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.
Designed by Helmut Jahn, the German-American architect, the Sony Center took four years to complete and was opened in 2000 at a cost of €750m.
The plaza is enclosed by a spectacular roof constructed of glass, steel and fabric and promotes Berlin’s contribution to the world of films. There are several cinemas, including an Imax theatre and a film museum. It also hosts the Berlinale, the Berlin International Film Festival.
Apart from the Kaisersaal Restaurant and Café Josty, there are a number of other places to eat and drink, which are best enjoyed on an evening, when the Center takes on a completely different ambience thanks to a lighting experience put together by Yann Kersale, a Parisian lighting artist. His idea is to use the roof’s design in a way that evokes the changing colours of sunset through varying degrees of cyan and magenta. I love it!
The Sony Center attracts some 8 million visitors a year, many of them tourists. Fortunately, it’s big enough not to get too overcrowded, but to get the best seat in the house, so to speak, I recommend that you get here early enough to pull up a chair outside one of the cafes, watch the roof change from daylight through to Yann Kersale’s illuminations, and enjoy one of Berlin’s most historically interesting locations inside an icon of modern Berlin.