“You can leave your hat on” — Haus Huth on Potsdamer Platz

When we think of the fall of the Berlin Wall, David Hasselhoff’s song “Looking for Freedom” is more likely to come to mind than Joe Cocker’s “You Can Leave Your Hat on.” But if we look at it from the perspective of the restaurant and wine merchant Haus Huth (“Hut” means “hat” in German), the musical pun is completely apt.

The wall that separated Germany into East and West came down 30 years ago, in November 1989. People strolling across Potsdamer Platz today see almost no reminders of the time when the Berlin Wall stretched right across this square.

Aerial photo 14.07.2003 Source: Vincent Mosch

Weinhaus Huth

This historic building on the Alte Potsdamer Straße stands out from the modern architecture that surrounds it in all directions — and it exudes an aura of Germany’s imperial age. Locals affectionately refer to it as “the last house left on Potsdamer Platz.”

The construction of Weinhaus Huth was completed in 1912. Willy Huth, the son of the company founder Christian Huth, had commissioned the architects Conrad Heidenreich and Paul Michel with the project. The architects decided to use a steel skeleton structure — an elaborate method of construction that was ultramodern at the time. Their original reason for this choice was the fact that the structure would have to bear the weight of the wine barrels stored in the building. In retrospect, this turned out to be a good decision. The steel skeleton of Haus Huth kept the building in one piece during the nights of bombing during World War II and while the area around Potsdamer Platz was undergoing redevelopment many decades later.

Aerial photo September 1993 Source: Prof Rudolf Schäfer

An eventful history

Haus Huth used to stand in the busiest location in Berlin. Especially in the 1920s, Potsdamer Platz was in its heyday. It boasted the first traffic light in Europe and offered a wide array of cultural amenities, restaurants, and movie theaters, thus serving as a showcase for all the latest trends.

During the period between the construction and the demolition of the Wall, not a trace remained of the formerly vibrant Potsdamer Platz. Only after the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989 did public attention turn toward this seemingly forgotten space. Suddenly this area once again became interesting to the general public and especially attractive for investors.

In the late summer of 1989, Daimler-Benz AG was already indicating its interest in these vacant spaces as an investor. The negotiations began. Back then, this was a risky undertaking. At that point no one could foresee the fall of the Berlin Wall, the city’s associated gain in prestige, and the reinstatement of Berlin as the nation’s capital. Edzard Reuter, who was then the CEO of Daimler-Benz, was searching for a suitable location for debis, the Daimler service-sector subsidiary that eventually gave rise to Daimler Mobility (DMO). The options had been narrowed down to locations in Berlin near the Wall.

A technical triumph: Haus Huth in the middle of the pools of groundwater. To shield it from the construction pits surrounding it, in 1995 the building was braced with a steel “corset” — a 120-centimeter-thick protecting wall of steel and concrete. Source: Vincent Mosch.

Europe’s biggest inner-city construction site

By the end of World War II, most of the buildings on Potsdamer Platz had been destroyed. Only Haus Huth and parts of the Hotel Esplanade were still standing. Today the Hotel Esplanade can be found behind a glass façade in the Sony Center. Here too, the architectural “Old Guard” had to give way to the plans for redeveloping Potsdamer Platz. The hotel, which was listed as a historical monument, was transferred with the help of an airbag construction to a new location 75 meters away.

By buying the area around Potsdamer Platz, Daimler-Benz AG also became the owner of Haus Huth. In the midst of Europe’s biggest inner-city construction site, Haus Huth looked rather lost. When the construction phase began on the Daimler-Benz site, it was still possible to gain an overview of the entire district from the roof of Haus Huth. However, as time went on the surrounding building complexes came to tower high above Haus Huth.

An underground tunnel was built to connect the commuter-train station at Potsdamer Platz with the shopping arcades. The plans called for part of the tunnel to lie directly beneath Haus Huth. However, the building, which weighed 5,000 tons, was too heavy to have a tunnel dug directly under it. The building had to be jacked up on trestles and the basement had to be made four meters deeper. A new foundation slab was poured, and in the meantime the building was set down on a kind of sedan chair consisting of horizontal steel girders and 96 vertical injection bored piles. About 3,000 tons of soil were dug up by mini-excavators, and then a concrete foundation was laid down at a depth of seven meters. At this point, the steel skeleton construction paid off once again. The building was set down first on supporting girders, then on the new outer walls.

Interior design in Haus Huth

New splendor for Haus Huth

Two world wars, as well as the partition and the reunification of Germany — Weinhaus Huth has experienced a great deal in the course of time. It has seen many businesses moving in and out and many people entering and leaving. And it bears some visible traces of its former life as an old building standing in the shadow of the Wall on the edge of West Berlin. Its shelly limestone façade has been cracked by the detonations during the nights of bombing, and the once-splendid interior of Haus Huth has disappeared over the years. Only the original Coat of Arms Room has survived.

An architects’ firm was commissioned to complete the interior, and exterior sculptured decorations such as reliefs and ornaments were restored. While this work was being done, the building was closed for three years starting in 1996.

Haus Huth today

The building is no longer owned by Daimler itself. In 2007, the Group decided to sell the entire Potsdamer Platz property to the Swedish bank SEB. However, the building still houses the Group Representation Office for External Affairs of Daimler AG, as well as the exhibition areas for the Group’s art collection.

Celebrity guests at Haus Huth

The Group Representation Office organizes numerous events and discussion rounds in these historic spaces. Many visitors from the areas of politics and business have been guests at Haus Huth.

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