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Potsdamer Platz

Big City Life Under the Open Sky

“Potsdamer Platz is the gateway to the West. The tidal wave of Berlin traffic culminates on this square.”

Travel guide Berlin für Kenner, Berlin 1912

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Potsdamer Platz – Skizze, 1914, Brücke-Museum

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Potsdamer Platz, 1914, Brücke-Museum

At the beginning of the twentieth century, Potsdamer Platz was perhaps the busiest and most modern square in Europe. After the opening of the eponymous railway station a few decades before, it had developed into an important hub for short and long-distance travel. While living in Steglitz, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner made frequent use of this connection to the large metropolis. It was from here that he would often plunge into the hustle and bustle of the big city. Shortly after the disintegration of the Brücke artists’ group in 1913, he sought diversion in the jumbled city life that reliably awaited him as he stepped out of the old station building. During the day, people rushed past modern trams, horse-drawn carriages and automobiles into offices and shops. In the evenings, under the glow of the neon signs, amusement-seekers flocked to the many cabarets and restaurants.

“I think half of all the electric trams cross here after pouring in from every direction; I counted a hundred of them in the space of a few minutes […].”

French journalist Jules Huret in his travel memoirs, 1909

Max Missmann, Potsdamer Platz, 1914, photograph, Inv. no.: IV 68/176 V, reproduction: Oliver Ziebe, Sammlung Stiftung Stadtmuseum Berlin 

Kirchner was particularly fascinated by strolling ladies with their form-fitting dresses and sweeping feathered hats. They never halted, looked back or spoke to other passers-by. Their appearance was that of fashionable bourgeois women at the end of the empire. This was how the sex workers, who were also called “coquettes” at the time, moved inconspicuously through the streets of Friedrichstadt. Prostitution had actually been outlawed in Berlin since the founding of the German Empire in 1871, and the vice squad was severe in its punishments. However, the official ban on brothels mainly drove the sector into illegality and the women onto the streets. They attempted to attract men’s attention inconspicuously by using targeted gestures and glances. Despite the interdiction, the city’s approximately 50,000 prostitutes could be seen on every corner. No wonder they caught Kirchner’s eye. During his excursions to Potsdamer Platz, the artist captured them in numerous drawings and subsequently also in paintings.

Valentina Bay


Potsdamer Platz, 1920s, video excerpt from: Berlin-Aufnahmen 20er Jahre, F Rep. 400 No. 633, Landesarchiv Berlin

Explore Berlin through the Eyes of the Brücke Artists