The Ku'damm - a boulevard with history

People strolling along the Kurfürstendamm during the Christmas period are now dazzled by glowing reindeer and beautifully decorated Christmas trees. The entire avenue is bedecked in festive splendor, twinkling and sparkling while people bustle along its broad sidewalks. 
According to recent surveys, the Kudamm and the adjacent Tauentzienstraße see footfall from approximately 7500 pedestrians every hour, making them the twelfth and thirteenth busiest shopping streets in Germany. Visitor numbers could rise even more too, because in the next five years more than 100,000 sqm of new retail space is planned in new malls and shops - one-and-a-half times as much as in Friedrichstraße reports Berlin daily "B.Z.", which is already dubbing Berlin's grand boulevard the new Fifth Avenue. This fresh glitz and glamour is also reflected in the rents which, at 170 euros per square meter in prime locations, are now topping those in Friedrichstraße.


But it wasn't always this way. The splendor of the Kudamm had faded after the fall of the Berlin Wall, with international chain stores preferring to open their branches in Friedrichstraße or around the lively Hackescher Markt shopping area than in the established western part. On top of that, the great demise of the cinema from 1997 onwards had forced the closure of old, traditional film theaters such as the Gloriapalast, the Filmbühne Wien, the Marmorhaus and, in 2004, even the Royal Palast, leaving the boulevard increasingly deserted after the shops closed. Even the Berlinale film festival moved to Potsdamer Platz. The much-vaunted upturn was really only felt around the 125th birthday of the Kudamm in 2011, and fresh glamour has now been provided by the newly opened Zoo-Palast cinema, the adjacent concept shopping mall in the 'Bikini-Haus', as well as hotels like Berlin's first 25Hours hotel and the chic Waldorf Astoria at the Bahnhof Zoo railway station.


The history of the Kudamm began in the 16th century when it started out as a dusty bridle path known as the "Knüppeldamm" (corduroy road), which was used by prince-elector Joachim II as a faster route to get between his palace in the city and his hunting lodge in the Grunewald forest. In the 19th century, Otto von Bismarck then beautified the Kudamm based on the model of the Champs-Élysées - turning it into a grand avenue despite it only being half as wide as the Paris original - and the day in 1886 on which the first steam streetcar had chugged its way along the boulevard is therefore regarded as the birthday of the Kudamm. After that, the district saw rapid development. The foundations of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church were laid in 1891, and two years later the Kudamm's first coffee house opened on the site occupied by the Café Kranzler today. This café was known colloquially as the "Café Größenwahn" - "Größenwahn" meaning "delusions of grandeur" - and proved to be a popular venue for artists. Its position was then taken around 20 years later by the "Romanische Café" (Romanesque Café), which stood on the site where the Europa-Center stands today and was frequented by Erich Kästner, Berthold Brecht, Otto Dix and Max Liebermann.


For the well-to-do residents of Berlin, the Kurfürstendamm became the place to live, and in 1913, its grand, palatial residences were home to 120 millionaires who appreciated this prestigious neighborhood with its theaters and department stores. The Komödie am Kurfürstendamm repertory theater, the Nelson-Theater where Josephine Baker performed her legendary banana dance in 1926, and later the Hotel Kempinski all became meeting places for the affluent elite who enjoyed shopping at the Kaufhaus des Westens (KaDeWe) department store. In the Second World War, however, the Kurfürstendamm suffered severe damage. After the end of the war, around 80 percent of the houses had been destroyed or rendered inhabitable, and the ruined tower of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church still soars into the sky today as a memorial. Life returned to the Kudamm at the beginning of the 1950s, with the KaDeWe department store, the French cultural center Maison de France, the Café Kranzler and the Hotel Kempinski all opening their doors again in quick succession. Subsequent years also saw history being made in the Kudamm, with the student demonstrations, the Love Parade and the Parade of Trabants all symbolizing historical changes in the city. It will remain this way too, as Berlin's revival as a major tourist destination and attractive capital city is currently being reflected in the Kudamm - so it will certainly be possible for this grand boulevard to recapture its former glory.

Anyone in Berlin wishing to learn about the city's history can visit "The Story of Berlin" exhibition at Kurfürstendamm 207-208, where they will find rooms dedicated to various themes and even see an original fallout shelter.


Photos and photo credits:

cover: Ku'damm (Photo: © visitBerlin, Photo: Sergej Horowitz)

01 A Christmas atmosphere in the Kurfürstendamm (Photo: © visitBerlin, Photo: Wolfgang Scholvien)
02 City West from above (Photo: © visitBerlin, Photo: Wolfgang Scholvien)
03 Shopping in the Kudamm (Photo: © visitBerlin, Photo: Philip Koschel)
04 Gedächniskirche at Ku'damm (Photo: © visitBerlin, Photo: Wolfgang Scholvien)