Potsdamer Platz, in the very heart of Berlin, was first laid out in the 18th C. Initially it was named "Platz vor dem Potsdamer Thor" (The Square in front of the Potsdam Gate). It was given its present name in 1831. Before the Second World War it was the busiest square in Europe, where five of Berlin's liveliest streets converged. Together with Leipziger Platz on its eastern edge it formed the main traffic link between the east and west of the city.
In 1925, 600 trams passed through the square every hour. Its landmark was a traffic tower with a clock in the very center of the square, from the top of which a policeman and traffic lights - the latter installed in 1924 and Germany's first - controlled the streams of traffic. Numerous hotels and restaurants attracted people here, including the "Haus Vaterland" (House of the Fatherland - also a variety theater), whose 2,000 seats made it Europe's largest restaurant and a veritable magnet for tourists. With the building of the Berlin Wall in 1961, Potsdamer Platz became a no-man's land between two lines of walls running southwards from the Brandenburg Gate. Anti-tank obstacles, barbed wire, watch towers and death strips dominated the completely desolate area.
Almost nothing remains of the buildings which once stood here, such as the Potsdamer Bahnhof (Potsdam Station) built in 1872 and pulled down after the war. Only the "Weinhaus Huth" on the old Potsdamer Strasse and the ruined remains of the former "Esplanade" hotel, which is to be converted into a cinema, remain as a reminder of old Berlin. The infamous Nazi People's Court sat near the hotel. Under presiding judge Freisler it sentenced more than 5,000 to death between 1942 and 1945. If you look carefully you will see a square stone block in the wall. Uncovered in 1951, it is the base of a memorial (never erected) to Wilhelm Liebknecht, who was arrested on that exact spot on May 1, 1916. Potsdamer Platz is criss-crossed with a labyrinth of passageways and subterranean rooms. This was the site of the "Führer's bunker," where Hitler pointlessly prolonged the war in April, 1945, until he finally committed suicide. This underground labyrinth was also the reason for the double line of walls some way apart, namely, to prevent people escaping to the West through the tunnels. For the same reason, in August, 1961, the underground S-Bahnhof at Potsdamer Platz was closed down overnight and the entrances bricked up.
On Nov. 12, 1989, a new border crossing between West and East Berlin was opened. The symbolic breakthrough of the wall occurred as East Berlin's Lord Mayor Erhard Krack met West Berlin's Mayor Walter Momper at the western exit from the wall.
It is hoped that in the future Potsdamer Platz together with Leipziger Platz will once again become the very hub of Berlin. The courts have decided that offices and service centers of a number of world-famous companies should be erected here, together with some highly expensive open spaces. Many people have criticized the speed with which sites in this highly desirable area have been sold. An international competition to select designs for the new Potsdamer Platz was won by the Munich architects Himer and Sattler. However, the main investors - Daimler Benz, Sony, Hertie, ABB and Haus Vaterland AG - considered the winning designs to be too provincial and unrefined and appointed the famous British architect Richard Rogers to modify them, while nominating other well-known architects to design their own buildings.