The Kohlhoff Tower undoubtedly stands as one of the most elegant buildings of the modern Potsdamer Platz ensemble – reminiscent as it is of the iconic ‘Flatiron’ building in Manhattan, New York. Unlike its American cousin, however, this relatively recent addition to the city is three storeys higher – and capped with a two floor observation deck, known as the Panorama Punkt, offering a commanding 360° view over Berlin.
More impressive than its distinctive shape and ornate red brick composition is that the Kohlhoff Tower is also unique in regards to one other extravagance – as home to the fastest elevator in Europe. This Thyssen passenger lift shuttles visitors up 24 floors in an impressive 20 seconds, travelling at a peak velocity of 29km/h to reach the viewing platform at just over 90m inside the building.
Far less popular – see quieter – than the Fernsehturm, which dominates Berlin’s skyline from its position at Alexanderplatz, the Panorama Punkt is one of the city’s hidden gems. Not only a viewing platform but also a relaxing cafe, facing West and perfectly positioned to watch the sunset in the winter months.
Once one of Europe’s busiest junctions, a fact that made it ripe for the introduction of the first traffic light in Germany in 1924, Potsdamer Platz was pummeled into ruin during the Second World War. The Times Square or Picadilly Circus of Berlin, as it had once been, was then left as a desolate wasteland during the Cold War period due to its position as the important intersection and confluence of the British, Soviet and American sectors of the city.
Following German reunification in 1990, the area became the focus of much attention – as a vast expanse of territory in the centre of one of Europe’s most important cities opened up to investors and an audacious redevelopment project by the Berlin Senate. Dubbed the ‘building site of Europe’, Potsdamer Platz was divided into four sections controlled by car-maker Daimler, Sony, German retailer Beisheim, and the Park Kollonaden.
Since considered by many in the city as a failed attempt in urban planning, the area never managed to re-establish itself as the ‘beating heart’ of modern Berlin that it was in the 1920s. Despite its position almost directly between the former centres of the Cold War West (Zoo Station) and the Cold War East (Alexanderplatz), it has not become the unifying centre of the post-reunification German capital. But instead a testament to the commercialisation, and so-called ‘Americanisation’, of modern Berlin. Beyond the initial 19 buildings proposed in the Senate plan, there is now a shopping arcade, series of cinemas, restaurants, hotels, and Europe’s largest casino.
The fastest elevator in the world travels at a crazy 75,6 km per hour (47 mph) and was installed at Rosewood Guangzhou, Guangzhou Chow Tai Fook Finance Centre, in Guangzhou, Guangdong, China, on 10 September 2019 by Hitachi.
From the open air sun terrace on the 25th floor of the Kohlhoff Tower it is possible to gaze down across Potsdamer Platz and the surrounding buildings. Directly adjacent to the building is the Berlin office of Deutsche Bahn, the national train provider, a 26-storey high glass ‘Bahn Tower’ rising up from next to the Potsdamer Platz train station.
Seen from above, the distinctive peak of the Sony Centre is easily distinguishable – designed by German architect Helmut Jahn and featuring a canonical roof that is said to have been inspired by the snow capped peak of Japan’s Mount Fuji. Beneath this tent-like structure is an open plaza of restaurants and stores, for years used as red-carpet ground zero for the Berlinale Film Festival every February. It is rumoured that one of the reasons for the Sony Centre being situated on the north-western side of the Potsdamer Platz plot is due to its position close to the Philharmonic building, and Sony executive Norio Ohga’s love of classical music. The Philharmonic building, with its easily recognisable yellow hue, is to the west of Potsdamer Platz in the Kulturforum ensemble.
Following the peak of the Kohlhoff Tower pointing eastwards, it is possible to track the Berlin skyline across the horizon to see the city’s most important landmarks – from the Reichstag building, to the Brandenburg Gate, the concrete stelae of the Holocaust Memorial and the distant towers of Gendarmenmarkt. Although Berliners joke that the best view of the city is from inside the Fernsehturm, in that it is the only place you cannot see it, looking east from the Kohlhoff Tower it is easy to see why it has become some an important symbol of the city – towering as it does so clearly above the skyline as the tallest structure in Germany.
While the Kohlhoff Tower is situated just west of the Cold War border in Berlin between East and West, it is possible to look down to the street in front of the building and spot the cobbled line tracing what was once the path of the Berlin Wall through the city. Some pieces remain visible – such as that next to the Topography of Terror museum and Berlin parliament, on Niederkirchnerstraße to the south east of Potsdamer Platz.
However, one section is much more easy to confront when visiting the Panorama Punkt, that is the section that now rests on the top level of the building – transported to its present position in 2010 by helicopter. The other unique detail that this building has to offer – the highest piece of the Berlin Wall anywhere in the world.
Returning to the ground floor using the elevator is just as quick as travelling to the top – and usually includes the same ear popping sensation that comes with flying. Regardless of how long you spend gazing across the horizon, relaxing in the PanoramaPunkt cafe, or reading the many info boards arranged around the open air terrace – you’ll likely find the experience more relaxing and equally if not more rewarding than brawling to enjoy the more prominent TV Tower. Which has much to offer in its own right – but cannot boast to have the fastest lift in Europe.