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On a dusty parking lot in central Berlin, where U.S. bombs leveled homes and offices in 1945, Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas is planning a beehive-like digital media center for publisher Axel Springer. A 15-minute bike ride away, on the former site of an iron foundry, architect Daniel Libeskind is completing a titanium-wrapped apartment building crowned with a soaring penthouse. Across the Humboldthafen canal, a new neighborhood with a tree-lined boulevard flanked by shops, homes, and offices is rising where rail-switching yards stood before they were wiped out during World War II.
Seventy years after the end of the war, Berlin is finally filling the last gaps left by Allied bombs, which destroyed more than two-thirds of the buildings in the city center. Architects say the construction boom offers Berlin a chance to make up for decades of bad planning and mediocre architecture. “This is a new time in Berlin,” says Libeskind, the Polish American architect who designed the Jewish Museum in Berlin and drew up the master plan for the new World Trade Center site in Manhattan. “It’s one of the great cities of the world, and we expect it to compete. We don’t expect it to be some backwater.”
The German capital is a hodgepodge of architectural styles, each reflecting the political priorities of successive rulers. The pompous classical buildings of the Kaisers were a statement of economic might. Stern Nazi ministries, a few of which are still used by the government, doubled as monuments to efficiency. East Berlin’s plattenbau, massive apartment blocs made from prefabricated concrete slabs, were symbols of Soviet austerity. “Berlin was a hugely subsidized, nonfunctioning entity until the wall came down,” says Lena Kleinheinz, a partner at Berlin’s Magma Architecture. “We’re slowly overcoming that.” […]