In contrast to the other glass and steel structures in the square, the building is constructed out of peat-fired bricks with a design more reminiscent of a New York skyscraper. It soars 100 metres up into the Berlin sky and was completed in 1999.
Mainly built with office space in mind, I don’t suppose too many people will be overly enthusiastic about these statistics, but it might interest people more if I say that the fastest elevator in Europe catapults you up to the 24th floor in just 20 seconds where there is an open-air viewing platform with some of the best views in Berlin.
With the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the redevelopment of Potsdamer Platz must have been an architect’s dream. The square was divided up into four separate areas which were to be redeveloped by four different developers, one of which was the area now occupied by the Sony Center.
During the ‘Golden Twenties’, the site was occupied by ‘The Esplanade’, one of Berlin’s most prestigious hotels. Frequented by film stars such as Charlie Chaplin and Greta Garbo, the hotel was even used by Kaiser Wilhelm II who entertained guests in one of the hotel’s magnificent halls.
90% of the hotel was destroyed by allied bombing raids in the winter of 1944/45, with the Kaisersaal (as the hall became known) and the breakfast room the only rooms to survive. After restoration of what was left, it once again fell into disrepair following the building of the adjacent Berlin Wall.
After the Wall came down, what remained was listed as a historical monument, which created a problem for the architects of the new Sony Center. The outcome was that the Kaisersaal was moved 75 metres and incorporated into the new design behind a glass wall, and the breakfast room was dismantled piece by piece and re-created for the new Café Josty, the original being a popular Potsdamer Platz meeting place for artists in the early 20th century.
At a point where five roads converged at the old Potsdam Gate, Potsdamer Platz became the busiest and most recognized intersection in Germany – if not Europe. It became so busy that Europe’s first recognised traffic lights were installed in 1924 to help keep things moving.
Its heyday was during the Roaring Twenties, when film stars such as Marlene Dietrich helped catapult Berlin onto the world stage of show business. It was the place to be and be seen. Grand hotels were built to accommodate the rich and famous, as did luxury stores, bars, and restaurants. The inter-war years had been good to Berlin, but it wasn’t to last.
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.
At 368m, Berlin’s TV Tower is the tallest structure in Germany, so there’s no excuse for not seeing it.
There’s an enclosed viewing platform at 203 m, and fortunately you don’t have to climb up the 986 steps because one of the two lifts will whisk you up there in just 40 seconds.
It’s a good job the lifts are quick because they’re not very big and waiting times can be considerable.
Almost 1.2m visitors a year pay to come for a panoramic view of Berlin and if you don’t mind paying an extra premium you can have a fast track entry. Better still if you can get here for the 09.00 opening you won’t need to pay the extra and you won’t have to wait long either.
The prime reason for building the TV Tower wasn’t to give tourists a grandstand view of Berlin of course, but to provide radio and television transmissions, and also no doubt, to make a political statement that the GDR was capable of building structures every bit as impressive as those across the wall could – and in this instance, in my opinion, they were right.
After the Royal Palace and the Honours of Scotland, the next must-see part of the castle is the Great Hall which is located next to the Palace in Crown Square.
This grand ceremonial hall was completed in 1512 for James IV and used for entertaining dignitaries with great banquets, but all this fine dining and drinking came to an abrupt end when Oliver Cromwell took over at the helm in 1650 and converted it into barracks.
When the New Barracks were opened in 1799 the hall was converted into a military hospital, and then in 1886 it was restored to something like its former glory.
The one thing that isn’t Victorian though is the hammerbeam roof which has been here from the beginning and one of the most important in Britain. Another original feature is the Laird’s Lug (Lord’s Ear) which is a grilled opening above the right-hand side of the fireplace. It was used for eavesdropping and when Mikhail Gorbachev came to the castle in 1984 his security team insisted that it was bricked up.
Around the perimeter is an impressive collection of weapons and armour on loan from the Royal Armouries.
Edinburgh Castle Pt 3 - The Royal Palace and Scottish Crown Jewels
If there’s one part of the castle that shouldn’t be missed it has to be the Royal Palace and the Scottish Crown Jewels.
The Palace was at the heart of the royal castle from the 11th to the early 17th centuries and probably an extension to David’s Tower.
On the ground floor, the most important event to take place at the Palace occurred on 19th June 1566 when Mary, Queen of Scots gave birth to a son who became King James VI of Scotland after her abdication thirteen months later.
Mary and her husband Lord Darnley were living at Holyrood when rumours circulated that the father of her unborn child was David Rizzio, her Private Secretary. Shortly afterwards Rizzio was murdered at Holyrood and Darnley was the chief suspect. To make matters worse Mary was catholic and the country was now protestant and so she came to the safe haven of the castle to give birth to the future King James VI and I of England. The birth took place in a small room next to her own chamber.
James became King of England in 1603 and left Edinburgh for London. The Palace became neglected, but for a solitary return in 1617 to celebrate 50 years on the Scottish throne, the place had a facelift. The birth chamber was re-decorated (which still shows the same decorations today) and new rooms were added including the Laich Hall.
On entering the castle you’ll be given a map which follows the easiest route up to the top, which is not only wheelchair and pushchair friendly, but also follows a numerical sequence.
Passing through the Castle Gates will bring you to the Argyle Battery where everyone stops for a view out across he city. It’s a natural thing to do, but there are even better views higher up, so it’s not essential to stop here if there are too many people milling around, and you can always stop here on the way back.
Next to it is the One ‘o clock gun and the Redcoat Café which is a convenient place to have a quick coffee and make some plans on what you want to try and see while you’re here, because as I said in my Introduction you may not have time to see everything.
The One ‘o clock gun is fired everyday at one ‘o clock except Sundays, Christmas Day and Good Friday. The spectacle is similar to what happens at Greenwich, but with a twist.
Over on Calton Hill, at the top of Nelson’s Monument, is a time-ball, which just like its London counterpart, was introduced to help ships (in the Firth of Forth) to calibrate the time with the sun in order to aid navigation. This, of course, was when timekeeping wasn’t as sophisticated as it is today. The ball was dropped at precisely 1 o’clock and as long as the weather was clear enough then everything was ok – but the weather in Edinburgh isn’t always clear enough – and so a gun was used to compliment the visual aid.
Apparently, due to the speed of sound, it takes 10 seconds for the signal to reach Leith, and the ships took this into account when setting their timepieces. You may want to do the same because for the gun to be heard out in the Firth of Forth it means that you may not want to stand right next to it. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!
Edinburgh Castle is the most visited paid for tourist destination in Scotland, and like any major attraction, some forward planning will help make your visit a more pleasant experience.
The official website gives all the latest practical information and advice (https://www.edinburghcastle.scot/), but I would particularly draw your attention to the fact that a timed ticketing system is now in operation, and to be sure of being able to visit at a time that suits you best it’s going to be worth considering booking online in advance – and it’s cheaper.
The admission prices may appear to be a bit steep but bear in mind that there are no extra charges once inside the castle and you can spend a fair amount of time here. We spent 4 hours wandering around and ran out of steam before we ran out of things to do, so I’ve decided to break my article on Edinburgh Castle up into different sections so that people can have an idea on what to expect.
Accessibility, even though it’s on a volcanic crag, is relatively easy around the grounds, although there is a slope up to the top. However, some of the indoor highlights are not suitable for wheelchairs and the website lists which ones they are.
On my first visit to Newcastle I was surprised to see old timber-framed buildings. For some reason I just wasn’t expecting to see any, but at Sandhill there is a group of impressive 17th century merchant’s houses including Bessie Surtees House.
Built in the 17th century, it was originally two houses, named after the merchants who lived in them – Millbank and Surtees. These five storey buildings are fine examples of Jacobean architecture, and even though they have gone through periods of neglect, today they are admirably cared for by Historic England.
To keep everything commercially viable most of the combined building is leased out for office space, but the impressive first floor is freely available for visitors to take a look at.