Orlando Journal: Disney Resort & MCO to get new high-speed Brightline trains by 2022

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A Brightline train coming into Miami. The company is expanding its Florida route system to include additional East Coast cities, as well as Orlando Airport, Disney Springs, and Tampa (All images courtesy Brightline)

by Ron Bernthal

In late 2020 Florida’s Brightline Train rail company and Walt Disney World Resort announced they have entered into an agreement to construct a train station at Disney Springs, the popular shopping, dining and entertainment complex that is part of the Disney resort.  Currently operating on a relatively small corridor connecting Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, and West Palm Beach (Covid-19 has caused the rail company to temporarily shut-down service), Brightline is determined to connect South and Central Florida with high-speed rail service, building new track that will link the Orlando area to Brightline’s established stations in West Palm Beach, Ft. Lauderdale and Miami and newer ones as well.      

Brightline’s West Palm Beach Station

The planned new route is also intended to provide a convenient travel option between Orlando International Airport’s South Terminal, and Disney Springs station, and, eventually to Tampa, on Florida’s West Coast. Additional East Coast stations are also planned for Adventura, Boca Raton and Port Miami.

Brightline is expanding its passenger hi-speed rail line from Florida’s East Coast to Central Florida and the West Coast of Florida.

Most of the expanded route system and new stations are expected to be completed in late 2022.  The agreement between Brightline and local, regional and state authorities to expand rail service beyond the airport is conditioned upon the rail company’s satisfaction of certain obligations, including obtaining all necessary government approvals and permits.  New station and track construction is ongoing, as all groups involved in the project seem to be in agreement that the rail expansion will be beneficial for the region. 

Two Brightline trains at one of its East Coast stations.

The design concept for the proposed station at Disney Springs at Walt Disney World Resort includes a lobby on the ground level, passenger facilities and an upper level train platform. The proposed station location is a shopping, dining and entertainment complex located in Lake Buena Vista, about 20 miles southwest of Orlando, within close proximity to Walt Disney World Resort’s four theme parks, two water parks and more than 25 hotels. 

Brightline locomotive on track.

“Brightline will offer a car-free connection to the millions of visitors from around the state and the world who plan to make Walt Disney World Resort part of their vacation plans,” said Patrick Goddard, president of Brightline. “Our mission has always been to connect our guests to the people and places that matter, and Walt Disney World Resort is a tremendous example of this.”

“We’re excited to work with Brightline as they pursue the potential development of a train station at Walt Disney World Resort, a project that would support our local economy and offer a bold, forward-looking transportation solution for our community and guests,” said Jeff Vahle, president of Walt Disney World Resort.

Disney Springs is the shopping, dining and entertainment district of Walt Disney World Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (photo Disney)

In 2018, Brightline was awarded the right to execute lease agreements with the Federal Department of Transportation and the Central Florida Expressway Authority to connect Orlando International Airport (MCO) and Tampa (TPA), and in February 2020 Brightline commenced engineering and design work for the proposed project.

Brightline is developing 170 miles of new track into the new South Terminal at MCO as part of the company’s Phase 2 expansion into Central Florida. The massive infrastructure project is making progress and encompasses four zones including the area of the airport and the and the Brightline Vehicle Maintenance Facility. This monumental project, which will use 225 million pounds of American steel, will include the laying of 490,000 ties and transporting 2.35 million tons of granite and limestone by 20,000 railcars. Additionally, approximately 2 million spikes and bolts will be hammered and put in place over the next two years.
Mass transit, especially by rail,  has long been championed by Florida’s West Coast business and civic leaders as a missing critical piece to economic development in the Tampa Bay region. Beyond building a connection between Tampa and Orlando, the rail line would spur transit-oriented development, potentially creating thousands of construction jobs and millions of dollars in new capital investment. It would shorten the trip from Tampa to Orlando to one hour, with a round-trip Brightline train ticket costing about $70.

Brightline’s Select Lounge at Miami Central station

Brightline’s efforts to connect the two Central Florida cities by train date back many years. In 2018, the company proposed an unsolicited bid to build an intercity rail line along Interstate 4, which had been designated for federally funded high-speed rail.  But the process hasn’t been without its roadblocks. The right-of-way lease that Brightline needs to be able to connect Orlando with Tampa has been on hold since March due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Miami Central station serves as the southern terminus for Brightline and a central stop for Miami commuter rail service via Metromover, Metrorail and Tri-Rail. The project is also a model of transit-oriented development and includes office and residential towers.

Rendering of the proposed new Brightline station in Adventura.

“Brightline will offer a car-free connection to the millions of visitors from around the state and the world who plan to make Walt Disney World Resort part of their vacation,” said Patrick Goddard, President of Brightline, in an office press release. “Our mission has always been to connect our guests to the people and places that matter, and Walt Disney World Resort is a tremendous example of this.”

Brightline is also working to operate high-speed passenger train service in Nevada and California. Brightline West, which is hoping to connect Las Vegas and San Bernadino County in Southern California, was expected to launch service in 2024. The company had announced in 2018 that it acquired the rights to XpressWest’s 185-mile federally approved rail corridor along Interstate 15, but the project’s timeline has been delayed due to economic conditions during Covid-19.

Hong Kong Journal: Design savvy building opens in 2022 on former airport site.

by Ron Bernthal

Airside’s Nan Fung Kai Tak Tower will open in 2022 as part of the mixed-use project on the site of Hong Kong’s former international airport ( renderings © Snøhetta/Brick Visual)

Commissioned by the Nan Fung Group, the architectural firm Snøhetta has designed a mixed-use building in Hong Kong that has been named Airside. Situated in the center of Hong Kong’s former Kai Tak airport, with views over Victoria Harbor and the Kai Tak River, this 1.8 miilion square-foot building includes a 656-foot tower.

© Snøhetta/Brick Visual

For Snøhetta, founded in Norway, now with five international offices, this will be their first built project in Hong Kong. Uniquely located on top of the new Kai Tak metro station, and in close proximity to other public transport, the building will serve as the main gateway to the Kai Tak development district in Hong Kong, which offers business and leisure visitors access to public spaces through a series of exterior plazas and roof top gardens.

The building is situated at a rapidly developing location in central Hong Kong. The former Kai Tak Airport, whose runways were so close to city apartment buildings that arriving passengers could see residents sitting in their living rooms as their flight was landing. Kai Tak was the main international airport of Hong Kong from 1925 until 1998, after which it was closed and replaced by a new and larger one at Chek Lap Kok, about 18 miles west of the city. With the recent revitalization of the area, the site is being transformed into a new Central Business District, known as CBD 2.0, or Kowloon East, a focal point for urban development and commerce.

© Snøhetta/Brick Visual

A gently curving facade composed of fluted glass is evocative of the textiles that anchored Nan Fung Group’s historic industry, and is present throughout the project from the façade to the interior and landscape design. The textile pattern can also be read as a nod to the development of both the Nan Fung Group and the city of Hong Kong as a whole, as they both have experienced a transformation from textile manufacturingto real estate development, finance and technology.

As one of the most densely populated cities in the world, Hong Kong’s commercial spaces are typically designed to have the urban landscape extend into its buildings. To support the thousands of people that are now flowing through the modernized Kai Tak metro station on a daily basis, the new building’s retail space at its base is designed to accommodate the always busy pedestrian traffic. Thus, the building is composed of five stages that step up from the Kai Tak River and culminates in the tower. The building’s shape creates a series of human-scale urban spaces at ground level, and rooftop gardens that have stunning views of Victoria Harbor and Kai Tak park.

© Snøhetta/Brick Visual

The building offers visitors access to large public spaces and green areas through a series of exterior plazas and roof top gardens suited for urban farming, restaurants, events and recreation. A central atrium will be filled with natural light and contain grade A office space and retail spaces, as well as space for a hotel. Both the tower and the its base gently step down towards the southernmost corner, revealing and connecting the rooftops to the surrounding plaza and riverside promenade.

© Snøhetta/Brick Visual

Airside is also promoting a sustainable green lifestyle by creating unique on-site facilities such as Hong Kong’s first automatic bicycle parking garage, the use of local materials, sky farming, automated smart waste sorting and storage, natural ventilation, solar radiation protection, and a focus on thermal comfort, water-saving and rainwater management. Designed to target the highest sustainability ratings, including LEED platinum, the building will be one of the most environmentally friendly landmarks in Hong Kong.

© Snøhetta/Brick Visual

“We are proud to be working on an urban project of this scale with such a strong determination to offer an inviting space for the people of Hong Kong,” said Robert Greenwood, a Snøhetta Managing Partner. “As Snøhetta’s first built project in Hong Kong, we hope that this building will serve as a place for both commercial activities and recreation for many years to come. Together with nearby cultural and leisure facilities that are currently under construction, the building will become a future-oriented and publicly accessible landmark in an area that will attract both start-ups and creative enterprises.”

© Snøhetta/Brick Visual

Airside is currently under construction, with expected completion in 2022. The project has already received the Grand Award in the 2019 Hong Kong Green Building Award competition for commercial buildings under construction, and was shortlisted for the 2020 MIPIM Asia Awards for “Best Futura Project.”

New Kai Tak metro station will be incorporated into the Airside project, allowing leisure and business visitors easy access to many areas of Hong Kong (photo MTRC)

The new Kai Tak MTR (Mass Transit Railway Corporation) station opened in early 2020, and will be incorporated into the Airside project. The station is part of MTR’s Tuen Ma Line, connecting the existing West Rail line to the Tuen Mun and Ma On Shan lines, providing business and leisure visitors to Airside easy access to many areas of Hong Kong.

Fehmarn/Lolland Journal: Baltic Sea tunnel will link two islands, in two countries.

(image credit Femern)
By Ron Bernthal

A road and rail tunnel 11.4 miles long will dramatically reduce the journey time between Denmark and Germany. The somewhat controversial project finally started construction in summer 2020, after a decade of geotechnical and environmental impact studies, and a debate between environmentalists who fear ecological damage, and those with business interests who favor the shortened route. Although some opposition groups are still appealing the verdict to begin the project, construction work is continuing in Denmark, and will move into German terriroty as tunnel construction progresses.

The European Union gave its blessing to the approximately US$10.3 billion Fehmarnbelt (Fehmarn Strait) Fixed Link several years ago, and after its expected completion in 2029, it will connect the Danish island of Lolland with the German island of Fehmarn, located just to the south on the other side of the strait. Since both islands are already well integrated into their respective national infrastructures with roads and bridges, the new tunnel will provide a direct road and rail route between Copenhagen and Hamburg.
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(image credit Femern)

Unlike the Channel Tunnel, which is only accessible to trains (both passenger and vehicle trains), the plan is to run a four-lane motorway through the Fermarnbelt tunnel, alongside a double track railway. And this tunnel is to be immersed, rather than bored; it will effectively lie in big pipes on the sea bed about 131 feet below the surface of the Baltic Sea, and will become the longest combined road and rail tunnel anywhere in the world.

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(image credit Femern)

Germany of course already has a long land border with Denmark, but Denmark’s archipelago of islands has always dictated tediously circuitous travel routes. When the new tunnel is completed, the travel time between Copenhagen and Hamburg will be a little over two hours, instead of the 4.5-6.5 hours it presently takes by road or rail. The shortened travel time will certainly help the economies of the regions affected.

“Today, if you were to take a train trip from Copenhagen to Hamburg, it would take you around four and a half hours,” said Jens Ole Kaslund, technical director at Femern A/S, the state-owned Danish company in charge of the project, in a CNN interview. “When the tunnel will be completed, the same journey will take two and a half hours.

The funding and construction of the tunnel is mostly being shouldered by Denmark, with some contributions from the EU. Germany is developing the land-based facilities on the German end, and it is expected that a high toll will be collected to help offset the construction costs and maintaining the underwater link. Security will be another expense. This will be the first general access international undersea tunnel in Europe, and could be an obvious target for terror attacks.
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(Image credit Femern)

One casualty, however, is likely to be the present ferry links between Gedser, Denmark and Rostock, Germany, the only European ferry which still accommodates trains, and the passenger ferries from Trelleborg, Sweden (near Malmo) to Lubeck, Germany (near Hamburg).
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Fugslang, a former mansion, is now a cultural center on the Danish island of Lolland. (photo Jens G. Clausen)

Lolland is the fourth largest island of the Danish archipelago, its coastline broken by the Sakskøbing and Nakskov fjords. The island is a summer vacation spot for many Europeans and will certainly see more year-round residents and visitors now that tunnel construction has started in the island town of Rødbyhavn.
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The Flugge Lighthouse on Fehmarn Island, Germany (photo Jens G. Clausen)

Fehmarn Island, with 2,200 hours of sun annually, endless natural beaches along its 46 mile coastline, is also popular holiday destination during northern Europe’s summer season. The island town of Puttgarden is where the tunnel will begin or end (depending on the traveler’s direction).
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Local environmental groups in the region are concerned about the ecological impact the tunnel will have on reefs, destruction of the seabed, and even long-term dangers for Germany’s only native whale, the harbor porpoise, for which a protected area has been designated. “We are dealing with a unique underwater habitat, with extensive boulder fields densely covered with colorful sponges, bushy branched moss and Tang,” said Dr. Kim Detloff, the Protection Director for Germany’s Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union (NABU). “There is a also a plethora of flatfish here in the Baltic Sea, so the ecological damage to the area must always be reassessed.”
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Rødbyhavn, on Denmark’s Lolland Island, where tunnel construction has started. (photo Antje Zimmermann)

The marine and coastal areas of the Fehmarnbelt offer a wide range of habitats for breeding and non-breeding waterbirds. The most abundant and, based on their consumption, the ecologically most important species in the Fehmarnbelt are the molluscivorous seaducks Common Eider, Common Scoter and Long-tailed Duck. Seaducks mainly prey on bivalves and other molluscs and are known to be able to substantially deplete the food resources on their wintering grounds and their numbers may be related to the carrying capacity of the wintering areas.
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Construction company Femern A/S installing waterbird nesting boxes as part of environmental compensation measures on Fehmarn Island in 2019 (photo copyright Olaf Malzahn/Femern A/S)

Habitat changes resulting from sediment spills or hydrological changes from construction or operation of a fixed link across the Fehmarnbelt are thus regarded as relevant impact factors which were addressed in the Environmental Impact Studies.

There is also concern on both islands about the increase in trucks and passenger vehicles entering and leaving the area, and how this will affect the safety and air quality of the islands. Although both Lolland and Fehmarn have long-established ferry ports and land connections, will the faster train and auto route between two major European cities (Copenhagen and Hamburg) adversely affect their reputation as peaceful and beautiful summer vacation destinations?

Residents and businesses on both islands have many years to ponder the big question: “How will the opening of the tunnel affect our lives?”

The construction company has set up a webcame that broadcasts a livestream from the site of the tunnel construction in Rødbyhavn on the Danish island of Lolland.

Bucharest Journal: New mixed-use development in Romania will offer tropical “lagoon” environment

View of Central District Lagoon City (all renderings courtesy Forty Management)

Ron Bernthal

The Romanian-based real estate developer Forty Management has proposed an urban regeneration project that will be developed on ten acres of land in the Străulești area of ​​Bucharest. The developer plans to deliver the Central District Lagoon City mixed-use project with 570 apartments, hotel, offices and commercial space, following an investment of over $118 million.

“Central District Lagoon City will be the first 100% green project in Central and Eastern Europe, self-sustaining through independent renewable sources,” said Lucian Azoitei, CEO of Forty Management. “The project will, as its center, include the turquoise waters and white sands of a tropical lagoon.” The first such man-made urban environment in Central and Eastern Europe, the project’s lagoon will be developed under a licence acquired from the U.S. company Crystal Lagoons, and will have a zero-energy environmental impact. Crystal Lagoons’ technology, patented in 190 countries, allows the development of a large surface to be covered with crystal clear water and white sand beaches, with low maintenance costs.

More than 600 of these artificial watery “lagoons” have been developed worldwide using this technology, and the Central District Lagoon City project will allow residents to go swimming and participate in water sports, such as sailing and kayaking, among others, or simply relax on a beach without having to travel further than their own backyards. Of course, Romania is not a tropical country, but Forty Management has planned for Bucharest’s cold winters. “Part of the lagoon will be converted into an ice skating area, and another part will be separated into a winter swimming area with the water maintained at a temperature of 82 degrees fahrenheit,” said Forty Management’s CEO Lucian Azoitel.

This large, mixed-use development will include a residential component with 570 apartments, an 86,000 square-foot office building, 61,000 square-feet of commercial space, as well as a 250-room hotel, all built around the lagoon.

Forty Management has hired EST Hospitality Consulting to manage the international affiliation process with the hotel component of the Central District Lagoon City project.

“We invited all large hotel groups that can add value to this innovative project to participate in the selection process,” said Mircea Drăghici, CEO of EST Hospitality Consulting. “We are delighted by the immediate replies and the positive feedback shown by the nine international brands that submitted offers, some for the first time for Romania.”

According to STR Global studies, hotels with access to a beach generate a 151% increase in revenue compared to hotels in a city without water access. The existence of this project’s mix of a city hotel with access to a beach is unique, and thus the interest from many international hotel brands.

Forty Management has already developed several mixed-use projects under the “Central District” brand, including completed residential developments in several Bucharest locations, totalling 293 apartments, another 42 apartments currently under construction and the proposed 570 residential apartments in the development plan for Central District Lagoon City and the approximately 80 apartments at District Royal Suites. The Central District Lagoon City project is expected to be completed in 2023.

Sejong Journal: New Architecture Museum Planned for South Korea

National Museum of Urbanism & Architecture (all images by AZPML & UKST)

by Ron Bernthal

In November, 2020, South Korea announced that a new museum will be constructed that’s dedicated to architecture and the urban environment.
The proposed Korean Museum of Urbanism and Architecture (KMUA) will be part of the new National Museum Complex, which is currently under development in Sejong City, about two hours south of Seoul.
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The South Korean design firm AZPML and Yukyung Kim of UKST recently won the international competition to design the $42 million museum. The winning design takes inspiration from South Korea’s traditional hanok roofs but the proposal goes deeper as it aims to create a cultural experience that explores urbanization and architecture’s role in the climate crisis.

Because cities account for nearly 70 per cent of carbon emissions and about 66 per cent of energy consumption worldwide, it was only fitting that the winning design exemplifies good ecological and environmental performance. Of course, the building will be surrounded by plenty of greenery as well.

The architects proposal is to use the construction of the KMUA both to exemplify the best practices in the industry in terms of ecological and environmental performance while paying tribute to an age which saw a failed Korean economy transformed into one of the most thriving economies in the world through a process of radical transformation of many Korean cities. Their idea is to use many of the girders that will result from the demolition of older elevated roads to build the KMUA as an oversized scaffolding to hold real fragments of architecture.
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The designers want to make the KMUA into a model of the best practices in the construction industry by highlighting mining, the preservation of resources, and the reduction of embodied energy, carbon emissions, construction waste and pollution.

The KMUA will be assembling these large infrastructural sections by simple piling, producing stepped cantilevers similar to hose that can be found in the eaves of traditional Hanok roofs. Hanok  is a traditional Korean house, first designed and built in the 14th century during the  Joseon Dynasty. This traditional Korean architecture considers the positioning of the house in relation to its surroundings, with thought given to the land and seasons.  This type of construction refers to metabolist architecture as practiced by Kim Soo-Geum in some of his 1970s buildings, mixing also with some obvious Miesian characteristics, from the German-born architect and designer Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.

When the KMUA is completed, it will serve as a monument to the infrastructure construction that became a symbol of the Korean modern development phase in the 1960s and 1970s. An architectural museum is not an art museum. One of the problems of exhibiting architecture is that it has to be fitted to spaces that are designed for another medium. So, the problem that confront architectural curators is the almost impossible task of offering to the public a close approximation to the real experience of the object. The museum will be structured like a massive scaffolding to hold full-scale sections of architectures, itself built from infrastructural elements, and should offer a collection full-scale pieces of architecture, and, thus, will need to remain always an on-going project.
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The building will contain two sunken courtyards that will o provide daylight and ventilation to the public programs. Centred between them, an atrium will connect to the ground floor lobby and the accessible storage area sitting above. The Museum canopy will be an independent location on edge of the public square. The archives will sit in the middle of a walled “treasure garden” where architectural fragments will be displayed between a grove of trees and vegetation.

The building provides a 36-foot cantilever over the public space to protect people from rain and sun and provide a monumental access to the galleries placed below. The lobby includes reception space for the Museum, a café/restaurant facility, and the Museum bookshop, all arranged around a central space linking visually to the temporary galleries in the basement level. Two vertical circulation cores are proposed to be covered with stones from historical Korean fortresses.

The peripheral windows will looking into the exterior gallery will be built with windows covered by an electrochromic layer capable of producing a range of transparency between 60 per cent and 1 percent light transmittance, to allow for the exposure of the collections to daylight, if desired.
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The museum’s terrace will become a “promenade architecturale” where visitors will be able to view the surrounding landscape of Che Creek, the Ge-um river, the Dong-nak-je-ong historical park, and the larger Korean Museum Complex itself.  

The building’s environmental conditioning systems have been designed to reduce carbon emissions and entirely rely on solar and geothermal energy. This will occur mostly through radiation and natural ventilation. A decentralized system will also offer a much safer performance in respect to the management of volatile organic components, such as covid-19. Only the Exhibition and Storage areas will have an air-based Variable Air Volume climatization all year around to maintain strict standards of thermal and hygrometric conditions for the collection. All other functions have been designed to operate with a natural ventilation system combined with radiant floors to meet heating and cooling requirements.
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(National Museum Complex)

Korean tourist officials have no doubt that the National Museum Complex Masterplan in Sejong City will have the critical mass to become not only a source of national pride and interest, but that it will draw visitors from all over the world.

The specific location of the National Museum Complex should attract not only visitors interested in architecture, but a general audience as well, as the future facility is surrounded by water on two sides, and embedded inside the future Central Park of Sejong City. Due to the absence of a neighboring urban fabric, the future Complex will have to be designed as an integral part of the park itself. The Complex has been structured so that it can be built with the maximum flexibility, making every museum an independent piece that can be built separately, rather than being bound to build the whole complex for it to work. The proposal is that the Complex can be an on-going venue, regardless of how many of the Museums are eventually completed, and it will work as a sophisticated park environment.

Zurich Airport opens large, mixed-use project.

Aerial view of The Circle (image courtesy Zurich Airport)

by Ron Bernthal

After a construction period of almost six years,  a new commercial district opened in November, 2020, at Zurich Airport. Named The Circle at Zurich Airport, Switzerland’s largest construction site has now been transformed into a modern, eye-catching district that includes two hotels, a meetings and exhibition center, numerous shops and restaurants, headquarters for international companies and facilities for medical services.

More than 1.2 billion Swiss francs (US$1.3 billion) has been spent on the two million square-foot project, and both of its investors, Swiss Life (Switzerland’s largest life insurance company) and Flughafen Zurich AG (the operator of Zurich Airport and its related businesses), understand that the project will initially face an uphill battle to attract visitors due to the current decrease in air travel. However, The Circle’s mixed-use business model means it is not 100% dependent on airport passengers, and since Switzerland’s tourism and diversified business economy is expected to recover faster than most European countries, there is little doubt that the project will succeed.

In some ways, the new project is similar to other new airport development projects in Manchester (UK), Singapore, Dubai, Beijing, Istanbul and at the proposed Western Sydney Aerotropolis, where the airports themselves and their adjacent highways and rail transport facilities are woven into the fabric of new office, retail and even residential buildings to form an airport-centered edge city.  

New buildings face the green spaces of The Circle’s park (image courtesy Zurich Airport)

The Circle and its adjacent green spaces are directly linked to the airport terminals, and also offer a quality external ambience and a quality airport address that is known throughout the world. The Circle will include venues for working, shopping, dining, medical services, congresses, events and, with the two Hyatt Hotels, a place for tourists, business travelers and Swiss residents from the area to enjoy whether or not they are arriving or departing on flights.

The Hauptplatz (Main Square) is filled with retail and dining outlets (image Zurich Airport)

“The decision to implement this project was a bold step by both co-owners,” said Andreas Schmid, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Flughafen Zürich AG. “Today, we can reap the rewards. In the early development stage, we allowed ourselves plenty of time to select the right concept. The prudent definition of the usage mix and the positioning, and, building on that. The architecture competition itself took several years and contributed to our success in keeping the construction costs under control while ensuring almost full occupancy at the time of the opening. I am unbelievably proud to be able to open The Circle, together with our co-owner, the Swiss Life Group.”  Swiss Life is Switzerland’s largest life insurance company.

The Park is a new meeting place and recreational area directly connected to the airport. Spanning 20 acres of green space, a new recreational area has grown up on the Butzenbüel hill in just under two years.

“We are delighted to be opening the Park for our visitors at the beginning of November, 2020. The new meeting place will bring nature into the urban airport site and increase the quality of the time spent at Zurich Airport. It’s worth visiting the new park. There is plenty to discover, and people can also visit The Circle, which will open at the same time”, said Manuela Staub, Head of Corporate Communication at Flughafen Zürich AG.

A funicular 262 feet in length carries visitors from The Circle directly to the Park’s panorama route (image courtesy Zurich Airport)

The Park’s design was the subject of a landscape architecture competition won by Studio Vulkan Landschaftsarchitektur GmbH, which created the concept for the project and oversaw its construction. The costs of the project came to around 15 million Swiss francs (US$16.3 million).

The range of uses comprises the different existing landscapes, including the established woodlands, meadows and wetlands that are being revived and a variety of paths has been created. A “sky platform” has been installed at the Park’s highest point. This level area with a water and mist feature is one one of the Park’s main attractions. The Park’s transit system, a funicular 262 feet in length, carries visitors from The Circle directly to the panorama route, one of the two path systems, in around 60 seconds. A path leads directly to the sky platform. In addition to the sky platform, there are also several places where small events can be held in the Park.

“The Circle is in every respect a future-oriented construction –  concentrated, sustainable building at the right location, and a modern usage concept geared to the needs of today’s and future generations,” said Rolf Dörig, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Swiss Life. “Enormous thanks are due to the many building specialists and tradespeople involved, as they have achieved something amazing and, especially in the final stage, have had to work under very challenging conditions.”

The Hyatt Regency Hotel (image courtesy Zurich Airport)

There are about a dozen shops operating now on the main square and in the alleys of the district, including a Jelmoli Lifestyle House and Sports House, an immersive Omega brand boutique, as well as interesting concepts from Anecdote by Dufry, Läderach Chocolatier Suisse, Sapori d’Italia and DLUX Hair. Pop-up stores feature the Zurich-based cosmetics label Soeder and the Swiss e-bike manufacturer Stromer.  

Using the lanes within The Circle, pedestrians will find various dining and retail venues (image courtesy Zurich Airport)

Food and beverage venues range from the cosmopolitan rooftop restaurant Sablier, which has a nice view of the park, to Leon’s Loft at the main square, which offers a large, feel-good food menu from early morning to evening. The Circle eateries also include a street food-inspired bowl concept at Rice Up! and Italian wood oven-baked pizza at restaurant l’Oro di Napoli.  In addition, both Hyatt hotels offer a wide variety of restaurants and bars, including Babel where guests can enjoy flavors from the Middle East.

The Circle Convention Center at Zurich Airport (image courtesy Zurich Airport)

More new venues at The Circle will be added in late 2020, including Avec and Bayard Co Ltd, and the 255-room Hyatt Regency Hotel and its attached Convention Hall, which can accommodate 2,500 people. In spring, 2021, the Hyatt Place Hotel will open, along with the natural cosmetics concept Cermony Suisse.

The University Hospital has already been welcoming patients in its new outpatient health center, called USZ Airport, since October, 2020, along with the Neuroth Hörcenter’s (hearing center). health-related range of services.

The Arthub at the Circle (image courtesy Zurich Airport)

Office tenants have begun moving into the new buildings. Employees of Flughafen Zürich AG, Isolutions and Totemo are already on site, and the Swiss firms Raiffeisen, Abraxas, Lunge Zürich and Inventx will move in by end 2020, along with the Globegarden childcare center and the Kieser Training fitness center. Early 2021 should see Horváth & Partners, Microsoft, Edelweiss, MSD, Novo Nordisk, SAP, Oracle, and Co-Working Spaces utilize other commercial office venues. About 80 percent of the available office space is already leased.

“We realize that we are opening The Circle in a challenging time.” said Stefan Feldmann, Head of The Circle at Flughafen Zürich AG. “However, we are very pleased to receive guests at The Circle, using the necessary precautionary measures. Over the next few months, we will continue to optimize and develop the Circle’s content and appearance to make it a vibrant place for our guests, tenants, employees, visitors and passengers.”

European Night Trains Increase Services

Deutsche Bahn (DB) ICE high-speed train crossing German countryside. (photo DB)

By Ron Bernthal

In 2005 Swiss Federal Railways (SBB) began dismantling its overnight sleeper network, and German Railways (DB) did the same in 2015.  On some routes, Austrian Federal Railways (ÖBB) took over the service with their own equipment. Most direct overnight routes disappeared, and sleeper trains to Brussels, Rome, Barcelona, Moscow and Copenhagen did as well. 

But these days, many European train companies are again sprinting across Europe at night, offering local residents and visitors revived and new services between major cities after sunset, and expanding their sleeper seat sections and onboard dining options as well. Although the Covid-19 pandemic caused some railways to reduce capacity, most companies have maintained regular schedules.  

Train travellers are now able to sleep in Switzerland and wake up in cities as far-flung as Amsterdam, Rome and Barcelona. In late 2019 and early 2020 both Swiss Rail and Deutsche Bahn announced they are expanding their night-train services within Europe, and  Austrian Federal Railways (ÖBB) is happy to compete or partner again as night-train reservations are increasing throughout the continent.   

Demand for international night-train services significantly increased in 2019 and at the start of 2020, until the coronavirus crisis struck,” Swiss Federal Railways wrote in a statement in mid-2020.  “The number of passengers using night-train services from Switzerland, despite the virus, has grown by over 25% with respect to the previous year.”

Swiss and Austria both stated that the two partner railways considered this a sustainable trend given the significant rise in customer demand for “environmentally friendly and resource-efficient travel”.

With its 19 Nightjet lines and eight further services provided in cooperation with their partner railways, Austria’s ÖBB already was running Europe’s largest night-train network. This includes their network from Switzerland, run in cooperation with Swiss SBB, comprising six lines.

Swiss Railway (SBB) train winding through the Alps (photo Victor He on Unsplash)

Over the past few months, the two companies have evaluated various options for expanding the service. In a letter of intent signed in 2020, they outlined a strategy that would increase the ÖBB Nightjet network from Switzerland to incorporate a total of ten lines and 25 destinations.

As a first step in the expansion process, the two companies are expected to launch a daily SBB/ÖBB Nightjet service from Zurich to Amsterdam via Basel-Frankfurt-Cologne, which is expected to begin in 2021. A new line will run from Zurich to Rome via Bern-Brig-Domodossola, and there are plans for a daily Nightjet connection from Zurich to Barcelona via Bern-Lausanne-Geneva. 

Wien Hauptbahnhof (Vienna Rail Station) where ÖBB Nightjet long distance trains depart and arrive from European cities (OEBB ©Philipp Horak)

In addition, the capacity of the connections from Zurich to Berlin and Hamburg via Basel is to be expanded “significantly.” The plan is to serve both destinations with two separate trains covering the whole route, “if possible from the 2023 timetable change.” They also plan to run the service to Prague via Germany as a portion of the Berlin Nightjet with sleeping cars and couchettes. The new route would also provide a direct connection to Leipzig and Dresden.

Government funding will be provided to ÖBB infrastructure to improve urban, suburban and regional rail services. All Austrian domestic lines will also be electrified by 2035, and this includes projects under the 2018-2023 framework, as well as $9.5 billion (€8 billion) in new investments.

Services will be improved to relieve pressure brought about by increasing urbanization, with the platforms on S-Bahn lines in and around Vienna extended from 160m to 220m to accommodate longer trains. Services will also operate with a reduced headway of two minutes, 30 seconds, enabling the frequency to be increased from 20-26 trains per hour per direction.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Night-Train_-medium_railway-station-4644316_1280.jpg

The western line in Linz will be upgraded to increase capacity, while stations and lines around Salzburg, Innsbruck and in the central area of Carinthia will be modernised. Graz will benefit from the expansion of the Koralm Railway, the Southern Railway and the Styrian Eastern Railway.

About $1.2 billion (€1 billion) was to be allocated to expand regional lines, including modernizing stations and stops, improving safety at level crossings, and installing new customer information systems. 

In order to achieve Austria’s goal of a “climate neutral” rail network by 2035, 310 miles of line will be electrified by 2030, and hydrogen or battery trains will be used where electrification is not technically or economically feasible.

Alta Velocidad Española (AVE) is the high-speed rail service in Spain operated by Renfe, the Spanish national railway company, at speeds of up to 186 mph. (photo wikiwand).

In Spain, despite a cut in night-train service in previous years, Renfe offers night routes called Trenhotels (yes, hotel trains).  The international Trenhotel has two lines, the Lusitania line runs daily between Madrid and Lisbon with a run time of less than 11 hours. The Sud Expresso line travels from Irun (Spain) to Lisbon and from Lisbon to Hendaye (France). In Hendaye, you can switch to a French TGV train that will take you to Paris, a night-train known for its comfortable accommodations and offers connects from several mid-size French cities with Barcelona, Madrid and Granada. See below map for Renfe’s Trenhotel’s overnight Spanish routes.   

Renfe’s Trenhotel service offers overnight routes (see below) that offer comfortable chair or sleeper accommodations in Spain. (map courtesy Eurail)

Swedish Rail (SJ) also maintains night services, although it is not as extensive as in central Europe. Sleeping compartment 1 Class accommodations offers two beds, pillow, bottom sheet, duvet are included in the cost. No one else can be booked in the same compartment, and 1 Class compartments has shower/WC equipped with towels and soap. Breakfast is provided for passengers arriving between 6.30 and 9.00 am.

Passengers travelling on trains with an open bistro may remain on the train while breakfast is served. Passengers travelling on trains where the bistro is closed will be provided with breakfast in a local eatery on presentation of the 1st class ticket. Breakfast is not provided for passengers who disembark before 6.30. 1st class travel also includes access to the SJ Lounge in Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmö, before and after the journey. SJ trains serve 160 stations daily, connecting Sweden from north to south, including routes to Oslo, Narvik and Copenhagen.

An SJ express train stops at a station during a snowy run from Malmö via Stockholm to Åre and the Jämtland mountains (photo Snälltåget)

Other European night train services include the following, courtesy Interrail.

EN Czech Republic-Poland night train

(Czech Republic – Poland)

The EuroNight Czech Republic-Poland connects Prague and other big Czech cities with Krakow and Warsaw in Poland. These great countries have plenty to offer when it comes to culture, food and of course history.


EuroNight Ister

(Hungary – Romania)

Travel by night from Budapest to Bucharest in approximately 17 hours. During this long train journey you will pass many cities in Hungary and Romania, but also great nature.


EuroNight Lisinski

(Austria – Croatia – Slovenia)

With the EuroNight Lisinski you travel from Zagreb to Munich in less than 9 hours, all while you’re asleep! Discover the beautiful islands and beaches of Croatia or have some delicious German beers in Munich. 


EuroNight Kálmán Imre

(Hungary – Austria – Germany – Switzerland)

Travel by night from Munich or Zürich to Budapest in just over 9 hours. The train also stops in Vienna and Salzburg.


Hellas Express

(Greece – Macedonia – Serbia)

Travel from Belgrade to Skopje and on to Thessaloniki in less than 16 hours. Please note that the Hellas Express is temporary disrupted at this time. You travel part of the route by bus.


Santa Claus Express


Travel to the Arctic Circle with this Finnish double-decker night train, known as the Santa Claus Express. Visit Rovaniemi, the official hometown of Santa Claus, and gaze in wonder at the Northern Lights, shining over a snow-covered wonderland.


Sofia-Istanbul Express

(Bulgaria – Turkey)

The Istanbul-Sofia Express takes you from the Bulgarian capital Sofia to Istanbul in Turkey. Discover part of the route of the famous Orient Express and wake up in magnificent Istanbul, an exotic jewel on the border of Europe and Asia.


(Italy – France)

Travel overnight from Paris to northern Italy with the Thello night train. Arrive early in the morning in amazing historical cities such as Milan, Verona and Venice. Or travel by day between beautiful Marseille and Milan with the Thello day train. 


Zhuhai Journal: New Waterfront Neighborhood Adds to “China’s Most Livable City” ReputationMo Dg

By Ron Bernthal

With almost two-million residents, Zhuhai is considered a “small” Chinese city, but it is certainly not an undiscovered city.  Located at the southern tip of the Pearl River Delta of Guangdong Province, Zhuhai is one of the seven special economic zones in China.

The city faces Hong Kong across the sea to the east, and is located adjacent to Macau on its southern border, and the city of Zhongshan to its north.  The completion of the 34-mile long Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge, in 2018, makes Zhuhai the only city on the Chinese mainland that is conntected to both Hong Kong and Macau by land.

The 34-mile Hong Kong- Macau-Zhuhai Bridge, opened in 2018. (photo HZMB)

The bridge/tunnel system consists of a series of three cable-stayed bridges, an undersea tunnel, and four artificial islands in the Pearl River Delta. It is both the longest sea crossing and the longest open-sea fixed link in the world, and took nine years to complete at a cost of $18 billion. Since opening, the bridge/tunnel has consolidated Hong Kong’s position as a hub for multi-destination business and leisure travel within the Greater Hong Kong Bay Area, which includes nine cities in Guangdong Province and two Special Administrative Regions, and has shortened the trip to/from Hong Kong International Airport to Zhuhai from four hours to just 45 minutes.

Hong Kong Zhuhai Macao Bridge Hong Kong Port Passenger Clearance Building (photo courtesy HZMB)

Residents and visitors to Zhuhai enjoy the city’s golf resorts, parks, beaches and the coastal islands nearby.  Located near the frenetic business and cultural environment of Hong Kong, and the 41 casinos of Macau, the quiet city of Zhuhai has been known as China’s “Most Livable City” (named by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences) for quite some time, although I am sure that residents of Shanghai, Beijing, Jiuzhaigou or many of the thousands of other Chinese cities may have a different opinion.

Zhuhai has been playing a pivotal role in the region’s growth as a tech hub, especially since the completion of the land link. In an effort to transform the city’s waterfront and create a blueprint for future development, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) was selected from a shortlist of 10 global design firms to create Jiuzhou Bay—a new 5.6 million square-foot mixed-use neighborhood that will consist of offices, residences, retail, and infrastructure.

Sculptural canopies inspired by Zhuhai’s maritime history will create a lively, low-carbon, waterfront community in the fast growing tech hub on the Pearl River Delta.  Image © ATCHAIN
The waterfront district design o sets a new standard for public transit in the region, with plans for a robust transportation hub that offers connections to land, sea, and rail across more than 40 acres. It also features five modular canopies that envelop three sides of a 1.8 million-square-foot port, weaving together a landscape of towers rising behind it and creating a series of covered pedestrian alleyways, a lively retail environment, and interlinked courtyards along the waterfront promenade.
“The forms of the canopies are inspired by the local legend of the Fisher Girl and reflect the fishing nets commonly seen on the coastline throughout the region,” said Sean Ragasa, design director at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP (SOM). “We wanted our design to resonate with the culture and history of Zhuhai, and to evoke a story that’s familiar to everyone who lives there.”
(Rendering Image © ATCHAIN)
Complementing the site’s maritime heritage is a 1,045-foot-tall tower that rises at the heart of the neighborhood, creating a recognizable structure with a design inspired by the form of a lighthouse Fresnel lens. The tower comprises 35 floors of office space topped by a 20-story Ritz-Carlton Hotel complete with a skybar and observation deck. The tower is diagonally bisected by an axis that appears to peel open the facade, revealing a vertical atrium that offers visitors breathtaking views of the bay.
Rendering Image © ATCHAIN)
The new neighborhood is designed to utilize Zhuhai’s most abundant natural resources—the sea and sun—to reduce natural gas consumption, conserve water, and create a comfortable environment for residents, office workers, shoppers, and nightlife seekers, helping to activate the site both day and night. The canopies also increase interior comfort and building efficiency by filtering daylight, harvesting energy via photovoltaic panels, and capturing rainwater.
Rendering Image © ATCHAIN)
(Rendering Image © ATCHAIN)
SOM has designed a number of mixed-use projects globally, including the Guoco Tower in Singapore, One World Trade CDenter in New York City, and Burj Khalifa in Dubai.

Tel Aviv Journal: New Linear Park Connects Downtown to Sea

Park Hamesila in Neve Tzedek, one of Tel Aviv’s trendy neighborhoods, where the first phase of a new walking/biking trail leads to the sea. (photo credit Tomer Appelbaum)

By Ron Bernthal

Tel Aviv residents will soon be able to take a new walking/biking route from the city’s trendy Neve Tzedek neighborhood to  the Mediterranean coast, along the new linear park named Hamesila.

The first section of Hamesila opened in early October, 2020, and runs for almost 3,000-feet along a former, historic railway line. This first section includes walking and cycling paths created between the stone walls that once were part of the original rail line between Jaffa, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, which opened during the Ottoman-era, from 1517 to 1917, when the area of present-day Israel,   along with much of the Middle East, was ruled by the Ottoman Empire.

Although remains of the historic rail are embedded in the pedestriann path, and several historic details were preserved, like the original sloping walls along the railway track’s path, and the pillars that supported the old railway route, Israeli architects say that the new park is not supposed to be an archaeological treasure,but rather a novel way to link an inland neighborhood with the coast.   

Testing the railroad track in 1891, where the pedestrian and biking park is now located (Credit: Train archives courtesy of Achille Garrigues)

The original railway track was built in 1892, 17 years before Tel Aviv was formally established on a beach just north of the Arab town of Yafo, now often called Jaffa. The park’s official name, Park Hamesila (or Train Track Park in English) is an open, peaceful path that cuts through a residential and commercial environment, bringing a much needed recreational outlet to the district.

The railt racks in 1929. Christian pilgrims used the train to travel to Jerusalem (Credit La Palestine Illustree_ II Jaffa La Belle_Francois Scholten _1929)

Hamesila is the newest component of a city plan to restore and protect public areas in Tel Aviv for the sole use For many years, there has been talk in Tel Aviv about restoring public areas for pedestrians and cyclists, and some areas, like Habima Square and Dizengoff Square, have seen greatly reduced intrusions by automobiles and motorbikes, resulting in less air and noise pollution.  But many residents feel that these “green” environments should be expanded into more city neighborhoods. 

Hamesila is entirely devoted to pedestrians and cyclists without any concession to motorists (such as underground parking), and eventually will stretch over an area of 7.5 acres and cross over the new Red Line of the Tel Aviv light rail network, now under construction as engineers tunnel under nearby streets.  The Red Line should become fully operational in 2022.

Aerial view of Hamesila and surrounding area (Photo credit: Tomer Appelbaum)

Now that the first section of the park is completed, an additional 1500-foot section is expected to be completed by the end of 2020.  When that section is finished, the linear park will provide the first continuous pedestrian and cycling link of its kind from Rothschild Boulevard in the central part of the city, directly to the beach.  Israelis were always able to walk or bike to the beaches, but only via streets crowded with cars and motorbikes, and sidewalks filed with shoppers, not on a protected  walking and biking path.

One of the beaches near Tel Aviv’s Neve Tzedek neighborhood. (photo Ron Bernthal)

“What’s nice about Tel Aviv’s boulevards, for example, Ben-Gurion and Nordau, is that they run toward the sea,” said Tel Aviv-based architect Opher Kolker. “The new park will connect Rothschild Boulevard to the sea and complete Tel Aviv’s network of boulevards,” said Kolker, who is in charge of the planning team working on the first part of Hamesila, among other city architectural projects.



Berlin Journal: Design-Savvy New Building Opens in Former East Berlin

Exterior view of new Axel Springer building in Berlin (photo Nils Koenning/ Axel Springer)

By Ron Bernthal

The reunification of Germany in 1989 was a late bow to the “undeviating” Axel Springer, who always believed in it. In 1991, six years after Springer’s death, the German politician Peter Glotz admitted in the Bundestag (German parliament) debate about moving the German government from Bonn to Berlin that, “When Axel Springer built his publishing company’s high-rise right next to the Wall, many Germans including me, thought he was a dreamer. I’m willing to admit that Springer’s hope was stronger than what I held for my realism.” In the ‘1960s, when the German publishing company of the late Axel Springer decided to build its headquarters in then–West Berlin, it was making a strong political statement. The modern office tower, which opened in 1966, stood directly facing the Berlin Wall, “shining like a beacon into the East,” as Springer said at the time.

The former Berlin Wall along Bernauerstrasse (photo Ron Bernthal)

About a decade ago, and 21 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall,  the Axel Springer company was able to buy a huge, 100,000 square-foot plot along the former Berlin Wall “death strip.” In  2012 the company arranged an international competition to design the new corporate building, with Rem Koolhaas’ architectural firm, the Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA), eventually winning the competition.

Construction of the new Axel Springer building began in 2016,  and in October 2020, after a short Covid-19 related delay, the stunning 10-story building opened, becoming part of the existing Axel Springer complex, located in one of the city’s most significant neighborhoods. 

Axel Springer building, street view (photo Nils Koenning/ Axel Springer)

The new building in Berlin acts both as a symbol and a tool in the transition from print to digital. Bisected by a diagonal 10-story atrium that opens up to the already existing Springer buildings, the essence of the design is a series of terraced floors that together form a ‘valley’ that creates an informal stage in the middle, a symbolic place to broadcast ideas to other parts of the company.

OMA, in designing the new building, relates much of its thought process about the architecture of the project, to the news and publishing indusry (Koolhaas himself worked as a journalist before becoming an architect) and has issued a statement that states “the genius of print is that it is a cheap, physical, hyper-accessible embodiment of a complex collective effort, for which so far the digital has been unable to find an equivalent. Architectural offices are similar to newspapers in that they produce complex assemblies and selections from radically different sources of information. As architects, we have experienced the advantages: speed, precision, smoothness. But we have also suffered one crucial consequence: the relationship between the worker and his computer, which isolates him in a bubble of introverted performance, inaccessible to collective overview. In the classical newsroom, dominated by smoking, typing journalists, each inhabitant was aware of the labor and progress of his colleagues and of the collective aim: a single issue, with the deadline as a simultaneous release. In the digital office, staring intently at a screen dampens all other forms of attention and therefore undermines the collective intelligence necessary for true innovation. We therefore proposed a building that lavishly broadcasted the work of individuals for shared analysis.”

The staggered, interconnected terraces of the new Axel Springer building (photo Laurian Ghinitoiu, courtesy OMA)

Inside, the Axel Springer building is planned around a “valley” of 10 cascading floors, which gives rise to the 147-foot high atrium echoed in the faceted exterior.

Each of these staggered floors is lined with a terrace, which each open out to the soaring atrium to allow employees to interact and share ideas with each other across the space.

The exterior of the building, with its linear tinted glass facade, encases 147-foot atrium and , Halfway through the building’s interior, the “valley” is mirrored to generate a three dimensional atrium canopy. The common space formed by staggered, interconnected terraces offers an alternative to the formal office space in the solid part of the building, allowing for an expansion of the vocabulary of workspaces, a building that can absorb all the question marks of the digital future.

and  buFortunately, the public can experience the building on three levels —  the ground floor lobby, the meeting bridge, and the roof-top bar. The meeting bridge is a viewing platform where visitors can witness the daily functioning of the company.  The ground floor is open to the city and contains studios, event and exhibition spaces, canteens and restaurants.

Close view of exterior facade (Nils Koenning/Axel Springer)

The building is situated opposite the existing Axel Springer headquarters on Zimmerstrasse, which once overlooked the Berlin Wall separating East and West Berlin, a street which previously separated East and West Berlin, close to the Checkpoint Charley border crossing. Today, the entire Axel Springer complex sits in the middle of the reunited Berlin.