It was a gray, breezy day the last time I stood in Alexanderplatz. It was also quiet, as in public, East Germans spoke in hushed tones to one another. You never knew when the Stasi state police would be listening.
There was a newspaper stand at one end. The newspapers were full of stories about how various leaders in the United States were idiots.
My memories of this place in 1984 are tinged with so much gray that they’re in monochrome. Returning in 2023, it was surprising to see the place in color.
Alexanderplatz is said to be the place in Berlin that is most visited by tourists. If that’s true, I don’t understand why. It isn’t impressive. It’s just a big empty place lined with middling stores and restaurants.
I have a particular strong memory of Alexanderplatz in 1984. I needed to pee, badly, and went looking for a public restroom. There was one underground here, so I descended into it. On the men’s side I found a giant hole, with men standing around it with their equipment out, peeing into it. There was no guardrail; one false step, and you’re in it. The strong odor of urine filled the space. Because of that, and because of my bashful kidney, I didn’t even try to go here. I found a restroom in a nearby restaurant, but the attendant wasn’t having my West German coins (pay restrooms were common) and turned me away. I spent an uncomfortable afternoon in Alexanderplatz. I found no evidence of that public restroom on this visit.
We walked from our hotel as it was only a few kilometers away. We relied on Google Maps to get us there. Along the way, we found ourselves in a plaza with the well-known German TV tower. The TV tower dominates this plaza and is visible for miles.
This was a lovely place to come upon. A huge fountain paying homage to Neptune is here. It was built in 1891 in a different location, and was moved here in 1969.
St. Mary’s Church (St. Marienkirche) is also here. It’s tied with another nearby church as the oldest in Berlin. I’ll do a whole article about this church another day.
From here you can also see the Red Town Hall (Rotes Rathaus), Berlin’s City Hall.
From here we let Google Maps continue to guide us. It kept taking us down increasingly sketchy side streets that led us farther away. It was as if Google Maps didn’t want us to go there! I told Maps’ directions to pound sand, and used it like an old-fashioned city map to navigate the streets myself until we came upon Alexanderplatz.
Once there, we could see that the TV tower was directly behind it, looming very large. Curious, we walked around the train station toward the tower, to find ourselves right back in the plaza with the church and the fountain. Why Google Maps tried to route us as it did is a real puzzler to me.