01 | 2020

Preserving the old, building the new

In the 30 years since the Wall between East and West Germany came down, HOCHTIEF has worked hard in Berlin and the new German states to build unity between the formerly divided countries. East and West have also grown together within the Group itself.

Visitors to the center of Berlin in the mid-1990s may still remember the many construction cranes that dominated the city’s skyline back then. They were especially visible in the city-center districts that had previously been a barren borderland. One of the world’s most exciting architectural projects was taking shape on Potsdamer Platz. It was a symbol of the city’s new openness and dynamism. At the center of this major city’s rebirth were the seven buildings of the Sony Center, which HOCHTIEF constructed between 1996 and 2000. 

During this period crucial events came thick and fast. On November 9, 1989, the GDR government opened up the Berlin Wall as a result of the people’s peaceful revolution. In March 1990 eastern Germany held its first free election to the People’s Chamber, which was followed in May by the state treaty establishing a monetary, economic, and social union. Only months later, the two Germanys were reunited on October 3, 1990. The German Bundestag in Bonn resolved on June 20, 1991, that Berlin, the reunited country’s capital, would also be the seat of its parliament.

The era moved along with breathtaking speed, in politics and daily life. The construction sector also had to shift into high gear in order to pour a foundation for the promise of German unity. The era of German reunification was, among other things, a gigantic infrastructural challenge. Two German states that had been separated by the Berlin Wall and its death strip now aimed to become one again practically overnight. But enabling people to travel around in comfort, economic regions to grow together, and structural gaps caused by the division to be filled requires not only a change of mindsets but also roads, bridges, tunnels, railroad lines, and construction projects. HOCHTIEF quickly began to help shape the transformation of Germany.


Berlin and the state of Thuringia are two current centers of HOCHTIEF activities that came into being during this era. From the start, people from the East and the West have worked there as partners. In 1990 HOCHTIEF acquired Alex Bau GmbH, which had arisen from a GDR state enterprise with 1,000 employees. In 1991, HOCHTIEF acquired the dam construction company Talsperrenbau Weimar GmbH in Thuringia; in 1993, it was renamed HOCHTIEF and moved its headquarters from Weimar to Erfurt.

HOCHTIEF has completed projects that built bridges between East and West both literally and figuratively. The Saale-Elster viaduct (2013), which is over six and a half kilometers long, is the longest bridge in Germany and the longest mainline rail bridge in Europe. It’s a major element of the Berlin/Munich ICE high-speed railroad line.

In the area of road transportation, HOCHTIEF constructed key sections of the east-west axis highway A4, including the Hörselberge bypass near Eisenach (2010). For air traffic, it built the new Terminal B at the Leipzig/Halle airport. In Eisenach the Group built parts of the new Opel factory. Trade fair and convention centers were built in cities including Berlin, Dresden, Erfurt, and Weimar.


In addition to constructing new buildings, HOCHTIEF has also preserved old ones. A good example is Weimar, the cultural capital of German Neoclassicism. This adopted home of Goethe and Schiller was the center of creative HOCHTIEF activities in the 1990s. The Group implemented many award-winning projects here. It lent new splendor to the historic train station in 1999 and turned the Weimarhalle, which was originally built to mark the centenary of Goethe’s death, into a spectacular new building. The New Weimarhalle was completed in record time in 1999, when Weimar was named the European City of Culture. It also received the prestigious Honor Award 2001 from the United States Institute for Theatre Technology (USITT). Designed by the Hamburg-based architectural firm Gerkan, Marg and Partners, it may be the most beautiful convention center in Germany.

In the old trade fair city of Leipzig in Saxony, HOCHTIEF was tasked with preserving central buildings and providing them with a modern concept. For example, it transformed the city’s oldest trade fair building into a new department store. The Gewandhaus was home to the world-famous Gewandhaus Orchestra, which was originally established by the cloth merchants’ guild. Mozart, Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy, and Franz Liszt gave concerts there.

Department stores can also have a history that is worth protecting. An example of this is the inner-city shopping center Anger 1 in Erfurt. When it was converted by HOCHTIEF (1998–2000), the building was intended to preserve the Art Nouveau-inspired architecture of the historic Römischer Kaiser department store of 1908 as well as its later history as one of East Germany’s biggest department stores in the 1950s. 


However, most examples of the careful conversion of landmarked buildings can be found in and around Berlin. The conversion of the Stadtpalais in Potsdam is a sterling example of this, and similar projects are still under way. In Berlin HOCHTIEF is now transforming the original headquarters of the Deutsche Bank, which later became the GDR’s Ministry of the Interior, into the home of two federal ministries. The Group has also completed the core building of the new Humboldt Forum.

HOCHTIEF’s commitment to the new federal states has long gone beyond regional projects. Thanks to the experience it has gained through the successful completion of many projects, the HOCHTIEF branch in Erfurt has become a point of contact for public-private partnerships within the Group. Thus it’s shaping an area that is important for HOCHTIEF’s future. This too is a corporate success story from eastern Germany that should be remembered as Germany celebrates 30 years of unity.

HOCHTIEF projects after the Wall came down