What should one make of a square which originally wasn't supposed to exist at all? First, it lay outside the city, then it was swallowed by it. Thereafter, it completely disappeared for some years – only to reemerge triumphantly like Phoenix from the ashes! It never was a real city centre, whether historically or politically, but rather an attraction for those who visited Berlin. It was also more of a traffic junction than a square as such. At most times, it was obscured by numerous building sites which didn´t invite people to stay.
Nevertheless, it became a magnet within the last few years. Tourists visited the spectacular building sites right in the middle of a once divided Berlin while the locals turned up to know how their new old square was doing. Bit by bit, the first buildings were completed. While one could already shop in the arcades, there were still huge excavation sites a few yards away, with the traffic passing right over them on provisional bridges. Such spectacular insights into the innards of the city were only a passing phenomena in the early years after the reunification of Berlin.
This hidden world under the pavement, though, has not completely disappeared nowadays. Berlin's first real metro station was opened here, its current location slightly differing from the original one. The power centres of the German Empire, the old and the new Imperial Chancellory, lay within sight of the Potsdamer Platz, as did the so-called Ministerial Gardens.
Beneath them, the highest concentration of bunkers in Berlin could be found. Albert Speer, Hitler's main architect, was responsible for their construction. All the ministries, Nazi party offices and other administrative bodies were fitted with their own air raid shelters. These bunker projects also included Hitler's legendary “Führerbunker”. All of them were to become reminders of a gruesome past and had to be dealt with later on in order to make way for new projects – like Goebbels's bunker on the site where the memorial for the victims of the Nazi holocaust is to be erected.
When the Berlin Wall was built in 1961, the Potsdamer Platz, with the notorious “death strip” running right across its territory, sank into an uneasy slumber full of nightmares. This also went for the metro stations beneath it. They were either mothballed, used as storage depots or became surreal “ghost stations” with sophisticated alarm systems to discover those who wanted to escape into West Berlin. Although the stations are back in use again nowadays, they still radiate the “charme” of that episode.
The legendary old cafes, cinemas and majestic railway stations are gone now and have been replaced by new temples of consumerism. The Potsdamer Platz is back in action again and this also goes for its subterranean infrastructure: Within the last decade, the sewage system, the water and gas pipes and the electricity lines have been completely renewed. And the huge BEWAG heating tunnel, one of Berlin's most ambitious recent underground projects – running at a depth of 35 metres – also passes the Potsdamer Platz. To sum it up, the Potsdamer Platz has once again become the starting point for fascinating journeys into Berlin's dark underworlds!