32. Potsdamer Platz

If you cross Leipziger Platz, you will come to the once-famous Potsdamer Platz, once a hub not just of Germany but of Europe. These days it’s largely a tourist trap but there are a few points of interest, depending on where you’re coming from. I think it would be safe to say that no original buildings have survived since the war and the fact that Postdamer Platz had the Berlin Wall running through it meant that the area was pretty much wasteland for just shy of thirty years. You can see some very good postwar footage of the area in 1987 in Wim Wenders’ “Der Himmel Uber Berlin” (“Wings of Desire”):

The good stuff starts around 39:00 and although the movie won Wenders the award for best director at the Cannes Film Festival it’s tedious, pretentious poop IMO. Makes me want to reach for my Browning.

However, as I said, Potsdamer Platz was once a cultural and social centre of both Berlin and Europe. This is what it looked like before the war:

The buildings you will need to recognise and remember are the Furstenhof Hotel (three turrets at left), Haus Vaterland (domed building partly hidden), Potsdamer Bahnhof (with the five main arches) and Pschorr Haus (conveniently labelled) at far right. You will need to remember them so you can recognise them in photos after they have been ruined by the war and neglected during the Wall period (if I ever get around to writing it up). Also, how else are you going to impress your friends (if any)? Another building which will help you orient yourself is the ultra-modern Columbus Haus. Had you walked up Leipzigerstrasse and through the two Potsdam Gatehouses (facing each other) back in the day, you would have seen the Columbus Haus:

It was, in its day, as flash as a rat with a gold tooth:

But six and a half years of air raids and a ferocious series of street battles will knock you around more than a tad:

Here it is in happier times:

You may recall that there is a surviving S Bahn sign at Potsdamer Platz. Here it is to save you going back:

Sorry about the reflections. If it’s a problem, take your own bloody photo.

Could it be the same one in the photo above? I reckon the chances are pretty good. The one is the foreground is buggered beyond repair but the shy one in the background seems to be in better nick. See what you think:

You can tell it’s the same sign in both comparison photos by the orientation with the NRK in the background. I think this (below) could be the same sign which would be an amazing survival story given the scale and intensity of the fighting at Potsdamer Platz in April 1945:

Why the emphasis on a dumb old sign? Well, it could well be the only original relic from the Potsdamer Platz of days gone by. So what can you see there of historical significance? Not a lot. If you haven’t been there before you will be surprised at just how close Potsdamer Platz is to Voss-Strasse, one whole side of which you will remember housed the NRK. You may also remember that a report (probably incorrect as it turns out) of Russians in Voss-Strasse and Potsdamer Platz accelerated Hitler’s decision to hang up his cue. So as you stand there you may want to let it sink in just how close the Russians were. Had they known he was in the NRK, the battle would have almost certainly been much shorter. You may recall that a U Bahn line also ran from Potsdamerplatz to an underground station under the Wertheim department store. Had the Soviets been aware of this they could have popped up across the street from the NRK and saved themselves a lot of trouble, assuming of course that they had captured Potsdamerplatz before the surrender.

There are a number of famous photos of this area after the surrender, amongst them this one:

That is the Tiger II of Karl-Heinz Turk outside the Potsdamerplatz Hauptbahnhof. This is he:

You can read of his exploits here (and a zillion other places):

I post on the AHF as ‘Mannheim’, hence the occasional overlap with this blog. Incidentally, the Tiger II is/was a seriously big intimidator. This is a surviving one at the Munster Panzer Museum (take note of the shackle on the rear right-hand side):
…and to give an idea of the size of this bugger, this is my hand on the same shackle:
I am 182cm tall and I had to reach up to touch the deck on which the turret sits.

If you are standing in Potsdamerplatz you will see, behind the entrance to the U Bahn, a long strip of elevated grassland. That’s where the Hauptbahnhof and associated railway lines used to stand:

That’s it behind the pagoda-shaped …ummm…pagoda. Turk’s Tiger stood just to the right of that bus.

I have made myself a promise not to get bogged down in detail so we’ll leave Potsdamerplatz very shortly but one last look at one of the ironies of history. In 1945 Soviet tanks were fighting to liberate Berlin (well, that’s one way of putting it) and here they are again in 1953, just eight years later, once again on the streets of Berlin only this time putting down an insurrection by the ungrateful blighters to whom they had brought the glory of communism:

Note the undemolished ruins of the Hauptbahnhof at rear.

Now, on to the Bendlerblock…