Berlin’s post‐1989 rebuilding is used to explore the role of cultural professionals, exemplified by architects and urban planners, in the production of locality. Drawing on an analysis of architectural debates, competitions and building projects, the article traces how the model of the ‘European city’ became the dominant paradigm of urban reconstruction in the 1990s and what precisely was understood by the term ‘European city’. In so doing, the analysis demonstrates how the contentious notion of ‘tradition’ was mobilized as the main localizing strategy in response to intense internationalization. It shows how locality came to be constructed in contrast to other spatial‐cultural units (e.g. the ‘American city’) and to particular historical layers of the city (e.g. that of the socialist era). The intense controversies over Berlin’s rebuilding lucidly illustrate how the ‘global’ and the ‘local’ are symbolically constructed by actors as relational categories, where the very categories are not fixed but multilayered, value‐laden, historicized, contested, repeatedly redefined and restructured.