Berlin: Places to Explore


Potsdamer Platz and Kreuzberg

The once-divided capital is rejoined on Potsdamer Platz, which was Berlin's inner-city center and Europe's busiest plaza before World War II. Bombings and the wall system left this area a sprawling, desolate lot, where tourists in West Berlin could climb a wooden platform to peek into East Berlin's death strip. After the Wall fell, various international companies made a rush to build their German headquarters on this prime real estate. In the mid-1990s Potsdamer Platz became Europe's largest construction site. Today's modern complexes of red sandstone, terra-cotta tiles, steel, and glass have made it a city within a city. The subtle reminder that this was an empty plot for nearly 50 years is a line of cobblestones that traces the path of the Wall on the west side of Stresemannstrasse.

A few narrow streets cut between the hulking modern architecture, which includes two high-rise office towers owned by Daimler, one of which was designed by star architect Renzo Piano. The round atrium of the Sony Center comes closest to rendering a traditional square used as a public meeting point. Farther down Potsdamer Strasse are the state museums and cultural institutes of the Kulturforum.

Kreuzberg held the American side of the border-crossing Checkpoint Charlie, and is a lively Berlin district. A largely Turkish population shares the residential streets with a variegated assortment of political radicals and bohemians of all nationalities. In the minds of most Berliners, it is split into two even smaller sections: Kreuzberg 61 has gone upscale in the last decade, and contains a variety of small and elegant shops and restaurants, while Kreuzberg 36 has stayed more true to its gritty character, symbolized by the garbage-strewn but much-beloved Görlitzer Park. Oranienstrasse, the spine of life in the Kreuzberg 36 district, has mellowed from hard-core to funky since reunification. When Kreuzberg literally had its back against the Wall, West German social outcasts, punks, and the radical left made this old working-class street their territory. Since the 1970s the population has become largely Turkish, and many of yesterday's outsiders have turned into successful owners of shops and cafés. The vibrant stretch is between Skalitzer Strasse and Oranienplatz. Use Bus M29 or the Görlitzer Bahnhof or Kottbusser Tor U-bahn station to get here.

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