Everything You Never Knew You Wanted to Know About Berlin


Spotted in passing: Tempodrom (photo by notmsparker)

Spotted in passing: Tempodrom (photo by notmsparker)

You cannot not see it. Tempodrom, slightly off the beaten track for most of the Berliners but high on the sightseeing list of almost all tourists, with its impressive size and unusual tent-like shape attracts awe, attention and admiration (and I seem to have  attracted an apt alliteration:).

For let us be honest: it might not be Carnegie Hall or the Grand Central – which to quote a character from Madagaskar: “is grand and is central” – but it looks just damn fine.

This huge event venue was built not far from Potsdamer Platz in Möckernstrasse 10 – at exactly the same spot where the vanished old giant of Anhalter Bahnhof, once the biggest and according to some the most beautiful railway station in Europe used to stand.

The ruins of Anhalter Bahnhof in 1953 (image by Google Earth History)

The ruins of Anhalter Bahnhof in 1953 (image by Google Earth History)

Originally, Tempodrom was nothing but a circus tent put up at the western end of Potsdamer Platz. It was a lifelong dream of Irene Moessinger who having inherited some money decided to invest her inheritance in realising it. However, the first Tempodrom standing right next to Berlin Wall proved to be a financial fiasco. Opened in 1980 it went bust only 12 months later.

Even though the circus business failed to take off, Berliner Senat – the main executive body governing the city and the state of Berlin – considered the idea good enough to support it financially.

And so in 1985 Tempodrom moved to its new address, this time in Tiergarten next to the Kongresshalle (the house otherwise known among Berliners as The Pregnant Oyster). All was going well but then, in 1989 Tempodrom became an innocent victim of German re-unification.

The spot directly “next door” was chosen to house the new Bundeskanzleramt and Helmut Kohl, the first – and conservative – Chancellor of re-united Germany was not keen on having a circus as a neighbour. An unkind mind could say, it´s possible he felt that one such establishment would be perfectly enough. But it was, of course, first and foremost a security issue.

For Tempodrom the second moving proved to be more of a blessing than a curse. Even before the old tent was put up in Möckernstrasse (exactly where the football field is today), it was clear that with the money paid out as indemnity (compensation for having to vacate the plot), with generous sums donated by private sponsors and with another injection of state subsidy the tent was only a temporary solution. In 2001, after less than 20 months of construction it was replaced by a beautiful concrete building designed by a Hamburg architect, Meinhard von Gerkan.

tempodrom möckernstrasse 10 october 2000

The original Tempodrom and the new Tempodrom under construction in October 2000 (image by Google Earth History)

Twelve steel poles are rising up to the giddy height of 37.5m and support hundreds of tons of concrete that despite its weight still looks draped on them like white canvas. Inside the building offers 7,860 m² of space: the concert hall can have 3,700 people jumping up to the sound of New Order or Lauren Hill (to check their concert programme visit Tempodrom´s Facebook page). The smaller conference hall is rented for events with up to 470 guests.

But the best part of the building is its, pardon me, bottom. Known as Liquidrom, it is the temple of wellness I have never had the good luck of exploring (yet!). However, I am told that once you have plunged in those pools to float and be washed by gentle waves of blue water and the sound from the twelve underwater speakers, your consciousness does get seriously altered. It just might be true…


Although all of the above sounds pretty relaxed and idyllic, Tempodrom´s luck does seem to be quite shaky. The incredibly short construction time combined with rather murky nature of the construction´s financial management caused the costs to  skyrocket (32 million Marks instead of the planned 16…). As a direct consequence of those fireworks of red numbers the then Berlin Stadtentwicklungssenator (Urban Development Senator) Peter Strieder had to step down.

Tempodrom, officially opened on December 1, 2001 to host the European Film Awards Ceremony, has been managed by an insolvency administrator (ironically, also called a “liquidator”) since August 2005.

Still, despite all of the above difficulties and its uncertain future (from time to time the streets of Berlin are swept by the cold wind of a rumour that this time round Tempodrom will really be axed), there is nothing like cycling down Möckernstrasse, and looking up to see its white crown sketched against the sky. And that even on a cold winter day.

More fantastic images of Tempodrom can be found in Jonny B Kirchhain´s photostream on Flickr.

You can read about the other old Kreuzberg circus in Yorckstrasse in one of the older posts here.



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