Der Potsdamer Platz

The history behind the Platz is the “Platz vor dem Potsdamer Tor” which is a five cornered crossroads in front of Potsdamer Tor. This is one of Berlin’s 14 city gates. In 1838 they opened a railway station. Since the train stopped right outside of the city wall Potsdamer Platz turned into a huge cargo trans-shipment point and is one of the busiest squares in Europe.

Waldemar Titzenthaler / Landesarchiv Berlin


The real boom happened around 1871 after the German Empire formed. Restaurants and big building were brought into the area. This was a period of economic growth and wealth. The old was always being renovated and made new again. This melting pot was the center for different culture and people.

Potsdamer Platz was almost completely destroyed during World War 2. After the war it became the “border triangle” where the Soviet, British, and American sectors would meet, along with a booming black market. Once local officials started to rebuild Potsdamer Platz, improvements were quickly destroyed during the people’s uprising on the 17th of June in 1953.

Later this place of ruins because a large sector of the death strip during the life of the Berlin Wall. Once reunification happened, it was decided to once more rebuild there, and the Potsdamer Platz became the largest urban construction site in the 1990s.

However, if you set foot in this area today, you have no clue of the history that transpired here. Potsdamer Platz sits just outside of the center of the city, and contains many shopping stores, a movie theatre, and major transfer station more much of the cities public transportation systems. In my experience heading over to the Sony Center where much of these stores are located, is one of the more pleasant shopping experiences you can have. The movie theatre within the Sony Center also contains some of the major titles that are popular currently being shown in the movie community. While I wasn’t able to personally experience this cinema, the CineStar boasts nine screening rooms (one of them being an IMAX theatre) and is able to seat up to 2300 combined, screening 1000 movies each year.

Additionally, if you don’t find what you are looking for there in the Sony Center, you can skip over to the Mall of Berlin just a block away. I was able to purchase a pair of Birkenstocks (a popular brand in Germany and the US) and several items in various other stores, and later on enjoy some pretty decent food court food. Overall, this area has a rich history and is a good example of the way that Germans repurposed a space to better reflect the kind of image they were trying to project to the rest of the world.

— Brendan Krekeler and Anamarie Augustyn


The Art of the Pfandsammler

As you stroll through the streets of Berlin, the presence of empty bottles sitting on the sidewalks or next to a trashcan or by a park bench cannot go unnoticed. When they’re next to a trashcan, one can assume that these bottles were left file-1(8)out for a reason. The reason is the pfand, or the deposit you pay on the bottle or bottles you buy at the store. This deposit can be anywhere from eight to twenty-five cents. If you return the bottles to these machines that you can find at any grocery story, then you get that deposit back.

This pfand was implemented to encourage recycling in Germany, and it has worked immensely. Whenever you drink a bottled beer, if you see the scuff mark that goes around the bottle twice, it means it’s a recycled bottle. Breweries in Germany use recycled bottles, whether they belonged to them or another brewery.

But more often than not, the person returning the bottles for the pfand is not who bought them. Whether you’re aware of what leaving the bottle out in the open is for, or just plain lazy, either way if you’re drinking on the street, you’re not going to want to carry an empty bottle around until you can find a machine to return them. Thankfully, there are people who walk around Berlin collecting these bottles. These people are known as Pfandsammlers, which means deposit collectors in German. Usually these people are homeless and unemployed, but every so often you’ll see someone who doesn’t appear to be homeless at all collecting these bottles. The culture surrounding this has grown to seismic proportions with people go so far as to drive around in vans to carry all the bottles they collect. We can recall even seeing a respectable-looking old man rummaging through a trashcan looking for bottles. A Pfandsammler can expect to pick up around twenty Euros worth of bottles a day.

As good of an environmental impact this has done for Germany since it was implemented in 2003, it still raises ethical questions. With this being the primary income for the unemployed and homeless, one can’t help but wonder if it’s the country’s way of dealing with poverty indirectly. In 2011, the amount of Pfandsammlers had doubled and people wondered whether this was due to Berlin’s growing unemployment rate.

As for the growing elderly population who participate in the collecting of bottles, some believe it’s more for a sense of purpose so they can connect with the city, others think it’s due to loneliness and it’s a way for them to connect and meet people, and others think it’s due to the pension people over the age of sixty-five receive (600 Euros per month) isn’t enough.

In the end, people aren’t concerned with the issues surrounding the Pfandsammler culture. Instead, they see it as doing more good than harm with waste being reduced and people being happy to collect these empty bottles.

— Caverly Manning and Brendan Krekeler

The Sony Center

IMG_0526.jpgIf you travel to the middle of Berlin, you will most likely see this architecture marvel. Looking at the Berlin skyline you might catch a glimpse of what looks like a birdie, the projectile that you hit around when you play badminton. This is the Sony Center. Home to stores, restaurants, offices, and apartments. Right in the middle of the city, Potsdamer Platz, makes this spot a must see. Today, you can eat at the many restaurants under its roof, as well as go see an IMAX movie, or sit and enjoy the open space.

During the early part of the 20th century Potsdamer Platz was a very important business center for Berlin. Here the many stores, offices, hotels, and restaurants allowed for the German people to have a one stop shop for all there needs, right in the middle of the city. There were so many people and cars that traveled through this specific area of town that the first traffic light system of Europe was installed.

After the war, the main parts of Potsdamer Platz and most of the businesses were destroyed, then soon after this once great industry center was divided by the Berlin wall. Most of the center was in the “No-Mans zone” in between the walls of east and west berlin. Shortly after the wall fell, the decision was made to rebuild the shopping center, Helmut Jahn was put to the task of creating something that would make Potsdamer Platz feel like what it once was.

Aside from the ultra modern architecture, Jahn used a piece of a very popular hotel during the centers hay day. Jahn had the building moved from where it once stood to the present day location via air cushions. One of the most important aspects of the redesign was the roof. Consisting of fabric, glass, and steel, this roof as made the Sony Center internationally famous.

Under that large roof, situates an incredible courtyard with a large fountain and plant life surrounding it on the one side. Adjacent from these plants, the fountain seems to almost hang off and suspend, exposing more of the Sony Center’s retail stores and establishments below. This break in the floor shows a great deal of contrast to the apartments and Cinema up above, allowing you to visualize just how large this complex can be. With the rich history of Potsdamer Platz, and the upscale shopping, it is no question to why everyone likes this part of town. Since the popularity returned to this area of town, many more districts have started to develop around the center.

-Brendan Krekeler & Cole Kelley

Berlin’s Olympiastadion (Olympic Stadium)

IMG_0520Close to the edge of the city, the Berlin Olympic Stadium stands built for the 1936Olympics that showed the world what the new National Socialist Movement was all about. The huge, romanesque, sandstone arena was built by well known architect Werner March. Ironically, the 1936 Olympic Stadium was built on top of where the 1916 Olympic Stadium stood, that was designed by Werner’s Father, Otto March. The Stadium and the Bell tower were a renovation from the 1916 complex to showcase the typical Nazi architecture, but otherwise still apart of the full complex built by Otto March. You can read more about the History of the stadium here and here.

With the significance of the Olympic Games and the international attendance, Hitler used this stadium and the 1936 Games in his propaganda and to show the world the power of the newly formed political party. Adorned with the symbol of the Olympics, Nazi Flags, and the name of “Reichssportfield”, the stadium proved its purpose to showcase the power and the agenda of the Nazi Party.  

The 1936 Olympics presented a fantastic opportunity for Germany, and the new Nazi regime to show the rest of the world their power, achievement, and racial supremacy. However, it was seen also as a means to ignite a national pride among the German people. The first to be televised, it had over 20 viewing spaces throughout Berlin and Potsdam. The games were also broadcasted over the radio in 28 languages reaching 41 countries. Many countries staged boycotts prior to the events, demanding that the games be held elsewhere or that their host country not participate. Some of these countries, excluding the US, actually did boycott the 1933 Summer Olympics and instead had their own national sports events that year.

IMG_0519Adolf Hitler was saluted by most in the precession of nations and from his box, above all the others, gave the opening address to begin. Ultimately, the games were staged as a glorification of Hitler and his idea of the pure German nation. All gypsies were captured and imprisoned prior to the games in an attempt to clean up the city for the foreign visitors. In addition, Jews were generally not allowed to participate. One Jewish-German in particular wasn’t allowed to compete even after having set the world record for high jump. Some exceptions were made for competing countries, including the US, but at the time of the event two Jewish-American sprinters were sidelined on their relay race in an effort not to offend the Nazi ruler. Jesse Owens, however, an African American track runner, cleaned up at the games with 4 gold medals.

Today, the stadium is still used and maintained for the purpose of all kinds of events, on it’s field it has hosted the Olympics, World Cups, and other soccer related events. Not only is the stadium used for sports, but the complex is used in a variety of events from car shows to markets. You can still tour the stadium and if you fancy stairs, you can climb up to the bell tower for a wonderful view of the entire complex.

-Sam Obscherning and Cole Kelley

East Germany’s One and Only: The Trabi

Our time in Germany has been very eventful, with some of the excitement being from this weird box type car we occasionally see. Some had already known about the Trabi cars but I did not, Ethan and I decided to learn even more together and that is when we found the Trabant Museum in Berlin. We visited the Trabant car museum and were able to go through history to see the evolution of these automobiles. As we walked in, there was a light blue Trabant car under a sign showing the original production number of 3,096,099. Today we can only witness about 24,879.


We started out looking at the very first model, the Trabant P50, made by Sachsenring Zwickau. It was very interesting being able to see the first model and how it compared and contrasted to the end of the museum where they had evolved into camping structures.

We even had the opportunity to sit in one of the cars and get a feel for what it would have been like to operate the vehicle. As we continued through the museum we saw the fasted Trabi ever. The vehicle was able to run up to 196 km/h which is roughly 121 mph. We did not expect the Trabi to be able to go so fast. The engine was exposed and we were able to get a glimpse of how juiced up they had it. The fact that they also made these cars for the police services was very intriguing. We did not know that they had spread into that realm of production.


Hardly an ideal car by any standard, the first Trabis were produced in the GDR in 1957, and production continued until 1990.  During the over three decades they were in production, the body style of the Trabant rarely changed.  Those who wanted another option were out of luck, as the Trabant was the entirety of the East German car industry.  Even East German police drove in Trabis.

Trabis became famous (or more appropriately, infamous) for their lack of quality.  They were known for being slow and loud, and they produced an unpleasant smell while driving.  Even maintenance could be a hassle, as the Trabant used an unusual mixture of fuel.  The amount of work needed to maintain a Trabi was high.  Because of these issues, the Trabi has become something of a joke, especially among car enthusiasts.

Why then, if there is so much negative to say about the Trabant, is it such a popular thing?  The Trabi has become a staple of kitschy East German memorabilia.  Its less-than-impressive aesthetic and notorious lack of quality give it an almost symbolic value.  Those who want to think of East Germany as a backwards, constantly struggling state could turn to the little Trabis to support their claim.  That being said, in a far less cynical light there is a definite charm to the Trabant.  The idea that they seem to be frozen in time since the body style never really changed is endearing.  It feels awkward to sit in one, but there’s also a feeling of respect for the generations that learned how to drive and maintain such a car that comes with it.  If it was merely joke about East Germany, it wouldn’t have the cult following that it does.  Those interested can even go on a Trabi Safari operated by the Trabi Museum.  This allows travelers to tour Berlin in a Trabi.  While it wouldn’t be the most pleasant way to drive through the city, it would certainly be memorable.

— Ethan Tyrrell and Anamarie Augustyn


Nazi Book Burning

file1(3)In the middle of Bebelplatz, if you don’t know what you’re looking for you could miss it. But that’s probably the point. Six feet under is the Book Burning Memorial. On the tenth of May in 1933, the German Student Union, a nationalist group, from Humboldt University took over 20,000 books from the library and burned them. All of the books were written by Jews and leftist intellectuals, whose ideas or character threatened the Nazis and their mission to purify Germany and the German people.

Many people mistake the book burning for the Nazis being against books and intellectualism as a whole, but that is not the case. It wasn’t even the Nazis who initially called for the studentfile-1(7)s to burn the books but the German Student Union who sent out a declaration for a nationwide “Action against the Un-German Spirit.” It was called their “Twelve Theses” and it was intentionally evoking Martin Luther and the infamous burning of “Un-German” books at the Wartburg festival which occurred 116 years earlier. This was meant to justify what occurred all over Germany early May. The purpose of the burning in 1933 was to “purify” German literature, language, and intellectualism.  During the burning, Joseph Goebbels spoke to the students and the other 40,000 spectators. He ironically said during his fiery speech, “…the future German man will not just be a man of books, but also a man of character and it is to this end we want to educate you.”

A transparent glass window, situated in the ground of the Bebelplatz, shows an underground library. Completely white, the room is full of empty bookcases representing the burned books of the 1933 demonstration. Among the books burned were works of controversial authors such as Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud, and many other works of literature considered harmful to the Nazi regime and to the education of its students. A plaque was laid on site with a quote from German author, Heinrich Heine, whose works had been burned as well. The plaque reads, “Das war ein Vorspiel nur, dort wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man am Ende auch Menschen.” In English this translates to: “That was only a prelude; where they burn books, they will ultimately burn people as well”. Ironically, Heine died well before the Nazi regime even began, and wrote this for his play in which Christian conquerors burn the Muslim Quran in the city square. However, this quote perfectly demonstrates the dangers of Nazi control a hundred years later; he was able to predict the inevitable progression from media censorship to an imprisonment of those with contrary ideologies.

Berlin Zoo

file1(2)The Berlin Zoological Garden is the most well known and oldest zoo in Germany. The zoo was opened on the first of August, 1844, and contained about 1,380 different animals from around the world. The aquarium was opened in 1913. This zoo holds one of the most comprehensive animal collections in the world. People come from all over to visit this amazing animal collection. In 2015, more file4(1)than 3.3 million individuals visited. Not only is this zoo the most popular in Europe but also very well known around the world. One of the favorite attractions of patrons is to watch the zoo workers feed the animals.

Walking through most of the animal houses (what they call the inside exhibits dedicated to specific animals or types of animals), there would be a room alongside the cages that had a window looking into it. The room itself is a small kitchen where they have the food and tools. What’s cool is that not only can one see how the food is prepared and what each animal gets but it’s a way that the zoo can be transparent with its visitors. Nowadays, with more efile2(1)ducation about animals and zoos, it feels as if zoos have garnered a bad reputation. But walking around the Berlin Zoo, there was never a vibe about these animals being imprisoned and unhappy. They seemed to be running freely and all of the cages open into large spaces outside where they can run, climb, and play whenever they back door is open.

What was really enjoyable about the zoo was how you can just walk around for hours and you always find something new. It’s set up in a way to where you’ll just find yourself wandering mindlessly and not file3being forced on a set path to go to certain things. It’s very smart on the zoo’s part because that means people will spends hours upon hours there and buy food and drinks and trinkets. And now with the new panda exhibit, even more people will be coming to the zoo to see one of the rarest creatures in the world. Actually, only twenty-four (now including Berlin) zoos in the whole world have a panda exhibit. And Berlin is the only zoo in Germany to have pandas so it opens up a new sight for local Germans to see.

file5The Berlin Zoological Garden also interacts with other universities and research groups around the world to maintain and promote European breeding programs and help endangered species grow. During World War 2, the zoo was completely destroyed. About 91 of the 3,715 animals living in the enclosures survived. Once they started rebuilding the zoo, they wanted to make the enclosures as close to the animals natural habitats as possible in such a big a city as Berlin. The way they preserve species and continue their breeding has really helped these animals keep on surviving.

— Anamarie Augustyn and Caverly Manning