Photo by Dguendel (Wikimedia Commons)
That would be Harald Huth, Berlin’s major private investor, perpetrator of construction crimes that include dystopian retail experiences such as Das Schloß in Steglitz, the Gropius Passagen and latterly, an attempt to re-introduce some wannabe belle époque Parisian flair to Leipziger Platz: with a Saudi-investor backed project that Huth describes as “a high street with a roof". That’s a shopping mall to you and me.
Yes, that Harald Huth, who’s now cast a covetous eye onto ‘redeveloping’ Kurfürstendamm’s very own Karstadt.
And more than just Karstadt. The ‘project space’ also encompasses a large parking garage on Augsburger Straße, the Karstadt Bedding Center on the ground floor and possibly, the premises next door, currently used by Orsay. Rumour has it that Huth is beavering away on the acquisition of some courtyard space adjoining C&A on the other side (is nothing sacred?) and a protected building on Rankestraße…
That’s somewhere between 50,000 to 70,000 square meters of prime city west location – although other estimates are more conservative. Provisional plans include a food court and a fitness center. Legally speaking, these are ‘alternative use’ spaces and might be construed as reducing the commercial space to something like its current dimensions – possibly bypassing the need for a development planning process. Oh my.
According to insiders, the most radical of plans involves total reconstruction. Huth is not exactly known for his devotion to urban history. Karstadt dates from, you’ve guessed it, the 1970s – when the store’s low ceilings were considered fashionable. Never mind the newer glass front and 2011 revamp. In conjunction with the forbidding walls of the parking garage, the whole thing is no longer ‘timely’. So said Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf’s SPD Municipal Construction Counselor Martin Schulte, who was, however, otherwise unavailable for comment. What do we pay these guys for?
Anyhow. The 1970s. The good old, bad old days. It’s not that I’m attached to the architectural principle of low ceilings. I’m attached to what they stood for: preserving jars and knitting needles. Because Karstadt Ku’Damm is where I go when I want to pickle onions or buy a pompom for my woolly hat instead of chucking it because the old one fell off. The 1970s Karstadt is not chic, and maybe it’s not timely. But if it is thrown to the developmental wolf, Berlin (west) will be jettisoning an architectural symbol of a make-do, save-don’t-scrap attitude that marked 1970s Germany – and from which Germany’s Erbengeneration (inheritor generation) are profiting nicely, thank you.
As an isolated – and embattled city, Berlin (West) thought particularly hard about frugality and keeping the larder stocked. The older generation still remembers. But who wants to – when you can just dash into Zara Home for some foofy, shabby chic toilet-roll holder?
Just don’t go asking for any knitting needles when you want to rustle up a Christmas scarf for your gran.