If there is anyone who knows just how much Potsdamer Platz has changed over the past few decades, it is Siegrid Klinke.
Forty-three years ago, the Berliner moved to Haus Huth – it was and still is love at first sight.
From her flat, Siegrid Klinke can see her own past: if she leans forward a little and looks to her left while standing on her balcony in Voxstraße, she can make out Haus Huth in the distance. For more than 26 years, she lived on the third floor of the grey building, in an era that has almost completely vanished beneath newly built skyscrapers and the myriad of people hurrying past Siegrid Klinke’s balcony.
Because when the artist first moved into Haus Huth in 1968, there wasn’t much left of Potsdamer Platz. Due to World War II and the construction of the Berlin Wall, it had become wasteland. The borderland was relegated to the sidelines of urban development. “Homeless people used to camp in the ruins of Vox-Haus, making a little fire now and then. And directly opposite was a small shop selling jam and a bit of condensed milk. And where we are now, there was a flat building, a pub. The rest was rough wilderness”, Siegrid Klinke remembers. When she walked her poodle for the last round at night, it used to be “a bit scary” and you could have “dreamed up a whole series of crime stories.”
In the mid-seventies, Potsdamer Platz was finally razed completely.
It was Haus Huth that was the last man standing next to the remains of Hotel Esplanade. When it was raining, Siegrid Klinke needed wellies to cross the wasteland surrounding the house. She always had a spare pair in the boot of her car because of it.
Fifty square metres, two rooms, 175 Deutschmarks rent a month. That’s what it said in the ad that Siegrid Klinke had come across in the newspaper. The then 39 year-old fell head over heels for the lonely building at Potsdamer Platz during the viewing already: “you entered the building and you were ensconced, such warmth. It smelled fantastic because of the wholesale soap trade on the first floor. The lift was the cherry on top! It was key-control, with mirrors left and right.” She also speaks fondly of the marble walls in the corridor and a lead glass window stretching from the first to the topmost floor telling a story with its colourful figures. It never bothered her that her house stood solitary on post-war wasteland: “Why should it have bothered me? I was always surrounded by people otherwise; so it was a place of respite for me.”
If there is anyone who knows just how much Potsdamer Platz has changed over the past few decades, it is Siegrid Klinke. Already as a child, she used to stroll down Leipziger Straße with her parents up to Wertheim department store with its large display windows, which she used to love. Later, as a tenant of Haus Huth, she was able to see the walled-up U-Bahn exits, the no-man’s-land beyond the Wall. Car wrecks were scattered around, busloads of tourists mounted the viewing platform. There were also prominent guests, including Margaret Thatcher and the Queen. And when the Wall came down and Potsdamer Platz turned into Europe’s largest building site, Siegrid Klinke was the last one to leave Haus Huth in 1995. Only when her beloved home was surrounded by a moat filled with ground water, she moved to Zehlendorf – however, on the sole condition of being able to return.
“A flat holds all your emotions and stories.”
“I said back then: I ain’t gonna leave. A flat holds all your emotions and stories”, she says. “I wanted to return to Potsdamer Platz at any cost. This is my home.”
After the opening of the Berlin Wall, the former automotive corporation Daimler-Benz AG bought Haus Huth. It was to serve as a representation of the group. Siegrid Klinke was thus unable to return to her old flat. In 1998, she moved into a newly built house in Voxstraße, a flat with two rooms on the fifth floor, above a restaurant, facing the terracotta-coloured facade of the Potsdamer Platz Arcades – and her Haus Huth diagonally across the street, so she could see it from her balcony.
Upon her return, Siegrid Klinke closely witnessed Potsdamer Platz undergoing another change: She experienced the opening of Alte Potsdamer Straße as an honorary guest, attended inaugurations of traffic lights, street sections and the IMAX theatre at Potsdamer Platz and celebrated the fifth anniversary of the DaimlerChrysler Quarter in the VIP box.
“This is my home, simple as that.”
Isn’t the hustle and bustle at Potsdamer Platz overwhelming at times? “You have to understand that this isn’t the countryside”, the 86 year-old points out. And there were some advantages after all: the whole Platz was accessible, and in winter, when it is slippery outside, you could even reach the supermarket in the Arcades subterraneously.
“This is my home. I want to be carried out of this flat”, she says. Siegrid Klinke’s favourite neighbour from Weinhaus Huth did not return to the Platz but moved to her daughter’s small town in 1994. She died shortly after. “From homesickness and a broken heart”, Siegrid Klinke is sure of it.
Text: Sandra Winkler
Illustration: Bente Schipp