The New Pumped-Up Berlin

A Berlin Mural

A Berlin Mural

“There’s no success like failure,” sang Dylan. And, there’s no bigger boom than a disaster rebound.

Unlike most other European capitals, Berlin was late in rebuilding after World War II because its division lasted until 1989. After being repressed for so long, development is now bounding forth. Cranes wave on 360 degrees of horizon. Historical buildings, battered by a century of war and economic chaos, are lovingly restored. New buildings claim every corner.

However, the city still feels scarred. Evidence of past traumas are everywhere. The old pressure-point Checkpoint Charlie is an awkward tourist zone dominated by McDonalds, where German actors pose as G.I.’s for Euros.

Outside of the Topography of Terror museum

Outside of the Topography of Terror museum

Museums to the city’s unspeakable tragedies, such as the Topography of Terror complex documenting the Gestapo, SS and other fascist forces, are deliberately dark and hunched-over. For once, Brutalist architecture feels appropriate! Berlin architect Ursula Wilms and landscape architect Heinz W. Hallmann from the town of Aachen created the compelling design on the site of the Third Reich security offices.

New places flower from the ashes. The Neues Museum combines an 1885 landmark ravaged by postwar neglect with new materials and design by David Chipperfield Architects.

Potsdamer Platz, once a dead zone bisected by the Berlin Wall, is suddenly home to luxury hotels and corporate HQs. It was in the old, dead-zone version of Potsdamer Platz that in 1990 Roger Waters staged Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” to celebrate East/West reunification. Planning for that concert, it is said, helped speed redevelopment after uncovering a lost landscape of forgotten Nazi bunkers.

The mysterious purple pipes

The mysterious purple pipes

After reunification, Daimler AG and Sony Corp. invested more than 1 billion Euros in the zone. Renzo Piano joined other A-list architects Raphael Moneo and Richard Rogers to shape iconic parts of Potsdamer Platz, including Daimler Financial Services Headquarters.

But perhaps the most visible symbols of rebound are those perplexing pink, blue and purple pipes running along nearly every street. At first they seem some kind arty-industrial representation of the sinuous Berlin Wall route. Turns out these pipes, too, directly express the city’s growth. Berlin’s water table is very high. During construction excavation – which is everywhere – water tends to flood the foundations, so it is pumped away via the pipes. They start at the work site and end at the River Spree.  –Jack Skelley




For a sense of just how far the city has come, this astonishing 1945 video shows many of its landmarks struggling after occupation by the liberators.





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