In the Middle Ages, shopping meant open-air markets and fairs – farmers sold their surplus food to city dwellers, and artisans offered leather, iron goods or fabrics. During industrialization, fixed and roofed market halls (still popular today) replaced these traditional markets. The, in the 19th century, came another transformation: department stores.
These elegant buildings first sprung up in Brussels and Paris, combining restaurants, theatres, hotels, offices and a variety of outlets for shopping. The Kaisergalerie in Berlin opened in 1873, stretching from the boulevard Unter den Linden to Friedrichstraße. This architectural marvel housed more than 50 shops and cafés.
In the early 1930s, Berliner architect Alfred Grenander rebuilt the Kaisergalerie in the New Objectivity style, but it didn’t last long. The building was severely damaged in air raids during the Second World War and completely demolished in the 1950s.
Wertheim on Leipziger Straße
When it was erected, Wertheim on Leipziger Straße was considered the most modern and beautiful department store in Germany, rivalled only by the Tietz department store on Alexanderplatz and the KaDeWe department store on Wittenbergplatz. With 70,000 square metres of sales space, it surpassed even Harrods in London, making it the largest department store in Europe. By comparison, KaDeWe today has a sales area of 61,000 square metres.
This department store also suffered severe damage during the war and was partly demolished in early GDR times. Wertheim’s vaults found another use after the fall of the Wall: the legendary techno club Tresor was located there from 1991 to 2005.
Hertie on Leipziger Straße
Several Jewish entrepreneurs were responsible for Berlin’s triumphal march of department stores. The Wertheims owned six department stores in Berlin until the Second World War, and their fiercest competitors were the Tietz family. The head of the family, Hermann Tietz, was one of the most important pioneers of the department store business in Germany. The name ‘Hertie’ came from the abbreviation of his first and last names. Tietz had a huge department store built on Leipziger Straße close to the Wertheim on the same street around 1900.
Adolf Jandorf, who came from a poor Jewish family, made a film-worthy career out of founding a department store and becoming an entrepreneur. After training in the textile industry in Hamburg, he opened a shop selling textiles and woollen goods in Berlin at the end of the 19th century on behalf of his employers. More shops soon followed: one in Kreuzberg, and the Jandorf department store in Mitte in 1904.
The Art Nouveau-inspired building survived the war undamaged and was considered an important fashion space. In the GDR it was used as the Institute for Fashion Design and later as the House of Fashion.
Opened in 1904 by Alfred Breslauer and Paul Salinger, the Maassen department store left its mark on the bustling Oranienstrasse – and on the whole of Kreuzberg. It quickly became one of the most important department stores for women’s fashion in all of Germany. This building has been through a lot – destruction, reconstruction, vacancy and 8 years of being a philosophical discourse institution – but now it looks almost as it once did after restoration. The historic structure now houses the chic, locally despised Hotel Orania and it represents the clash of cultures between left-wing alternative Kreuzberg and the new age of gentrification.
Kaufhaus des Westens/ KaDeWe
In 1907, Adolf Jandorf opened this store on Wittenbergplatz, but a few years later at the end of the 1920s, the Jandorf family sold their entire department store empire to Hermann Tietz. Adolf Jandorf died in 1932 and his family was forced into exile by the Nazis in the years following.
This is the most famous department store from this time period. The Kaufhaus des Westens, or KaDeWe for short, has been a symbol of luxury and elegance for over 100 years. It ranks among Harrods in London, Bloomingdale’s in New York and Galeries Lafayette in Paris. Unlike most other department stores from before the First World War, KaDeWe survived the times and still exists as a fancy shop today.
Modern department stores dominated from 1900 onwards – they offered a huge range of goods and as a single enterprise, radically changed the entire character of retail. However, markets also had their place – even if the building projects were not always marked by success.
A good example of this is the Friedrichstraßenpassage. Opened in 1909, it was the second-largest shopping street in the city after the Kaisergalerie. Although the shops belonged to different owners, they merged and organised a central cash register system. The concept did not work out, and the owners filed for bankruptcy within 6 months.
After this, the building was used for various purposes, including by AEG, which converted it into a “House of Technology”. The Nazis set up offices for the German Labour Front in the building. The building was moderately damaged during the war – it was not completely unusable, but continued to deteriorate in GDR times.
After reunification, an artist initiative occupied the half-demolished ruin and the adjoining area and founded the Tacheles artist house with a cinema, theatre, concert hall and studios. The artists were tragically forced out in 2012, and today, the site is one of the city’s largest construction projects. A few years ago, we caught up with some of the artists that used to live there.
Hertie at Alexanderplatz
The Hertie department store on Alexanderplatz was opened in 1904; by that time, Hermann Tietz’s company owned a total of ten department stores in Berlin alone. The Kaufhaus des Westens (KaDeWe) was also opened in 1926. During that time, Tietz’s empire rose to become the largest privately owned department store group in Europe.
After the Nazis took power, the Hertie group was “Aryanised” and redistributed. After the war, Georg Karg ran the ailing group and partially compensated the Tietz family. The Hertie department store on Alexanderplatz was destroyed during the war.
Even before the First World War, the Jewish merchant Edmund Elend had a large department store built on the corner of Berliner Straße and Friedrich-Wilhelmstraße. Impressed by the department shop temples in Mitte and Charlottenburg, Elend invested in further department store projects beyond the city centre and became something like the Hermann Tietz of Tempelhof.
In 1913, the entrepreneur built a new department store on the corner of Tempelhofer Damm and Kaiserin-Augusta-Strasse, known today as Karstadt Tempelhof. The department store was “Aryanised” by the Nazis and continued under the name “Sera”. Karstadt took over the location in 1967. This building is now a department store by the name of GALERIA.
Between Kreuzberg and Neukölln, directly on Hermannplatz, the Karstadt Group hired Philipp Schaeffer to design an Expressionist department store at the end of the 1920s. The opening in 1929 was quite the spectacle; the building, equipped with escalators, lifts and a roof terrace, excited Berliners and attracted crowds of tourists. While venerable department stores of old resembled palaces, the focus at Karstadt on Hermannplatz was on the future of consumerism. It was considered the most modern department store in Europe in the Golden Twenties.
When the Nazis realised that they were losing the war in 1945, they blew up the building to make it more difficult for the Soviets to move and store food. The department store reopened after the war, but it has retained little of its old character. Restoration is scheduled to start at the end of 2023.
The Jonaß department store was one of the first to use the concept of credit – customers made a down payment and paid off the remaining amount later in instalments. During the National Socialist era, however, the entrepreneurs were expropriated. Under new management, the department store moved to Alexanderplatz, and the building itself was used for other purposes several times in history: The administration of the Reich Youth Leadership was housed here, after the war the Central Committee of the SED moved in, later an Institute for Marxism-Leninism and today it is the luxurious Soho House.
HO Kaufhaus at Alexanderplatz
The Handelsorganisation (HO) was created as a legal umbrella organisation to manage trade in the GDR, and it acquired several pre-war department stores. In the late 1960s, the Centrum department store was built on Alexanderplatz. It was considered the most distinguished department store in the GDR – it is now the Galeria Kaufhof.
Wertheim on Schloßstraße
Department stores continued in West Berlin after the Second World War, picking up right where they left off. For example, the struggling Wertheim chain built a modern department store on Schloßstraße in Steglitz in the early 1950s. It was closed in 2009 and incorporated into the newly built “Boulevard Berlin” shopping centre.
Have we piqued your interest in buildings? Read about the Third Reich’s architectural legacy, the last 20 years of development and more modern projects. Maybe you’re more interested in shopping than history – read about more modern shopping malls like ALEXA at Alexanderplatz or the Mall of Berlin.
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