Berlin to push ahead with plan to give Alexanderplatz an American makeover

For the past 25 years, protests, rescheduling and hesitant investors have delayed construction on one of the most popular tourist destinations in the German capital - Alexanderplatz. But that is set to change with a major rebuilding project up and running again.

Berlin to push ahead with plan to give Alexanderplatz an American makeover
A model version of architect Hans Kollhoff's 1993 redesign of Alexanderplatz. Photo: DPA

Only on paper does Berlin’s Alexanderplatz bear any resemblance to New York City’s skyscrapers and tall apartment buildings.

In 1993, the architect Hans Kollhoff's redesign of the central square was presented to the capital’s Senate. A blueprint for an American-style city centre, his design for the bustling square won over the jury. But Kollhoff's architectural dreams have been slow to materialize.

Famed for being the location of the capital’s highest structure, the Fernsehturm, “Alex” – as locals call it – currently has a reputation as a focal point of petty criminality. The square is not exactly known as an architectural gem, boxed in as it is by Plattenbauten from the days when it was the centre of communist East Germany. 

But that's about to change, says construction director of the Berlin Senate, Regula Lüscher, who’s been leading the project on the development of the square.

A view over Alexanderplatz in 2016. Photo: DPA

Due to over two decades of delays involving protests by local residents, rescheduling and doubtful investors, no progress has been made on construction of the ten high-rise buildings in Kollhoff's plan.

One of the plan's weak points is that it corresponds more to an American cityscape such as that of New York or Chicago than to a European metropolis, according to Lüscher. 

“The senate hasn't completely given up on the plan. But 25 years ago confidence in the future was huge – and also the feeling that they could develop Berlin in a completely new way,” Lüscher said.

Now there is new impetus in the Senate to push planning forward. The first excavators could soon roll into the square.

“Things could start moving very quickly,” Lüscher said. 

The application for a skyscraper at the Alexa shopping centre, for instance, has already been submitted and after initial review it was found to align with Kollhoff's development plan. Though generally not considered the most beautiful building in Berlin, as a Twitter user below points out, Alexa recently celebrated its tenth birthday.

Preliminary approval has also been given to a tower next to Alexa financed by Russian investment group Monarch. Another 150-metre-high tower, designed by well-known American architect Frank Gehry, is planned directly where the Saturn department store currently stands.

But in other areas, the wheels seem to be falling off the ambitious plan.

One thing that has changed since 1993 is how Berlin views the architectural legacy of the GDR. Two of the skyscrapers in Kollhoff's plan are unlikely to ever be built as they were planned for construction where the former German Democratic Republic (GDR) Haus des Reisens and the Haus des Berliner Verlages currently stand. These two legacies of communism are now protected buildings.

Also according to Kollhoff’s plan, the Park Inn hotel at the square was to be demolished. But now, at 125 metres high, the hotel has been heavily invested in. Instead its owners want to build two more towers adjacent to the hotel – one of them an identical “twin tower.” The other proposed tower is to be 150 metres high and will contain offices, a hotel, shops and flats. 

Haus des Reisens. Photo: DPA

But the body for safeguarding building culture in Berlin, the Baukollegium, is sceptical that the Park Inn plans could lead to solitary high-rise buildings with different heights sprouting up around the square.

This is a concern that has also been expressed by the Berlin Architecture Association (AIV).

“Every new project on Alexanderplatz needs to fit into the overall aesthetic,” the AIV said in a statement. “If the interests of the property owners and the pragmatism of the city officials combine, then it will be complete coincidence if something good comes out of it.”

On the question of whether more skyscrapers could provide a solution to the growing housing shortage in the capital, Lüscher is wary.

“When it comes to affordable living space, high-rise buildings are not the first choice,” she said, explaining that this can be attributed to costly fire safety requirements.

“Areas with monuments or nature will be excluded from high-rise construction,” she assured, adding that even at locations where high-rise buildings are possible, building permits are not guaranteed.

Meanwhile local authorities are already in the process of developing plans for construction on high-rise real estate. But Lüscher was remaining tight-lipped on which parts of the city would one day touch the clouds.

“We don’t want to fuel speculation,” she said.

SEE ALSO: Rebuild of Kaiser's palace in central Berlin on schedule to open next year

For members


EXPLAINED: Berlin’s latest Covid rules

In response to rapidly rising Covid-19 infection rates, the Berlin Senate has introduced stricter rules, which came into force on Saturday, November 27th. Here's what you need to know.

A sign in front of a waxing studio in Berlin indicates the rule of the 2G system
A sign in front of a waxing studio indicates the rule of the 2G system with access only for fully vaccinated people and those who can show proof of recovery from Covid-19 as restrictions tighten in Berlin. STEFANIE LOOS / AFP

The Senate agreed on the tougher restrictions on Tuesday, November 23rd with the goal of reducing contacts and mobility, according to State Secretary of Health Martin Matz (SPD).

He explained after the meeting that these measures should slow the increase in Covid-19 infection rates, which was important as “the situation had, unfortunately, deteriorated over the past weeks”, according to media reports.

READ ALSO: Tougher Covid measures needed to stop 100,000 more deaths, warns top German virologist

Essentially, the new rules exclude from much of public life anyone who cannot show proof of vaccination or recovery from Covid-19. You’ll find more details of how different sectors are affected below.

If you haven’t been vaccinated or recovered (2G – geimpft (vaccinated) or genesen (recovered)) from Covid-19, then you can only go into shops for essential supplies, i.e. food shopping in supermarkets or to drugstores and pharmacies.

Many – but not all – of the rules for shopping are the same as those passed in the neighbouring state of Brandenburg in order to avoid promoting ‘shopping tourism’ with different restrictions in different states.

2G applies here, too, as well as the requirement to wear a mask with most places now no longer accepting a negative test for entry. Only minors are exempt from this requirement.

Sport, culture, clubs
Indoor sports halls will off-limits to anyone who hasn’t  been vaccinated or can’t show proof of recovery from Covid-19. 2G is also in force for cultural events, such as plays and concerts, where there’s also a requirement to wear a mask. 

In places where mask-wearing isn’t possible, such as dance clubs, then a negative test and social distancing are required (capacity is capped at 50 percent of the maximum).

Restaurants, bars, pubs (indoors)
You have to wear a mask in all of these places when you come in, leave or move around. You can only take your mask off while you’re sat down. 2G rules also apply here.

Hotels and other types of accommodation 
Restrictions are tougher here, too, with 2G now in force. This means that unvaccinated people can no longer get a room, even if they have a negative test.

For close-contact services, such as hairdressers and beauticians, it’s up to the service providers themselves to decide whether they require customers to wear masks or a negative test.

Football matches and other large-scale events
Rules have changed here, too. From December 1st, capacity will be limited to 5,000 people plus 50 percent of the total potential stadium or arena capacity. And only those who’ve been vaccinated or have recovered from Covid-19 will be allowed in. Masks are also compulsory.

For the Olympic Stadium, this means capacity will be capped at 42,000 spectators and 16,000 for the Alte Försterei stadium. 

3G rules – ie vaccinated, recovered or a negative test – still apply on the U-Bahn, S-Bahn, trams and buses in Berlin. It was not possible to tighten restrictions, Matz said, as the regulations were issued at national level.

According to the German Act on the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases, people have to wear a surgical mask or an FFP2 mask  on public transport.

Christmas markets
The Senate currently has no plans to cancel the capital’s Christmas markets, some of which have been open since Monday. 

According to Matz, 2G rules apply and wearing a mask is compulsory.

Schools and day-care
Pupils will still have to take Covid tests three times a week and, in classes where there are at least two children who test positive in the rapid antigen tests, then tests should be carried out daily for a week.  

Unlike in Brandenburg, there are currently no plans to move away from face-to-face teaching. The child-friendly ‘lollipop’ Covid tests will be made compulsory in day-care centres and parents will be required to confirm that the tests have been carried out. Day-care staff have to document the results.

What about vaccination centres?
Berlin wants to expand these and set up new ones, according to Matz. A new vaccination centre should open in the Ring centre at the end of the week and 50 soldiers from the German army have been helping at the vaccination centre at the Exhibition Centre each day since last week.

The capacity in the new vaccination centre in the Lindencenter in Lichtenberg is expected to be doubled. There are also additional vaccination appointments so that people can get their jabs more quickly. Currently, all appointments are fully booked well into the new year.