A proud building

The history of the Internationales Handelszentrum isn’t a long one – the building is less than 40 years old – but it is nonetheless fascinating. Conceived as an international trade centre in the mid-70s, designed by the former General Director of the Berlin Department of Construction, built by a Japanese company – then as now, it is a hub of international trade.

 

THE IHZ TOWER

The IHZ can be spotted from far off. The 93-metre-high office building, located right next to the famous Friedrichstraße station, is a prominent landmark in Berlin’s old and new centre. The dark windowpanes, framed in white plastic, make the Internationales Handelszentrum one of the city’s most distinctive buildings.

From the moment construction began, the building brought international flair to Friedrichstraße. In the 1970s, it was designed and overseen by chief architect Erhardt Gißke, East Berlin’s Director of Construction, and constructed by the Japanese Kajima Corporation.

From the moment of its birth, the IHZ was a prestigious address and a permanent fixture in the world of international trade. Right from the start, companies from every continent were based in the Internationales Handelszentrum, and its prospects have remained good – at a proud height of 93 metres, it still towers high above the rooftops of central Berlin.

The idea of building the IHZ was devised in 1975 by the joint economic council of Japan and the GDR. The IHZ was intended to promote the GDR’s foreign trade, especially with non-socialist countries. The plan was to build the IHZ right next to Friedrichstraße station where it would be clearly visible from the West – making a clear statement. However, the location wasn’t a new idea. Back in 1921, Mies van der Rohe had planned a prism-shaped glass and steel high-rise building that was to be located on the other side of the railway line, between the station and the River Spree. However, the famous architect’s spectacular design was never realised because it was technologically infeasible at the time.

The function and financing of the IHZ both transcended borders. The construction was carried out in partnership with a Japanese company. The Tokyo-based Kajima Corporation had experience of erecting high-rise buildings. Even the steel frames were delivered from Japan.

The foundation stone was laid on 14 September 1976. The following spring, the building’s 25-storey steel frame was assembled, meaning the topping out ceremony could be held on 27 May 1977. The ambitious and expensive project was prefinanced by a dollar loan from the partners. The IHZ repaid the loan from its ongoing operations. After the handover on 1 September 1978, the offices and storeys of the Internationales Handelszentrum were quickly snatched up. In the year of its opening, numerous international companies from a total of 26 countries, including Australia, Brazil, France, India, Scandinavia, Switzerland, the USA and Japan, were already leasing space in the building. Japan alone accounted for 18 companies. Companies like Shell and Levi Strauss also had branches in the IHZ. The rent was paid in dollars and the loan was paid off after six years.

Erhardt Gißke, architect (right)
Erhardt Gißke, architect (right)  

Businesspeople from across the globe regularly met in the tower for symposia, meetings, conferences and company presentations. Special salons were built for these events on the third floor. The Japanese salon featured an East Asian design, while the Zeiss salon was dominated by imagery drawn from the company VEB Carl Zeiss Jena. The Gutenberg salon had a wall dedicated to Johannes Gutenberg, the inventor of the printing press. The style of the Meißner salon was based on Meissen porcelain.

The fall of the wall led to a change in the IHZ’s original business focus. Embassies, law firms, international airlines, etc. were added to the mix. To keep up to date, the IHZ (including the offices and technical facilities) were thoroughly renovated in the 1990s. There are now up to 28 offices per storey and over 500 offices in total.

The architect Erhardt Gißke

From trained bricklayer to East Berlin’s Director of Construction – Erhardt Gißke (1924–1993) was both the architect of the IHZ and, as Director of Construction, responsible for many of the buildings constructed in East Berlin during the GDR period. He was in charge of construction projects including Stalinallee, the Palace of the Republic and the sport and recreation centre.

After completing his studies at an engineering academy, Gißke worked in a planning department. When the village of Bruchstedt was almost entirely destroyed by a flood in May 1950, the SEDstate authorities appointed Gißke as architect. He was faced with the challenging task of planning a rapid reconstruction programme. It took him just 50 days to complete the organisation. As technical director, Gißke focused on the Stalinallee building project between 1952 and 1956.

In 1956, Gißke was appointed as deputy to Berlin’s chief architect, Hermann Henselmann. In this position, his responsibility was confined to implementing Henselmann’s urban development plans and architectural projects.

In recognition of his work, the Berlin city authorities appointed Erhardt Gißke as Director of Construction in 1958. The next highlight of his career came in 1964, when he was appointed as Director of the Institute of Industrial Construction at the Bauakademie. This position as the Director of the “Special Projects for the City of Berlin” Construction Department allowed him to work on many prestigious buildings in Berlin.

ALWAYS CENTRAL, ALWAYS MODERN – FROM THE OLD TO THE NEW IHZ

THE HISTORY AND CONSTRUCTION OF THE NEW IHZ

The IHZ tower was built in the 1970s, under the direction of Professor Gißke. It was renovated in the 1990s and two sister buildings were added in early 2000. Central, distinctive, modern: the IHZ is one of the best business locations in Berlin. Anyone who works here has a panoramic view of Berlin – right in the centre of the action and high above the city’s rooftops.

The IHZ’s sister buildings were constructed around the turn of the millennium. A glass passageway connects the old IHZ to the new, U-shaped sister buildings. The New IHZ is not merely an annex – it is a state-of-the-art building complex.

The two 35-metre-high sister buildings do not open onto Friedrichstraße, but rather onto the Internationales Handelszentrum. Visually, this brings the 93-metre-high IHZ closer to Friedrichstraße, making the massive tower look more accessible.

A glass passageway connects the old IHZ to the new one. The gap between the buildings is 16 metres – the classic width of Berlin roads. The small plaza between the seven-storey blocks leads from Friedrichstraße to a large glass passageway. The passageway, which extends over four storeys, is positioned perpendicular to the front of the tower and connects it to the two buildings in front. The glass passageway provides space, inter alia, for a cafeteria for a hotel that is based in the New IHZ. In addition, the glass passageway is used by leaseholders for events and exhibitions.

The New IHZ was planned and designed by the firm RKWArchitektur; the Berlin Department of Urban Development was responsible for construction. The development filled the last big empty site on Friedrichstraße, restoring the street’s historic gateway character.

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FRIEDRICHSTRASSE – A STREET WITH A LONG TRADITION

Friedrichstraße is one of Berlin’s premiere addresses, not least due to its prominent location in the heart of the city. Moreover, Friedrichstraße is a unique place – a street with a long tradition.

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