Alexanderplatz (German: [ʔalɛkˈsandɐˌplats] (
With more than 360,000 visitors daily, Alexanderplatz is, according to one study, the most visited area of Berlin, beating Friedrichstrasse and City West. It is a popular starting point for tourists, with many attractions including the Fernsehturm (TV tower), the Nikolai Quarter and the Rotes Rathaus (Red city hall) situated nearby. Alexanderplatz is still one of Berlin's major commercial areas, housing various shopping malls, department stores and other large retail locations.
Roads and public transport
During the post-war reconstruction of the 1960s, Alexanderplatz was completely pedestrianized. Since then, trams were reintroduced to the area in 1998.
Alexanderplatz station provides S-Bahn connections, access to the U2, U5 and U8 subway lines, regional train lines for DB Regio and ODEG services and, on weekends, the Harz-Berlin-Express (HBX). Several tram and bus lines also service the area.
The following main roads connect to Alexanderplatz:
- Northwest: Karl-Liebknecht-Straße (federal highways B 2 and B 5)
- Northeast: Alexanderstraße (B 2 and B 5)
- Southeast: Grunerstraße / Alexanderstraße (B 1)
- Southwest (in front of the S-Bahn station, in the pedestrian zone): Dircksenstraße
Several arterial roads lead radially from Alexanderplatz to the outskirts of Berlin. These include (clockwise from north to southeast):
- Memhardstraße / Rosa-Luxemburg-Straße - Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz - Schönhauser Allee (to Bundesstraße 96a)
- Karl-Liebknecht-Straße - intersection Mollstraße/Prenzlauer Tor - Prenzlauer Allee (main road 109 to the Pankow triangle at the Berliner Ring)
- Grunerstraße / Alexanderstraße - Otto-Braun-Straße (B 2) - (intersection Mollstraße) - Greifswalder Straße (B 2 via Berliner Allee to the Barnim junction at Berliner Ring)
Early history to the 18th century
A hospital stood at the location of present-day Alexanderplatz since the 13th century. Named Heiliger Georg (St. George), the hospital gave its name to the nearby Georgentor (George Gate) of the Berlin city wall. Outside of the city walls, this area was largely undeveloped until around 1400, when the first settlers began building thatched cottages. As a gallows was located close by, the area earned the nickname the "Teufels Lustgarten" (the Devil's Pleasure Garden).
The George Gate became the most important of Berlin's city gates during the 16th century, being the main entrance point for goods arriving along the roads to the north and north-east of the city, for example from Oderberg, Prenzlau and Bernau, and the big Hanseatic cities on the Baltic Sea.
After the Thirty Years' War, the city wall was strengthened. From 1658 to 1683, a citywide fortress was constructed to plans by the Linz master builder, Johann Gregor Memhardt. The new fortress contained 13 bastions connected by ramparts and was preceded by a moat measuring up to 50 meters wide. Within the new fortress, many of the historic city wall gates were closed. For example, the southeastern Stralauer Gate was closed but the Georgian Gate remained open, making the Georgian Gate an even more important entrance to the city.
In 1681, the trade of cattle and pig fattening was banned within the city. Frederick William, the Great Elector, granted cheaper plots of land, waiving the basic interest rate, in the area in front of the Georgian Gate. Settlements grew rapidly and a weekly cattle market was established on the square in front of the Gate.
The area developed into a suburb - the Georgenvorstadt - which continued to flourish into the late 17th century. Unlike the southwestern suburbs (Friedrichstadt, Dorotheenstadt) which were strictly and geometrically planned, the suburbs in the northeast (Georgenvorstadt, Spandauervorstadt and the Stralauer Vorstadt) proliferated without plan. Despite a building ban imposed in 1691, more than 600 houses existed in the area by 1700.
At that time, the George Gate was a rectangular gatehouse with a tower. Next to the tower stood a remaining tower from the original medieval city walls. The upper floors of the gatehouse served as the city jail. A drawbridge spanned the moat and the gate was locked at nightfall by the garrison using heavy oak planks.
A highway ran through the cattle market to the northeast towards Bernau. To the right stood the George chapel, an orphanage and a hospital that was donated by the Elector Sophie Dorothea in 1672. Next to the chapel stood a dilapidated medieval plague house which was demolished in 1716. Behind it was a rifleman's field and an inn, later named the Stelzenkrug.
By the end of the 17th century, 600 to 700 families lived in this area. They included butchers, cattle herders, shepherds and dairy farmers. The George chapel was upgraded to the George church and received its own preacher.
Königs Thor Platz (1701–1805)
After his coronation in Königsberg on May 6, 1701, the Prussian King Frederick I entered Berlin through the George Gate. This led to the gate being renamed the King's Gate, and the surrounding arena became known in official documents as Königs Thor Platz (King's Gate Square). The Georgenvorstadt suburb was renamed Königsvorstadt (or royal city for short).
In 1734, the Berlin Customs Wall, which initially consisted of a ring of palisade fences, was reinforced and grew to encompass the old city and its suburbs, including Königsvorstadt. This resulted in the King's Gate losing importance as an entry-point for goods into the city. The gate was finally demolished in 1746.
By the end of the 18th century, the basic structure of the royal suburbs of the Königsvorstadt had been developed. It consisted of irregular-shaped blocks of buildings running along the historic highways which once carried goods in various directions out of the gate. At this time, the area contained large factories (silk and wool), such as the Kurprinz (one of Berlin's first cloth factories, located in a former barn) and a workhouse established in 1758 for beggars and homeless people, where the inmates worked a man-powered treadmill to turn a mill.
Soon, military facilities came to dominate the area, such as the 1799-1800 military parade grounds designed by David Gilly. At this time, the residents of the platz were mostly craftsmen, petty bourgeois, retired soldiers and manufacturing workers. The southern part of the later Alexanderplatz was separated from traffic by trees and served as a parade ground, whereas the northern half remained a market. Beginning in the mid-18th century, the most important wool market in Germany was held in Alexanderplatz.
Between 1752 and 1755, the writer Gotthold Ephraim Lessing lived in a house on Alexanderplatz. In 1771, a new stone bridge (the Königsbrücke) was built over the moat and in 1777 a colonnade-lined row of shops (Königskolonnaden) was constructed by architect Carl von Gontard. Between 1783 and 1784, seven three-storey buildings were erected around the square by Georg Christian Unger, including the famous Gasthof zum Hirschen, where Karl Friedrich Schinkel lived as a permanent tenant and Heinrich von Kleist stayed in the days before his suicide.
On October 25, 1805, the Russian Tsar Alexander I, thanks to whom European countries were not destroyed by Napoleon, was welcomed to the city on the parade grounds in front of the old King's Gate. To mark this occasion, on the 2nd November, King Frederick William III ordered the square to be renamed Alexanderplatz:
His Royal Majesty, by means of the supreme Cabinet, orders on the 2nd of this month, those in the Königs-Vorstadt Sandgasse to take the name Kaiserstrasse, and the square in front of the workhouse in the newly-conceived suburb settles with the name of Alexander-Platz, this is hereby made known to the public for news and attention.— Royal Preuss. Police Directorate
In the southeast of the square, the cloth factory buildings were converted into the Königstädter Theater by Carl Theodor Ottmer at a cost of 120,000 Taler. The foundation stone was laid on August 31, 1823 and the opening ceremony occurred on August 4, 1824. Sales were poor, forcing the theatre to close on June 3, 1851. Thereafter, the building was used for wool storage, then as a tenement building, and finally as an inn called Aschinger until the building's demolition in 1932.
Because of its importance as a transport hub, horse-drawn buses ran every 15 minutes between Alexanderplatz and Potsdamer Platz in 1847.
During the March Revolution of 1848, large-scale street fighting occurred on the streets of Alexanderplatz, where revolutionaries used barricades to block the route from Alexanderplatz to the city. Novelist and poet Theodor Fontane, who all worked in the vicinity in a nearby pharmacy, participated in the construction of barricades and later described how he used materials from the Königstädter Theater to barricade Neue Königstraße.
The Königsstadt continued to grow throughout the 19th century, with three-storey developments already existing at the beginning of the century and fourth storeys being constructed from the middle of the century. By the end of the century, most of the buildings were already five storeys high. The large factories and military facilities gave way to housing developments (mainly rental housing for the factory workers who had just moved into the city) and trading houses.
At the beginning of the 1870s, the Berlin administration had the former moat filled in order to build the Berlin city railway, which was opened in 1882 along with Bahnhof Alexanderplatz (Alexanderplatz Railway Station).
In 1883-1884, the Grand Hotel, a neo-Renaissance building with 185 rooms and shops beneath was constructed. From 1886 to 1890, Hermann Blankenstein built the Police headquarters, a huge brick building whose tower on the northern corner dominated the building. In 1890, a district court at Alexanderplatz was also established.
In 1886, the local authorities built a central market hall west of the rail tracks, which replaced the weekly market on the Alexanderplatz in 1896. During the end of the 19th century, the emerging private traffic and the first horse bus lines dominated the northern part of the square, the southern part (the former parade ground) remained quiet, having green space elements added by garden director Hermann Mächtig in 1889. The northwest of the square contained a second, smaller green space where, in 1895, the 7.5-meter copper Berolina statue by sculptor Emil Hundrieser was erected.
Highpoint between the Empire and the Nazi era (1900–1940)
At the beginning of the 20th century, Alexanderplatz experienced its heyday. In 1901, Ernst von Wolzogen founded the first German cabaret, the Überbrettl, in the former Sezessionsbühne (Secession stage) at Alexanderstraße 40, initially under the name Bunte Brettl. It was announced as "Kabarett as upscale entertainment with artistic ambitions. Emperor-loyal and market-oriented stands the uncritical amusement in the foreground."
The merchants Hermann Tietz, Georg Wertheim and Hahn opened large department stores on Alexanderplatz: Tietz (1904-1911), Wertheim (1910–1911) and Hahn (1911). Tietz marketed itself as a department store for the Berlin people, whereas Wertheim modelled itself as a department store for the world.
In October 1905, the first section of the Tietz department store opened to the public. It was designed by architects Wilhelm Albert Cremer and Richard Wolffenstein, who had already won second prize in the competition for the construction of the Reichstag building. The Tietz department store underwent further construction phases and, in 1911, had a commercial space of 7,300 square meters and the longest department store facade in the world at 250 meters in length.
For the construction of the Wertheim department store, by architects Heinrich Joseph Kayser and Karl von Großheim, the Königskolonnaden were removed in 1910 and now stand in the Heinrich von Kleist Park in Schöneberg.
In October 1908, the Haus des Lehrers (house of teachers) was inaugurated next to the Bunte Brettl at Alexanderstraße 41. It was designed by Hans Toebelmann and Henry Gross. The building belonged to the Berliner Lehrererverein (teachers’ association), who rented space on the ground floor of the building out to a pastry shop and restaurant in order to raise funds for the association. The rear of the property contained the association's administrative building, a hotel for members and an exhibition hall. Notable events that took place in the hall include the funeral services for Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg on February 2, 1919, and, on December 4, 1920, the Vereinigungsparteitag (Unification Party Congress) of the Communist Party and the USPD.
Alexanderplatz's position as a main transport and traffic hub continued to fuel its development. In addition to the three U-Bahn underground lines, long-distance trains and S-Bahn trains ran along the Platz's viaduct arches. Omnibuses, horse-drawn from 1877 and, after 1898, also electric-powered trams, ran out of Alexanderplatz in all directions in a star shape. The subway station was designed by Alfred Grenander and followed the color-coded order of subway stations, which began with green at Leipziger Platz and ran through to dark red.
In the Golden Twenties, Alexanderplatz was the epitome of the lively, pulsating cosmopolitan city of Berlin, rivaled in the city only by Potsdamer Platz. Many of the buildings and rail bridges surrounding the platz bore large billboards that illuminated the night. The Berlin cigarette company Manoli had a famous billboard at the time which contained a ring of neon tubes that constantly circled a black ball. The proverbial "Berliner Tempo" of those years was characterized as "total manoli". Writer Kurt Tucholsky wrote a poem referencing the advert, and the composer Rudolf Nelson made the legendary Revue Total manoli with the dancer Lucie Berber. The writer Alfred Döblin named his novel, Berlin Alexanderplatz, after the square and Walter Ruttmann filmed his 1927 film Berlin: Die Sinfonie der Großstadt (Berlin: The symphony of the big city) at Alexanderplatz.
Destruction of Alexanderplatz (1940–1945)
The war reached Alexanderplatz in early April 1945. The Berolina statue had already been removed in 1944 and probably melted down for use in arms production. During the Battle of Berlin, Red Army artillery bombarded the area around Alexanderplatz. The battles of the last days of the war destroyed considerable parts of the historic Königsstadt, as well as many of the buildings around Alexanderplatz.
The Wehrmacht had entrenched itself within the tunnels of the underground system. Hours before fighting ended in Berlin on May 2, 1945, troops of the SS detonated explosives inside the north-south S-Bahn tunnel under the Landwehr Canal to slow the advance of the Red Army towards Berlin’s city center. The entire tunnel flooded, as well as large sections of the U-Bahn network via connecting passages at the Friedrichstraße underground station. Many of those seeking shelter in the tunnels were killed. Of the then 63.3 kilometers of subway tunnel, around 19.8 kilometers were flooded with more than one million cubic meters of water.
Demolition and reconstruction (1945–1964)
Before a planned reconstruction of the entire Alexanderplatz could take place, all of the war ruins needed to be demolished and cleared away. A popular black market emerged within the ruined area, which the police raided several times a day.
Reconstruction planning for post-war Berlin gave priority to the dedication space to accommodate the rapidly-growing motor traffic in inner-city thoroughfares. This idea of a traffic-orientated city was already based on considerations and plans by Hilbersheimer and Le Corbusier from the 1930s.
Alexanderplatz has been subject to redevelopment several times in its history, most recently during the 1960s, when it was turned into a pedestrian zone and enlarged as part of the German Democratic Republic's redevelopment of the city centre. It is surrounded by several notable structures including the Fernsehturm (TV Tower).
After German reunification
Ever since German reunification, Alexanderplatz has undergone a gradual process of change with many of the surrounding buildings being renovated. Despite the reconstruction of the tram line crossing, it has retained its socialist character, including the much-graffitied "Fountain of Friendship between Peoples" (Brunnen der Völkerfreundschaft), a popular venue.
In 1993, architect Hans Kollhoff's master plan for a major redevelopment including the construction of several skyscrapers was published. Due to a lack of demand it is unlikely these will be constructed. However, beginning with the reconstruction of the Kaufhof department store in 2004, and the biggest underground railway station of Berlin, some buildings were redesigned and new structures built on the square's south-eastern side. Sidewalks were expanded to shrink one of the avenues, a new underground garage was built, and commuter tunnels meant to keep pedestrians off the streets were removed. The surrounding buildings now house chain stores, fast-food restaurants, and fashion discounters. The Alexa shopping mall, with approximately 180 stores opened nearby in 2007, and a large Saturn electronic store was built and opened in 2008. The CUBIX multiplex cinema, which opened in November 2000, joined the team of Berlin International Film Festival cinemas in 2007, and the festival shows films on three of its screens. In January 2014, a 39-story residential tower designed by Frank Gehry was announced, but this project was put on hold in 2018.
Many historic buildings are located in the vicinity of Alexanderplatz. The traditional seat of city government, the Rotes Rathaus, or Red City Hall, is located nearby, as was the former East German parliament building, the Palast der Republik. The Palast was demolished from 2006-2008 to make room for a full reconstruction of the Baroque Berlin Palace, or Stadtschloss, which is set to open in 2019.
Alexanderplatz is also the name of the S-Bahn and U-Bahn stations there. It is one of Berlin's largest and most important transportation hubs, being a meetingplace of three subway (U-Bahn) lines, three S-Bahn lines, and many tram and bus lines, as well as regional trains.
It also accommodates the Park Inn Berlin and the World Time Clock, a continually rotating installation that shows the time throughout the globe, and Hermann Henselmann's Haus des Lehrers. During the Peaceful Revolution of 1989, the Alexanderplatz demonstration on 4 November was the largest demonstration in the history of East Germany.
Alexanderplatz is the only existing square in front of one of the medieval gates of Berlin's city wall.
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