When compared to other major European cities, Germany’s capital doesn’t have many old buildings. It’s no mystery as to why: World War II bombs, the construction of the Berlin wall, poor urban planning, modernisation and many other reasons have all contributed to this shortage. A few of these structures deserved to be demolished, but others are still greatly missed.
The first Deutschlandhalle was built in 1935. It held up to 16,000 people and was frequently used for shows, sporting events and Nazi propaganda events. It was mostly destroyed during the war, but it was quickly rebuilt and reopened in 1957.
The new building was a hot spot for musicians driving the rock and pop revolution: Jimi Hendrix, David Bowie, The Who, Pink Floyd and the Rolling Stones all played shows there. Deutschlandhalle ceased concert operations in 1998 and was converted into an ice rink. In 2011, the building was demolished and the modern trade fair and congress hall City Cube was built on the site.
- Messedamm 26, Westend
Palast der Republik
This is probably the most famous of Berlin’s vanished buildings. The Palast der Republik stood where the old Stadtschloss (City Palace) used to be. It served as the seat of the DDR People’s Chamber beginning in 1976, but celebrations and concerts also took place there. East German bands such as Puhdys and Karat gave guest performances, and Udo Lindenberg also played in front of DDR audiences. It was nicknamed “Erich’s lamp shop” because of the opulent interior lighting.
After the fall of the Wall, the building was closed and completely gutted because of the asbestos used in its construction. Despite widespread protests, it was finally demolished in 2008. The Humboldt Forum now stands at this site.
- Schloßplatz (then: Marx-Engels-Platz), Mitte
The Gloria Palast was one of the most important cinemas in Berlin from 1925 to 1998. The original building was destroyed during the war and rebuilt on the same site, and in the 1950s, it was the venue for the Berlinale. However, the venerable institution couldn’t quite keep up with modern cinemas and finally gave up in 1998. The building was used as a fashion shop for a while, but it was demolished in 2017. The Gloria Berlin business and office complex stands here now.
- Kurfürstendamm 12-15, Charlottenburg
This unusual building resembled a gigantic maple leaf, and it was originally used as a restaurant for the DDR’s Ministry of Construction. In later years, the restaurant’s use was expanded to host staff from other government agencies and schoolchildren. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, techno parties were held in the building, but it stood empty after 1994. Despite fierce protests from the activists in the cultural and art scene, it was demolished in 2000 and replaced by a miserably plain hotel.
- Gertraudenstraße/corner Fischerinsel, Mitte
The multi-purpose hall opened in 1910 in Schöneberg. It held 10,000 guests and was used for sporting events such as speed skating, ice hockey, equestrian tournaments, boxing matches and the Six-Day Race, as well as balls and concerts. Joseph Goebbels infamously proclaimed “Total War” there in February 1943.
Following severe war damage, the Sportpalast was rebuilt and continued to function as a venue for sports and concerts by jazz and rock artists. However, after 1973, it was no longer profitable to continue operating the venue, so the Pallasseum housing complex was built in its place.
- Potsdamer Straße/Pallasstraße, Schöneberg
This Protestant church, built in 1892, sat on the border between Wedding and Mitte, and after the war, the French and Soviet sectors of Berlin. The church was closed when the wall went up in 1961. It stood in the middle of the death strip for over 20 years, and border guards sometimes used it as a watchtower. In January 1985, the DDR government demolished it. The Chapel of Reconciliation was constructed on the remains of the old foundation in 2000.
- Bernauer Straße 4, Mitte
The Bauakademie was designed by Karl Friedrich Schinkel, Berlin’s master architect. The façade and the interior design were revolutionary at the time, and the building served as a college where architects were trained from 1832-1836.
The Bauakademie was damaged during the war, then destroyed to make way for the DDR’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. That building stood opposite the Palace of the Republic but was demolished in 1995. A structure was built to simulate the old Bauakademie on the then-empty space, made of a printed canvas attached to a steel scaffold. In 2016, the German Bundestag decided to rebuild the academy with “As much Schinkel as possible”. The cost was estimated to be about €51 million.
- Schinkelplatz, Mitte
You can hardly get more West Berlin than this. This twisting, slightly clunky, futuristic department store building on Ku’damm was built in 1973, and it housed numerous shops, cinemas, the Berlin Panoptikum, a bowling alley and the Café des Westens. The highlight of the building was an enormous light grid screen with moving images and text. The intention was to evoke the visual experience of New York Times Square.
However, in spite of its popularity and interesting design, the building never received cultural heritage protection and was demolished in 1998. Today, the prominent corner is occupied by the Neues Ku’damm-Eck.
- Kurfürstendamm/Joachimsthaler Straße, Charlottenburg
In 1895, the Skladanowsky brothers brought their moving pictures to Berlin. They showed them to the public first in Pankow’s Tivoli and then in the Wintergarten. In the beginning, films were only part of Tivoli’s entertainment, but it established itself as a modern cinema in the 1920s. The building survived the war and the DDR but it was finally closed in 1994 – after almost exactly 100 years. It was demolished in 2003, and a Lidl now stands on this historic spot.
- Berliner Straße 27, Pankow
Stadtbad Wedding was one of Berlin’s large public baths. In 1907, having a bath in your own flat was a luxury, but here you could bathe, take a shower or even swim. It was destroyed during the war and rebuilt in the 1950s for use as a swimming pool with a wide range of facilities for children and schools. The pool closed in 2002 for structural and hygienic reasons, but it reopened under the name “Stattbad Wedding” as an art venue and club in 2009. For a while, there were ambitious plans to build a large concert hall there, but it was demolished in 2016. Now, there are plans to build housing here.
- Gerichtstraße 64, Wedding
The Palasthotel was a five-star hotel in the DDR – the concrete façade was interspersed with lovely amber-coloured windows, and there were several bars and restaurants inside. It usually hosted important officials in the DDR and foreign guests – the Stasi monitored everything that happened inside. During demolition in 2002, an American aerial bomb was found under the foundations.
- Karl-Liebknecht-Straße/Spandauer Straße, Mitte
Stadion der Weltjugend
The stadium was built in 1950, and was named the Walter Ulbricht Stadium after the DDR head of state and SED party leader. It was the largest stadium in East Berlin with a capacity of 70,000 spectators. After the World Festival of Youth and Students, it was renamed the “Stadium of World Youth” in 1973. The stadium hosted athletics, propaganda marches and the FDGB Cup finals. The derbies between 1. FC Union and the serial champions BFC Dynamo also took place here in order to keep the bitterly hostile fans apart.
When Berlin applied to host the 2000 Olympic Games during the reunification frenzy, the old stadium was demolished. However, Berlin botched the bid, and the sports hall planned for the stadium was never built. Today, the Federal Intelligence Service has its huge headquarters there.
- Chausseestraße, Mitte
More on the topic
Berlin architecture is fascinating. Read here how the last 20 years have changed the city’s landscape. Did you know that some Nazi-era architecture still remains in the city? Want more Berlin tips? Sign up for our newsletter for the latest stories.