Why Berlin completely underestimates the Sony Center: A declaration of love

There is the meditation form of mindful listening, and nowhere does it fit better than on this long metal bench in the middle of the Sony Center on Potsdamer Platz. It goes like this: Lie on your back, there is always enough space here; close your eyes, focus on the points of contact with the metal. At what point does the back touch the cold lying surface? So listen carefully, it’s important now: none of the sounds should create an assessment, neither approval nor rejection, let the sounds flow through you.

With an ambulance, you just hear the siren, just the sound, it’s not about the life that is likely to be saved right now. When you hear a shrill child’s voice (ice! Ice! Ice!), Do not think about whether this wish comes true. If the parents shout something (“We just got ice cream!”), Then it doesn’t trigger anything either. It is none of your business. Just as little as the gentle noise coming from the nearby Tiergarten. Or does it come from the fountain next door? Or from the street? Is it the noise from the traffic?

Sony Center opened in 2000 after only three years of construction. The architect behind this temple-like building, Helmut Jahn, would finally give the city of Berlin a mountain at the center of this building; for apart from Teufelsberg, Kreuzberg and Prenzlauer Berg it is a rather flat town. In fact, the extensive roof structure is intended to evoke Mount Fuji, the sacred site just outside Tokyo.

For years, Berlin was a stranger to this strange building with the best location. On the one hand, it determined the skyline impressively, on the other hand, the Sony Center was considered a “non-place”. It is one passage to get from Potsdamer Platz to the Philharmonie or from Tiergarten to the cinema. At most, one reluctantly went in for a kangaroo steak in the Australian restaurant or to Legoland in the basement. Australian and Legoland are still there, and a Bavarian beer pub has also been added, and a gym will soon move in.

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Squirting, gurgling, ringing.

But at least for me, it has changed in recent years: I have completely built this place into every city trip with friends, it has even become a resting place for me. Nowhere else in the area is it nice to immerse yourself in the architecture for a moment and above all to appreciate the soundscape that is completely randomly created here: the ripple, the bell, the ring, the conversations in several languages.

Originally, the Sony Center had three sides: On the one hand, condominiums were built where people like Udo Lindenberg have their temporary home in Berlin once they are here. In the other part of the building, facing the park, are offices, the work area. And in the third part, towards the southern exit, the entertainment is housed. The Cinestar cinema was there for years, whose letters have just been removed. But anyone who has been to the toilet there once in the last 20 years will not shed a tear for the cinema.

And now the Sony Center has so much patina that right now it’s scheduled to be renovated in 2023. The folded roof nonetheless shines in the colors of the rainbow every night in a row. The entire area under the roof is then bathed in deep red, cool blue or strong green. It never fails, and those who still close their eyes will be rewarded with the noise of the big city day and night. A feeling that otherwise only occurs in Seoul or Singapore – with a visit to the Sony Center you save on travel expenses.

Not only is it perfectly connected, it is also right on the border between East and West Berlin. This place is not even trying to be something it is not. The first traffic light in the world was set up here on Potsdamer Platz, the red-yellow-green started here. The city’s first hostel opened here in 1994, when a Berliner pushed a pair of mattresses into a room at Köthener Strasse 44 and began renting them out. And here at Potsdamer Platz, the world film industry meets every year for the Berlinale.

Always a few degrees cooler than outside

Wednesday this week it was still bright and still hot outside in front of the Sony Center. Under the Fuji roof, however, it got noticeably cooler. The metal of the seat provided extra cooling, and even in light rain there were no traces of it inside.

The ice cream that the children’s voices talked about actually exists. There are varieties of lemon meringue, white coffee, honey lavender and cherry hibiscus. And just as one is about to sit down to enjoy it, one hears someone complaining about the ice prices in Berlin, over the late train, over the noise. Therefore: close your eyes and out into the big wide world.

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