Alexanderplatz, or Alex, as it’s known to Berliners is a windswept pedestrianised plaza doubling up as a meeting point and transport hub in what used to be East Berlin.
It was the downtown centre for the locals when it was behind the Iron Curtain, and now one of the main focal points for the united Berlin of today – and no visit to the city would be complete without visiting Alex.
The square was the communist authority’s idea of a modern cityscape, and although it’s had its fair share of critics over the years, it wouldn’t surprise me if there wasn’t a fair number of people who wouldn’t want to see it change too much either.
A building that probably wouldn’t be missed very much is the Park Inn which towers over the square. I’ve stayed here a couple of times and it has to be said that the views from the hotel are fantastic, but from an architectural point of view it’s a typical 1960s tower block with no real merit and too much of a presence over the surrounding area
Many buildings have come and gone since the area started out as a livestock market in the Middle Ages, but it was the visit of the Russian Tsar Alexander I that gave the square its name in 1805.
Alex has seen many ups and downs over the years, being seedy one minute, and upmarket the next. WWII dealt it a heavy blow when much of the area was destroyed, but two buildings of note survived – Alexanderhaus and Berolinahaus.
They were designed by the modernist architect Peter Behrens and built between 1929 and 1932 in a new style that became known as ‘New Objectivity’. His plans were to enclose the square with several buildings, but with the depression and rise of fascism in the 1930s these two buildings were the only ones completed.
Having survived the war and post war re-construction, they were given protected status in 1975 and renovated between 2004 and 2006.
Another large building that would be impossible to miss is the Galeria Kaufhof. Today, it looks just like any other store, but when it was opened as Centrum in 1970 it was not only the largest store in the GDR, but somewhere that sold goods that most people could only dream of, including items imported from the ‘West’. Ironically, outside the store these days are people now selling ‘GDR and Russian military caps and hats’ to people from the West!
Nearby is a fountain built in the 1960s called Friendship among Nations and a great meeting point, but probably the most famous meeting point and also the most photographed object in the plaza has to be the World Clock.
Being such a large open space, Alexanderplatz has attracted a fair number of demonstrations over the years, but none bigger than the anti-government rally just before the wall came down in Nov 1989. It’s been estimated that up to a million people joined the demonstration.
A lot of water has gone under the Schlossbrucke since then but Alex has been largely untouched by new development, which I’m sure will please those who still miss the old East Berlin days.
Ostalgie is still alive and well in some East Berliners minds, and even though I’m not sure I would have wanted to have been living here I do understand some of that thinking. From purely a tourist’s point of view though I’m also pleased that Alexanderplatz hasn’t changed too much, but whether that situation lasts, only time will tell.