Could you imagine a swathe of undeveloped land almost 27 miles long and a hundred metres wide cutting through the centre of London, New York or Hong Kong? That was exactly the situation in Berlin once the dust from the 1989/90 demolition of the Berlin Wall had settled.
The reunification of Germany saw the physical embodiment of one of the world’s most iconic dividing lines suddenly reduced to rubble and become just a dirt strip separating West Berlin from the underdeveloped East. In the years since, this belt and the land around it has become a major focus of regeneration efforts in the city, with the districts of Mitte and Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg in particular now unrecognisable just two decades later.
THE SEAT OF GOVERNMENT
The city’s first wave of regeneration followed the 1991 decision to establish Berlin as the capital of a reunified Germany. This led to the creation of a new government district along the River Spree around the historic Reichstag, which was to be reconverted to serve as the national parliament.
The style this new urban government quarter was to take was decided by a competition, with the winning design proposing a narrow ribbon of government and parliament buildings, some running from east to west, crossing the Spree three times to link the two halves of the formerly divided city.
The surrounding area at the southern end of the Tiergarten had served as an embassy district in the pre-war period. Diplomatic missions quickly returned to the neighbourhood once the seat of German government was re-established next door, contributing even further to inner Berlin’s fastest and perhaps most impressive architectural transformation following reunification.
In contrast, the private-capital funded redevelopment of areas such as Potsdamer Platz and Friedrichstadt brought new retail, commercial and residential options to these historic parts of the city. Potsdamer Platz was at one point the largest inner-city construction site in Europe, and redevelopment work there continues still, with the Beisheim Centre section recently completed and many projects within the Leipziger Platz section still in progress.
The Gendarmenmarkt within the Friedrichstadt is often described as the city’s most beautiful square, with its German and French cathedrals and concert hall. The retention of the Plattenbau style, introduced by East German architects, speaks to how these refreshed parts of Berlin have taken something forward from each side of the wall.
The city’s other major urban development in the wake of reunification was the controversial EUR1 billion Hauptbahnhof – Berlin’s central rail station. Inspired by the grandiose railway stations of the nineteenth century, the Hauptbahnhof’s 420-metre glass hall has become an iconic part of the Berlin landscape since its opening in 2006.
REGENERATION ON THE MOVE
Today, the regeneration torch continues to be carried along the path of the wall. To the north of the Hauptbahnhof on the area around Heidestrasse, an entirely new neighbourhood dubbed Europa-City is set to rise on a 40-hectare site that was previously part of the no-man’s land around the Berlin Wall. The development will provide new residential, office, retail, commercial and recreational space and new infrastructure, including an S-Bahn station and a bridge across the Spandau Canal.
More centrally is what is perhaps the most famous ongoing development in Berlin. The Humboldt Forum, set to be home to the city’s non-European collections, a library and parts of Humboldt University, is being built on the site of the old Berlin City Palace, which was controversially torn down in 2006.
Further south and east along the banks of the River Spree is the 440-acre, 2.3-mile long site of the Mediaspree masterplan, a long-term project to redevelop a wide area of space previously tied up by the vacant space surrounding the Berlin Wall. Look out for our upcoming blog focusing on Mediaspree and what the project will continue to mean for the district of Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg.
While sites along and to the immediate east of the path of the wall have been an obvious development focus, Berlin’s contemporary redevelopment is far from limited to the eastern side of the city’s former dividing line.
One of the largest regeneration projects around is Berlin TXL at the site of Tegel Airport. Tegel was the main airport for West Berlin, and has since served as the city’s major international transport hub, but it is due to close upon the opening of the EUR8.6 billion Berlin Brandenburg Airport in 2018/19. Berlin TXL – billed as the Urban Tech Republic – will deliver a modern research and industrial park just a short distance from the heart of the city.
AUTHENTICITY, IDENTITY AND GENTRIFICATION
This widespread gentrification running through the heart of Berlin has not been completely uncontroversial. Many Berliners have been concerned with ensuring the artefacts of their city’s past are not completely washed away by the tide of new development.
Their efforts have ensured a sympathetic approach to much of Berlin’s modern regeneration, with world-renowned architects brought aboard to ensure the city retains its individuality and authenticity. The city has been reimagined but not wholly redefined, ensuring its unique history and character are carried forward into the 21st century.
This approach has created a unique proposition for investors looking to add to their property portfolio. New residents have swept into areas that, while once rundown, now boast some of the city’s most modern and exciting amenities to complement their unrivalled central locations.
While Mitte has certainly been a favourite for real estate investors in recent years, affordability makes Friedrichshain the real hidden gem of Berlin when it comes to investment potential. This is a part of the city that, perhaps more than any other, has achieved the perfect balance between past and future, and with regeneration work still widely underway, the future is bright for this quintessential Berlin neighbourhood.