Alexanderplatz in Berlin is the city's most unusual square, named after the Russian Emperor Alexander I. Here, in the eastern centre of the German capital, the monuments of the past, the faceless architecture of the GDR, and modern buildings blend together.
"Alex" (as the townspeople call one of the most popular squares in the main German metropolis) goes back to the 13th century. At that time it was located outside Berlin, protected by the fortress wall. Here, at the eastern Oderberg Gate, the trade routes from the Hanseatic cities on the Baltic Sea were connected. In 1272 a leper hospital and the adjacent St. George Chapel (Anglikanische St. George-Kirche) appeared on what is now Alexanderplatz. Moreover, the castle wall hid the frontal area from the eyes of the capital's residents. At least two public executions were carried out here each year between 1391 and 1448. The Thirty Years' War reduced the population of Berlin and many houses were burnt down and destroyed.
To improve defences, Friedrich Wilhelm I decides to build a new ring of the fortress. The area in front of the Oderberg Gate (now called Georgentor) becomes part of the city. For a small fee, the Great Elector sells the plots of land, and residences and manufactures appear on the square. The cattle market, which had existed until 1681, is converted into a Sunday market. In 1701, the Georgentor is renamed the Royal Gate (Königstor), and the square in front of it is called Thorplatz. By 1800, the area was already home to about 700 families, whose members included craftsmen, retired soldiers, labourers and merchants. The southern part of the square is used for parades, while in the north trade continues to go uphill.
On 25 October 1805, Russian Tsar Alexander I arrives in Berlin. The purpose of the monarch's visit is to gain Prussian support for the war against Napoleon. The ceremonial meeting of the heads of the two powers took place at Torplatz. As a result of the negotiations, an agreement was signed for joint action in the anti-French coalition. To mark the alliance, Friedrich Wilhelm III issues a decree, according to which Torplatz is named after the distinguished guest of honour and is henceforth called Alexanderplatz.
The beginning of the last century was a time of prosperity for the square. Large department stores, office buildings and advanced transport links made Alexanderplatz an important part of the German capital. In 1936 around 35,000 cars crossed the site every day. The end of World War II saw the eastern centre of the city in ruins. By 1958, the area that became part of the GDR was cleared of the remains of destroyed structures and turned into a pedestrian zone. The global reconstruction of the square started in 1966. At the end of the urban development work, Alexanderplatz covered 80,000 square metres. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, new residential and commercial buildings were erected on the "Alex". Tram lines were reintroduced. In the near future, according to plans by architect Hans Kollhoff, 11 skyscrapers will adorn the main square in eastern Berlin.
Today, Alexanderplatz is one of the busiest and most visited places in the German capital. Alongside the train station, car parks, office buildings, shopping centres and hotels, it is home to some of the city's most famous landmarks.
The enormous chronometer designed by industrial designer Erich Yohn appeared in 1969. The full name of the ten-metre-high construction, "Urania World Time" (Urania-Weltzeituhr), comes from the fact that during the demolition of the Alexanderplatz ruins, workers discovered the "Urania" column (the prototype of modern weather stations). This discovery was the basis for the idea of an unusual clock system. The wind-rose-shaped mosaic on the asphalt surface is 2.7 m high and 1.5 m in diameter. Attached to it is a rotating cylinder, a polygon with 24 facets. Each of them symbolises a time zone of the planet. The aluminium plates bear the names of cities and the schematic outlines of countries. Above the clock, an abstract model of the solar system describes circles.
In front of the Galeria Kaufhof department store, the streams of the Friendship of the Peoples fountain, created in 1969, soar into the sky. Water flows into the highest part of the copper building through a cascade of 17 diamond-shaped bowls into a two-level pool. Rainbow splashes are reflected in the glass crystals with which the spiral structure is generously decorated. The six-metre-long fountain is nicknamed the "Brooch of the Prostitute" because of its abundance of ceramics, enamels and colourful ornaments.
The capital's main viewing platform is visible from anywhere in the city. The television tower was inaugurated on 3 October 1969, shortly before the twentieth anniversary celebrations of the German Democratic Republic. In the eyes of Walter Ernst Paul Ulbricht, President of the Council of State, the four-year construction project epitomised the supremacy of the socialist system. The height of the reinforced concrete structure was 368 metres. The middle steel section has a diameter of 32 metres and is shaped like a ball. The sun's rays falling on it produce a pattern resembling a cross. The people of East Berlin called this optical effect a revenge of the Pope on the atheist GDR. Today the Berlin TV Tower is an architectural symbol of the German metropolis. At 207 metres high there is a restaurant, which rotates slowly around its axis, and one floor below there is a panoramic platform. Two high-speed lifts bring hundreds of tourists up here every day.
Next to the TV Tower is Berlin's oldest church, the Marienkirche. The date on which the evangelical church was built is shrouded in the mists of time. According to historical chronicles, the parish, built on foundations of brick and cobbles, already existed in 1294. The Neo-Gothic appearance of the building, with Neoclassical and Baroque elements, was given by Carl Gotthard Langhans, the architect of the Brandenburger Tor, at the end of the 18th century. The last reconstruction dates back to 1970. The interior decoration of the church is in the Gothic style. The most significant interior features are the magnificent pulpit, designed by Andreas Schlüter in 1702, and the organ, behind which Johann Sebastian Bach composed his fugue. The highlight in the tower hall is a partially preserved fresco, "The Dance of Death", from the plague that swept through the city in 1484. The church is open to visitors from 10:00 to 16:00 (January to March) and 10:00 to 18:00 (April to December).
The 100-metre-long, three-storey red brick building, topped with an 84-metre-high clock tower and flagpole, is one of the metropolis' popular landmarks. The neo-Renaissance-style building appeared on Alexanderplatz in 1861. Designed by architect Hermann Waesemann, the monumental building was intended to embody the self-esteem of the capital's residents. Since the renovation of the Red City Hall in 1958, it has been the seat of the city council of East Berlin and since 1991 it has been the seat of the mayor and senate of the reunited Berlin. From Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., those interested can visit the foyer, the ceremonial hall, the armorial hall and the column hall.
Between the Red Town Hall and St. Mary's Church is a magnificent example of neo-Baroque architecture, the "Neptune" fountain. The idea for its construction belonged to Karl Friedrich Schinkel. But the Prussian architect didn't have time to carry out his project. The bronze construction was undertaken by the sculptor Reinhold Begas. The masterpiece was unveiled on November 1, 1891. It was dismantled after the Second World War and set up at its new location in 1969. Seated on a red granite curb are half-naked girls, symbolising the main rivers of Prussia: the Elbe, Rhein, Wisla and Oder. On the three-story base is a basin. In the centre of the shell is the King of the Oceans with his bearded head, holding a massive trident in his left hand. The lord of the oceans is surrounded by playing babies, crocodiles, crayfish, snakes, turtles and sea chimeras.
The Alexanderplatz area is beloved not only by tourists, but also by shoppers from all over the world. This area is home to both small shops and large shopping centres. Opposite the "Urania Clock" is "Saturn", Germany's largest home appliance and electronics retailer. Next to the station is one of the city's oldest department stores, Galeria Kaufhof, which first welcomed shoppers in the early 20th century.
On 35,000 square metres, visitors can stroll freely through a clearly organised world of fashion, perfumery, cosmetics, jewellery, watches, household and sporting goods. On the ground floor, the famous gourmet delicatessen Galeria-Gourmet is open. Friendliness, customer orientation and comprehensive services are part of the concept of the shopping centre.
Berlin's largest megamall, the "Alexa" arcade, can also be found on Alexanderplatz. Behind the pink façade, 180 shops on four floors offer clothing, footwear and accessories from various brands such as S. Oliver, Esprit, H&M, Comma and Gerry Weber. Oliver, Esprit, H&M, Comma, Gerry Weber, Gabor and Betty Barclay. Media Markt offers a huge range of home appliances and multimedia products. The upper level is occupied by fast food restaurants.