Alexanderplatz in Berlin

24 comments on Alexanderplatz in Berlin
3 minutes

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.

Berlin - Alexanderplatz

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.

Berlin - Alexanderplatz

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.

Berlin - Fernsehturm

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.

Berlin - Neptunbrunnen
Berlin - Neptunbrunnen
Berlin - Neptunbrunnen

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.

Berlin - St. Marienkirche

From here you can also see the Red Town Hall (Rotes Rathaus), Berlin’s City Hall.

Berlin - Rotes Rathaus

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.

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24 responses to “Alexanderplatz in Berlin”

  1. Andy Umbo Avatar
    Andy Umbo

    I’m actually pretty sure that Berlin Alexanderplatz is a name check for tourists based on the famous novel of the same name, and the Fassbinder film that was pretty famous on its release. I remember the film art house in my current neighborhood running this on multiple nights on its American release.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Well, I’d never heard of this novel! My gosh, a 15-hour movie.

  2. Shirley B. Avatar
    Shirley B.

    The ways of google maps can be difficult to understand. I always think of it like sort of a black box: you enter your destination, a route comes out, but if it’s the most efficient or understandable route? Sometimes I already know which route I’ll take and in that case I only use Google Maps to show if there are any delays while driving.

    Thanks for sharing these photos, it’s good to see the area in full color!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’ve never had so much trouble with Google Maps before. Everywhere I’ve gone in the US it has been pretty straightforward. I remember one time it got me good and lost in Pennsylvania but that is it.

      1. Shirley B. Avatar
        Shirley B.

        It may have to do with being in a European city.

        There have been many occasions when we (and others) were walking in a city and GPS plotted us a little off or even thought we were in a different street. Medieval street plans with buildings close together seem less easy to pinpoint correctly.

        Even on some highways here in Europe google maps sometimes thinks we’re on a parallel road and starts rerouting us.

        1. Jim Grey Avatar

          That makes sense.

          I remember in Ireland five years ago being so far out that we were on some sort of satellite-only service and the phone would only beep when we needed to turn. But Google Maps still worked.

  3. DougD Avatar

    That TV tower and church sure is a jarring contrast. Also says something about the old God and the new God I think.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      It really is a jarring contrast. The tower was completed in 1969, during communism, so maybe there was something deliberate about placing it here.

  4. Andy Karlson Avatar
    Andy Karlson

    Tangential to the core of your post, but I’ve been having more and more trouble with Google Maps. Even while driving it is displaying a tendency to send me on weird little detours that objectively make the drive longer in both distance and time. And the mass transit function, which used to be miraculously good, has started inventing routes and bus stops out of whole cloth!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      That is very disappointing to hear.

  5. Ann Wilder Avatar
    Ann Wilder

    Reminds me of the long film by Fassbinder and the book by Doblin.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Cripes, a 13-hour film!

  6. Katie Yang Avatar

    Alexanderplatz was about the only place in Berlin that made me sad to see. It was gray and empty and on the side of it more a couple of drunk or drugged up people, needles on the ground.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I was disappointed in, and saddened by, this place as well. It was dirty and dingy.

  7. Ivo, Prague Avatar

    Alexanderplatz, the best bockwurst in whole Berlin!

    1. tbm3fan Avatar

      Well that settles it then…

    2. Jim Grey Avatar

      I missed out!

  8. Juna Avatar

    Thank you once again for your view of my home town – and yes, Alexanderplatz didn’t get better. You seem to have been lucky enough to have it now paved with little huts like on christmas markets – no matter what time of the year. No this place didn’t get better with rebuilding after the war, nor with all the development after the wall came down – but the toilet is still there. I hope though, without this hole you described. I’ve never been down there and wouldn’t dare.

    I’m very much look forward to your text of Marienkirche. I hope, you could see the „Totentanz“ in it.

    Funfact about the TV tower, when you’re a little further away like close to Berlin Cathedral, one can see a cross in the tower’s silver cover. Eastern German citizens were joking about it.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’m glad I didn’t come upon that toilet. That’s a bad memory and I didn’t need to reconnect with it.

      I remember hearing about the cross in the TV tower when I first visited, in 1984!

  9. Michael Avatar

    It appears that fountain receives significant fondling.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar
  10. Keith Milsark Avatar
    Keith Milsark

    we tried using Google maps in Venice, looking for a particular restaurant. We wound up at the bus station instead.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      It’s as if Google were telling you to get out of town.

  11. Andy Umbo Avatar
    Andy Umbo

    Anyone interested, as I am, in the German Expressionist era of art, and culture during the Weimar years and it’s run up to Naziism, of which the working class area surrounding Alexanderplatz plays a part, would be well advised to read the Bernie Gunther novels of Philip Kerr. They give new meaning to the word “noir”! I think there’s around 15, of which I’ve read about half and intend to get to the rest. This entry, and J.P.’s recent entry on his web site about reading the original Maltese Falcon (which I have done as well), has mashed all this up in my mind!

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