important cities are engraved. So you can find cities from all continents and time zones on the cylinder. Inside the cylinder rotates an hour ring, on which the hours move through the time zones. Above the world time clock rotates once a minute a simplified representation of the solar system. All in all, the entire clock is 10 meters high.
The required technology is located two meters below the court in a 5×5 meter room with a height of 1.90 meters.
In 1997, the clock was refurbished, updating some of the city names: Leningrad → St. Petersburg, Alma Ata → Almaty. Despite protests from Slovakia, Bratislava was changed to Pressburg. 20 cities were added (e.g. Jerusalem, Tel Aviv) and the assignment of cities to time zones was changed.
Since 2015, the world time clock is a listed building.