Potsdamer Platz

The Potsdamer Platz is reborn this month as Daimler-Benz turn property developers and collectors

Will public art by Koons, Rauschenberg, Tinguely and Haring humanise this vast complex by Renzo Piano?

At the end of August, the new buildings on Berlin’s biggest building site, the Potsdamer Platz, were transformed into the city’s largest photography gallery when twenty “Hanging pictures”, each 1,500 square metres in size, were hung on their façades.

The black-and-white photos on canvas depict the history of Potsdamer Platz, from its heyday at the turn of century through the roaring Twenties when it was one of Europe’s liveliest meeting places for artists, intellectuals and flâneurs; to the ruins of World War II, to its position as no-man’s land and death strip between East and West, an empty space inhabited only by wild rabbits during the Cold War.

On 2 October, German President Roman Herzog will officially open the Daimler-Benz complex on Potsdamer Platz. Seemingly overnight, a team of international architects under the direction of Renzo Piano have created a small city unto itself there.

The Daimler-Benz property, located directly on the former border between east and west Berlin, is a 68,000 square-metre tract of land with nineteen new buildings, ten new streets, 12,000 square metres of water surface and the central Marlene-Dietrich Platz. The buildings contain offices (50% of the total), 600 apartments, two cinema complexes, a theatre, a casino, 120 shops, and over twenty restaurants and bars.

Over the past four years, at a cost of DM4 billion (£1.4 billion; $2.2 billion), thousands of construction workers have been working day and night to transform this barren strip of land into a cosmopolitan city centre and Berliners and tourists alike have been fascinated by the ongoing ballet of cranes.

The “Info box”, a red square building set up smack in the middle of Potsdamer Platz, provides visitors with cyber images of future Berlin. This temporary structure, a PR enterprise funded by the major investors responsible for Berlin’s face lift, such as Daimler-Benz, Sony, Deutsche Bahn and Deutsche Telecom, is at present the capital’s number one tourist attraction.

New buildings mean new commissions for art. The Daimler-Benz concern, which has its own corporate art collection based at the company headquarters in Stuttgart, is installing six public sculptures in the streets, squares and pools around the new development.

Manfred Gentz, the Daimler-Benz board member responsible for the Potsdamer Platz Project, explains: “We want the face of the new Potsdamer Platz to be determined not just by outstanding architecture, but also by the works of internationally famous artists, making it a square worthy of Berlin, not just as the capital of Germany, but also as a European metropolis.”

The decision to purchase certain works was made after long deliberation and consultation with both Renzo Piano and local authorities. First, the company sought to choose artists whose works were new to Berlin. Four of the selected artists had not yet had pieces exhibited in public spaces in Germany. “Riding bikes” by Robert Rauschenberg, consisting of bicycles framed by multi-coloured neon, is the artist’s first public commission.

Consideration was also given to the fact that the Neue Nationalgalerie, part of the Kulturforum which adjoins Potsdamer Platz, stands nearby. Daimler-Benz wanted to select works that would complement the museum’s collection of modern art.

Another factor to be considered was that many of the other new developments in Berlin, such as the neighbouring federal government site, will be adorned predominantly with works by German artists.

The decision to purchase works by international artists was also based on the company’s collecting criteria. The Daimler-Benz Collection already includes major sculptures by German artists such as Ulrich Rückriem, Ansgar Nierhoff and Christoph Freimann. The collection was started in 1997 and now consists of approximately 400 non-figurative pictures and sculptures by young German and international artists. These works are distributed around the company’s offices, including the new ones at Potsdamer Platz.

The public sculptures for Potsdamer Platz had to be colourful and varied in material. According to Daimler-Benz, the works are supposed to “stimulate observers to enter into the dialogue between modern contemporary art and urban architecture.” Jean Tinguely’s “Méta-Maxi”, described as a “three-dimensional, painted, timeless time-machine” and François Morellet’s “Light blue”, a beautiful, pale blue, light installation that runs over three of the walls and the floor of the atrium of the completed Renzo Piano building on Reichpietschufer, have been on view there for some time already.

Keith Haring’s “Boxer” will stand at the corner of Neue Potsdamer Strasse and Eichornstrasse in front of the future Grand Hyatt Hotel. Negotiations to purchase this sculpture started when the artist was still alive, but were delayed because a suitable site could not be found at the time.

“Boxer”, along with Mark di Suvero’s 14-metre-high “Galileo”, Jeff Koon’s chromatic “Balloon flower” and Rauschenberg’s piece, will first be unveiled at the opening festivities. 170 climbers will scale the buildings and let the huge hanging photographs drop simultaneously, revealing the new buildings to the public and symbolising a new beginning.

While many remain sceptical as to whether the district can be revived, Mr Gentz is convinced: “This part of the city is going to be not just an extremely important business hub, but also an artistic meeting place.”

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as ‘Daimler-Benz turn property developers and collectors'