Let’s go for a stroll on the Ku’damm! Come with us on a walk along Kurfürstendamm via Tauentzinstraße to the subway station Wittenbergplatz. Come with us to the City-West!
We started our walk through Berlin’s Charlottenburg Wilmersdorf district at the Halensee S-Bahn station and ended at the Wittenbergplatz U-Bahn station.
History of the Kurfürstendamm
It is hard to believe, but the Kurfürstendamm was already created in 1542 as a bridle path for the Elector Joachim II from the Berlin City Palace to the Grunewald Hunting Lodge. However, it was not until around 1767 that “Churfürsten Damm” was first mentioned in a map.
Otto von Bismarck planned to expand this embankment into a boulevard starting in 1873. It took some convincing, but in 1882 the extension of a 53-meter-wide road to the new Grunewald villa colony began.
In 1886, the construction was completed and the development into a boulevard could begin. May 5, 1886, the day when the first steam streetcar ran from Zoologischer Garten to Halensee, is considered the official birth of the Kurfürstendamm boulevard.
Gradually, one of the most preferred residential areas of the city and the entertainment, shopping and cultural center of the city developed here. Until the First World War, for example, the Café des Westens, the Lunapark or the Bar Kakadu were built. Numerous Jewish photographers settled on Kurfürstendamm and the developed a place of cultural awakening. The street became synonymous with the Golden Twenties.
During the National Socialist era, life on Kurfürstendamm changed. Everything that had previously been lived there (intellectual activity, international understanding, artistic creativity, provocation, permissiveness, commerce, spirit and culture) was in complete contrast to the ruling ideology and disappeared from the cityscape.
The Second World War finally destroyed large parts of the development and after the war much had to be rebuilt. Kurfürstendamm was now to become the showcase of the West. It became the business center of West Berlin. People strolled along the Ku’damm past stores, visited cinemas or theaters and sat in cafes or restaurants.
After the fall of the Berlin Wall, Ku’damm initially experienced a brief upswing, as many East Berliners came here to explore. However, it quickly became clear that Berliners were more drawn to the historic center in Mitte and that the newly created Potsdamer Platz offered additional incentives. Ku’damm lost its appeal. As a result, cinemas and cafés closed. The amusement mile gradually turned into a shopping mile, with more and more exclusive stores setting up store there.
Walk over the Kurfürstendamm
If you walk from Halensee in the direction of the Gedächtniskirche (Memorial Church), after a short while you come to a rather conspicuous building that is home to the Schaubühne am Lehniner Platz.
Schaubühne am Lehniner Platz
The architect Erich Mendelsohn built this round building in 1928 in the style of the “New Objectivity”. It originally housed the Universum, Berlin’s largest cinema at the time.
After the building was destroyed in the Second World War, it was rebuilt. Initially, it housed a cinema again, and from 1969 a dance hall and musical theater. From 1978 a multifunctional theater building was built, which at that time met the highest technical standards.
In 1981 the ensemble of the Schaubühne am Hallischen Ufer moved into the theater and from then on called itself Schaubühne am Lehniner Platz.
Shopping in noble boutiques
If you go further, you come to Olivar Square. Here now begins the area where I rather window store than go into the stores. International fashion brands line up here. Giorgio Armani , Hugo Boss, Burberry, Chanel, Dolce & Gabbana, Dior, Gucci, Prada, Versace or Louis Vuitton are just a few of them. But also jewelers like Cartier, Bulgari or Rolex and companies like Tesla or Apple are represented on Kurfürstendamm with flagship stores. I always find it exciting to look in the shop windows.
Maison de France
Kurfürstendamm corner Uhlandstraße is the Maison de France. The French cultural center in West Berlin opened here in 1950.
The building Ku’damm 211 was already built in 1897 as a residential and commercial building. After damage during World War II, the British military government confiscated the meager remains to build a bar, cabaret and hotel here. In 1948, the house was given to the French military government for reconstruction and the establishment of a cultural center.
After its opening, the building housed the Institut français Berlin, the Cinema Paris cinema, a library of French literature, various stores, a bar, the Air France travel agency and a restaurant. Until the move in 2002, the French Embassy was also housed here.
The building hit the headlines when it was bombed in August 1983. After the damage to the building was repaired in 1985, the house was able to reopen. On this occasion, Helmut Kohl and François Mitterrand appeared together and confronted the terror.
Today, Cinema Paris is one of the last Kurfürstendamm cinemas. Here mainly French productions are shown, partly in original language. Unfortunately, I have not yet dared to watch a movie here. My school French is so poor that I would probably prefer to see a silent movie after only 30 seconds.
My walk along Kurfürstendamm continued to Café Kranzler, one of the most famous cafés in the city.
Johann Georg Kranzler opened a small confectionery on Friedrichstrasse in Berlin Mitte in 1825. In 1932, a branch was established in Charlottenburg, which was a popular visitor magnet until 1999.
At the corner of Joachimsthaler Strasse and Kurfürstendamm, the Café des Westens had previously occupied the premises until the Kranzler Restaurant and Confectionery moved in. After the Second World War, operations were resumed in 1951, and in 1958 they moved into the newly constructed rooms of the distinctive two-story building with the perched rotunda. The distinguishing mark for visitors was the red and white striped awning, which could be seen from afar. “Man” went from now on to the Kranzler-Eck to enjoy coffee and cake. Whether the cake there was really so unique, or whether one sat there to be seen, I do not know. In any case, I have never eaten a piece of cake there.
After the café closed in 1999 and the grounds were given a more modern design, the Neue Kranzler Eck opened at the end of 2000. There was now only a café in the Rotunde, with a bar in the evenings. In 2015, the operator closed and since 2016 a caferösterei operates the Rotunde. Here we were once drinking coffee. The building, which is a listed building from the outside, is unfortunately no longer as it once was from the inside. The café is modern and has little coziness. However, you can still look from there on the Kufürstendamm and watch the hustle and bustle in the city.
On the opposite side of the street from Kranzler-Eck is the last existing traffic pulpit in Berlin.
At a height of about 4.5 meters, on a concrete pillar integrated into a pavilion and the subway entrance, there is a glass pulpit. From 1955 to 1963, this was the workplace for a police officer who used switching devices to operate the traffic lights at the intersection. This enabled him to adjust the traffic light phases to the current traffic situation. In October 1962, the traffic lights received automatic circuits and the pulpit remained empty. Today, the traffic pulpit is a listed building.
At Kurfürstendamm 236 almost opposite the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church is the Marmorhaus.
In 1913, the first cinema opened here in an ambience that was truly unique. Even the exterior facade was impressive. Over 5 floors it is covered with marble. In the foyer, visitors could then admire expressionist wall and ceiling paintings and a colored glass ceiling.
I can still remember very well that going to the cinema here was always something very special for me as a child and teenager. In the 1980s, regular long film nights were held here, during which 12 films were shown in 4 cinemas. Unfortunately, the Marmorhaus also fell victim to the dwindling audience over the years and closed in 2001.
Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church
On Breitscheidplatz, at the “end” of Kurfürstendamm, so to speak, stands the Protestant Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church.
Kaiser Wilhelm II had the church built in memory of his grandfather Kaiser Wilhelm I.. Under the direction of the architect Franz Schwechten, the neo-Romantic building with 5 towers was built from 1891-1895. The bell tower with the 113 meters was at the time the highest tower in the city of Charlottenburg. The interior of the church must have been impressive. Walls and vaults were decorated with a total of 2740 square meters of glass mosaics.
During the Second World War, the church was severely damaged. The nave had to be demolished, what remained were the remains of the tower. This ruin stands to this day and has received the affectionate nickname “hollow tooth” from the Berliners. The ruins of the tower are no longer used as a church today, it is a memorial against the war.
The parish had four new buildings erected around the old tower. The well-known architect Egon Eiermann (also worked on the creation of the Hansa Quarter) created an octagonal nave, the hexagonal steeple, the chapel and the rectangular foyer in the modernist style from 1959-63. Yes, and how could it be otherwise, the Berliners also found a nickname for this building ensemble: “Lipstick and Powder Box”.
What always amazes me about the new buildings are the glass windows. About 20000 square blue windows are set into a concrete grid. The light in the church is really unique.
Once you have passed the church, you are now on Tauentzienstraße.
Walk along the Tauentzienstraße
Tauentzien connects directly to Breitscheidplatz and ends at Wittenbergplatz. The street was created around 1890 and was initially used as a residential street. It was not until the construction of KaDeWe in 1907 that the street changed into a shopping street. Many branches of well-known brands have settled here over time, such as large fashion houses and flagship stores of sports brands.
In the early 1920s, Tauentzienstrasse was mainly known for the exiled Russians living in Berlin. In this part of “Charlottengrad” there was a lively black market trade.
Europa-Center at Breitscheidplatz
One of the most striking buildings on Tauentzien is the Europa Center and the high-rise right next to it. The building could be erected here after the Second World War, because the old development was destroyed. After many years the place was used only provisionally and the “eyesore” was a thorn in the eye of the Berliners, one wanted to show here 1961 after the division of the city the viability of the city. The investor Pepper then had the complex built according to the American model.
In 1965, the glass and steel building complex was completed. On 80,000 m² there was now a cinema, a hotel, an apartment building, the office tower and stores.
A lot has been built and changed over time. For example, I can still remember an artificial ice rink that was located in one of the courtyards. The cinema has since been converted into an electronics store, and the Wasserklops, a fountain, has been created in front of the building.
Architecturally, the Europa Center is rather less beautiful. But in its time of origin it was the eye-catcher and a visitor magnet in the city.
If you go further along Tauentzienstraße, you pass a large silver sculpture that stands on the central reservation. I read that it was placed there in 1987 to symbolize the division of the city. Today it is definitely a great photo motif.
Kaufhaus des Westens (KaDeWe)
Shortly before the walk along Kurfürstendamm and Tauentzien ends, you reach the city’s most famous department store, KaDeWe.
By 1905, Adolf Jandorf had already opened six department stores for basic needs in Berlin. However, he wanted to set himself apart from the other department store chains such as Tietz and Wertheim and offer goods for upscale consumer needs in a new department store. His seventh department store was to satisfy the desires of the Wilhelmine elite. In 1905, he planned the Kaufhaus des Westens.
A five-story reinforced concrete building with 24,000 m² of sales space and a two-story entrance hall was built. 1907 celebrated the opening. The layout within the building was characterized by 120 departments with many small specialty stores. Thirteen passenger elevators had been installed for the customers and the additional offer of, for example, hairdresser and tea salon increased the attractiveness.
In 1927, the Tietz department store group took over KaDeWe. With the seizure of power by the National Socialists, the Tietz family was expropriated.
In 1943, the department store burned down almost completely. In 1950, the first two floors were rebuilt according to the old plans. Initially, the department store met the basic supply needs of the Berlin population; it was far from being a luxury department store.
It was not until the 1970s that the store began to offer more luxury goods again and systematically expanded its range. A parking garage with a covered passage on the third floor attracted motorists to shop. I can even remember childcare, which was a novelty at the time to improve the shopping experience for parents. I, too, was cared for there and enjoyed playing and coloring. This concept was discontinued in 2012 for cost reasons.
For a time, with the opening of the Berlin Wall, up to 200,000 GDR citizens came to KaDeWe every day to marvel at what was on offer.
In the meantime, the owners of KaDeWe have changed several times. It has been rebuilt, renovated and restructured to offer the public ever new shopping and consumer experiences.
You either like KaDeWe or you don’t. In any case, it still attracts its customer base and for many Berliners shopping in the grocery store floor with its rich offer was and is something special.
For me, my walk along Kurfürstendamm and Tauentzienstraße ends here. There is much to see and I have certainly overlooked one or the other interesting place.