The pulse of the city can only be felt in Friedrichshain, Mitte or Neukölln, right? Not any more! After the fall of the Wall, Berlin’s City West, the so-called “old west,” faded into the background, but lately it has been enjoying a comeback. The new Zoofenster and the Upper West buildings, close to the Memorial Church, have not only given the area around Zoo and Kurfürstendamm a fresh face, but the remodeled Zoo Palast cinema, the Bikini-Haus and the array of trendy new bars are attracting both Berliners and tourists in droves.
Today’s City West looks back on an exciting history. Settlement of the “old West” began at the end of the 19th century. First as an upscale residential area, then during the imperial period as a counterpoint to the old city center in Mitte, this became a center for glamorous stores and vibrant entertainment in the 1920s. New theaters, cinemas, cafés, bars, nightclubs, ballrooms, shops and department stores made the area a symbol for the new lifestyle of the Roaring Twenties. Once the war ended, this became the focal point of West Berlin, until the 1990s, when everyone looked to the east and the “old West” sank into insignificance. The “old West” seemed dusty somehow, out of date. Even though it never really died, it certainly lost some of its glory. And then, when Zoologischer Garten was downgraded from a long-distance to a mere regional train station, the area was pushed further into the background,
But this situation was never going to last very long — since 2007, a great deal of effort has been made to stage a comeback for Berlin’s City-West. Massive construction and renovation work mean that Berlin institutions, such as the Zoo Palast, have not only survived, but today shine again. The Bikini-Haus, a distinctive 1950s listed building, which had really started to show its age and was blighted by a string of discount shops, was extensively remodeled and is now a signature shopping mall for designer stores, concept stores and cutting-edge restaurants. Then there are a series of striking new buildings being added to the mix, including the twin Zoofenster skyscrapers, home to the luxury hotel Waldorf Astoria hotel since 2013, and the Upper West, which is nearing completion after celebrating its topping-out ceremony in May 2016. These two towers soar 118 meters, redefining Berlin’s skyline and framing the Memorial Church at Breitscheidplatz. The nearby 25hours Hotel in Budapester Straße attracts guests from every corner of the globe. The hotel’s NENI restaurant and tenth-floor Monkey Bar boast fantastic views over City West and have emerged as the city’s newest hotspots. Such popularity means that long lines are not uncommon, but the bar’s jungle ambience is unique, and the antics in the zoo’s monkey enclosure add to the enjoyment.
The soul of City West isn’t being lost among all the modernization projects. For example, the long neglected Bahnhof Zoo will be completely refurbished in a bid to keep up with developments in the new City West. Even here, planners are taking great care to retain traditional features among their many renovations. The once legendary Zoo Terraces, closed for many years, will reopen. The open-air terrace has been redesigned to reflect its historic appearance from 1957.
Photos and photo credits:
Title: Zoopalast, Bikini-Haus and Tiergarten © Waldorf Astoria
01: Bikini-Haus and Gedächniskirche © Bikini Berlin