Kaiser's Hall Glides to New Home on Cushion of Air
Mar. 20, 1996
BERLIN (AP) _ The stately, neo-Baroque Kaiser's Hall has stood for almost a century in the heart of Berlin, watching millions come and go. On Wednesday, the roles were reversed: Hundreds of curious spectators came to watch the building move.
The two-story ballroom, part of the landmark Grand Hotel Esplanade, rolled down the street towards its new home, Sony's new European headquarters at Potsdamer Platz.
Sony agreed to incorporate parts of the hotel, including the ballroom, into its new complex on Potsdamer Platz, prewar Berlin's busiest intersection, which was cut in two by the Berlin Wall.
But they soon discovered the gold- and red-trimmed salon, where Kaiser Wilhelm II once held his renowned ``men's evenings,'' was in the wrong place _ right in the path of a new street leading to the square.
``We were not aware that we had to move part of it'' when the contract was signed, said Edgar van Ommen, managing director of Sony Berlin. ``But so be it. We'll just get it done and over with.''
Work began nine months ago to sever the nearly 1,500-ton structure from what remains of the hotel, once one of the fanciest in Berlin.
Charlie Chaplin, Greta Garbo and other luminaries of the ``Golden '20s'' stayed there. Afternoon tea and dancing parties were so popular they were broadcast over the radio.
During the war, Col. Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg and his fellow conspirators waited there in vain for word that their assassination attempt on Hitler had succeeded.
Allied air raids destroyed 90 percent of the hotel in 1945. But much of the shell remains, along with some of the more opulent rooms. Enough was reconstructed in the 1950s so that the ruins could be used for formal balls, fashion shows and film festivals.
But then came the Berlin Wall, which was built in 1961 right alongside the hotel, making it nearly inaccessible. Although the hotel was on the western side, visitors had to pass through police checkpoints to reach the entrance.
In the 1970s, West Berlin officials built a new library in the middle of what had been Potsdamer Street, which led into Potsdamer Platz. When the wall came down and restoration work began on the square, a New Potsdamer Street was needed.
Unfortunately, the Kaiser's Hall was sitting right in its path. So it had to move.
The marble floor was removed and concrete supports put in. A temporary wooden roof was built and the whole thing wrapped in green plastic.
On March 1, it was hoisted more than 8 feet onto eight bright orange hydraulic stilts. Problems with the air-cushioning system twice forced a postponement of the actual move.
But on Wednesday, with a giant hiss, the hall began its slow westward glide over oil-slicked rubber, guided by metal rails on a concrete platform. About two stop-and-go hours and 135 feet later, the building squealed to a halt.
On Thursday, after new tracks are laid, the hall is to travel another 112 feet north to its new spot.
Sony is spending $35 million to restore the landmarked parts of the hotel, including the facade and a few other rooms. One-tenth of the cost goes just toward moving the Kaiser's Hall, which will be used for dining and public events in the new Sony complex, designed by architect Helmut Jahn.
Van Ommen said he believed it was money well spent.
``There are not a lot of landmarks left in Berlin because of the tremendous destruction the city suffered,'' he said. ``It adds character, not only to the complex but to the whole city.''
But not everyone who watched the unusual procession was convinced the move was a good idea.
``It's certainly interesting,'' said 20-year-old Corinna Schmidt, but a ``questionable'' expense. ``I don't understand why it couldn't just stay where it was.''
Still, she left work to watch the building slide by. ``You don't see that very often,'' she said with a shrug.