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Forgotten luxury: Charlottenburg’s iconic parking lot palace

tipBerlin Editor-in-Chief Stefanie Dörre writes on the Kant-Garagen, the Weimar-era car park with an iconic glass façade.

The Kant Garagen, like a star from the silent film era. Photo: IMAGO / Schöning

This story should begin in 2002, I know, but it’s better to begin in 1930, the year the Kant-Garagen-Palast opened. A multi-storey car park palace on Kantstraße 126/127; a daring modernist building in Neue Sachlichkeit style. No other car park in the world has a Vorhangfassade, the curtain-like glass façade like that of the legendary Bauhaus in Dessau. A real monument to mobility, or rather mobility’s immobile counterpart, parking, from a time when owning a car was an extremely modernist – not to mention expensive – pastime. In Charlottenburg, one of the richest parts of Berlin. Pure Luxury.

No other car park in the world has a Vorhangfassade, the curtain-like glass façade

The first owner of the parking lot palace, Louis Serlin, was forced to flee Germany for the US in 1941 after his property was stolen from him by the Nazis, part of the process of “Aryanisation” in the perverted terminology of the time. One of its architects, Richard Paulick, conceived the Plattenbau in the DDR. In Berlin, there is history in every brick, and it is often very dark.

It was the late 1980s when I first came across the Kant-Garagen. I was 18 years old and had moved into a flat-share right next door at Kantstraße 125. I was a student on a tight budget and the rental market was hell, just like today. Kant-Garagen clearly had its best years behind it. There was a Sprint petrol station in the basement, a car repair shop somewhere to the rear and a parking lot on the upper floors. I did not have a car, but I liked the smell of petrol.

The dilapidated building was still impressive and exuded an indefinable allure, like a star from the silent film era. And in the very tiny shop of the petrol station, a huge, grumpy guy with a braided beard and bulging muscles in a sleeveless leatherjacket sold not only fuel, but also beer and cigarettes. Nobody had heard of a Späti yet, so the petrol station became one for me and my flatmates.

I moved out of Charlottenburg, studied in London, became an editor at tipBerlin and interviewed the founders of Exberliner when this brand new magazine for Berlin’s expats first launched in 2002. By then, Charlottenburg was completely out of my focus. After the fall of the Wall, everything seemed to revolve around the scene in former East Berlin.

My next encounter with Kantstraße came in the form of an interview with actor Lars Eidinger, Berlin’s superstar of coolness. We met at Long Men Noodle House, and Lars surprised me by being a big fan of Charlottenburg. “Kantstraße is the new Torstraße,” he told me. A sentence that has stuck with me ever since.

‘Kantstraße is the new Torstraße,’ he told me. A sentence that has stuck with me ever since.

It was another cool guy who helped to make Lars’s premonition become reality. I’m talking about The Duc Ngo, of course, the culinary king of Kantstraße. He started out there with his Japanese restaurant Kuchi and has opened several restaurants on Charlottenburg’s main thoroughfare since (Kantstraße not Ku’damm, Lars was damn right). The Duc Ngo travelled the world and brought the world’s cuisine back with him. Which is a good thing, as far as palates and nutrition are concerned. In the old days, there used to be a Maximilian fast food joint opposite Kant-Garagen that sold Currywurst and Pommes out of a hole in the wall. Now there is the highly recommended Son Kitchen.

Catering is probably the only line of business in which manual labour is much more valued now than it was two decades ago. Everybody cuts and peels and stews. But for those petrol stations and car repair shops, time’s up in the inner S-Bahn Ring. Grate a carrot? Fine. Mend an old car? Go to Hellersdorf. The new economy is lean and clean and involves staring at a computer screen all day. Digital startups moved into the spaces manual labour left abandoned.

Stilwerk in den Kant-Garagen. Photo: IMAGO / Schöning

And so the cars were moved out of the Kant-Garagen. The building enjoyed a brief comeback as an art venue. Berliners love that, don’t they? A last glimpse into a building they completely ignored for years and years, pretending they want to see installations and photography. A last deep sigh, a nostalgic farewell. An art exhibition is always a clear sign that gentrification is just around the corner.

Luckily, when it came to the redevelopment of Kant-Garagen, Denkmalschutz (cultural heritage protection law) came into play. New owner Stilwerk, a concept store from Hamburg, wants a building with a stylish past. It won’t be long before the rotundas of the double helix spiral ramp – where Bentleys, Mercedes Benzes and Horches used to roll up to the fifth floor – will reopen; this time to design lovers. There is a newly built Stilwerkboutique hotel directly adjacent to it. The working class days of Kant-Garagen are definitely over. But one must admit, luxury and design was its first purpose.

  • Kantstraße 126/127, S-Bahnhof Savigny Platz