In its early years, the Karstadt building was very popular among Berliners. It was a place for shopping, experiencing, coming together. A place that offered something for everyone. We want to help the building regain its former glory. Our vision for the new Karstadt building ties in with the design of the 1920s, when the department store first became a central place of public life in Berlin. After all, the Hermannplatz remains one of the most famous squares in Berlin to this day.
THE ORIGIN OF HERMANNPLATZ
In contrast to ordinary squares, which were created as the centre of a settlement area, the Hermannplatz developed from two meeting intersections. As early as 1534, the first inn was built in this location. In 1737 the »Rollkrug« inn was established, which gave its name to the square, then called »Platz am Rollkrug« and remained the only building on Hermannplatz until the Gründerzeit. Later, other inns, a pharmacy, a wheelhouse, a customs house and tenement houses were added.
In 1885 the Hermannplatz received its present name. At that time, it separated Berlin from the suburb Rixdorf. Because »Rixdorf« sounded too provincial, the district was renamed »Neukölln« in 1912. As the only connection between the two districts, Hermannplatz would see a heavy traffic volume, especially in the morning and evening.
In 1907, the »Rollkrug« was demolished to create an office building called »Neuer Rollkrug«, which has been preserved until today. After the residential buildings on the west side of the square were demolished in the mid-1920s, the Hermannplatz underground station was built in its place.
In 1926, a 12,500 square meter building plot on Hermannplatz became available. A year later, the starting signal was given for the construction of the new Karstadt building. Its central location in the southeast of Berlin and the fact that it was a crossroads station offered ideal conditions for a department store.
THE START OF CONSTRUCTION
After only 16 months the construction was completed, despite a hard winter and a fire. The architect, Philipp Schaefer, used the American high-rise architecture of the Art Deco era as a model for the Karstadt building. It was erected with a reinforced concrete skeleton structure and a shell limestone façade in a vertical arrangement and overhung Hermannplatz by 32 meters. The structure of the street front was reminiscent of the Gothic church style.
THE GOLDEN TWENTIES
At the end of the »Golden Twenties«, the Karstadt on Hermannplatz had become a symbol of the new way of life. With a sales area of over 70,000 m2 on nine floors, it was the largest department store in Europe. There were bathing facilities, hairdressing salons, a sports hall, restaurants and cultural events to attend. From the green roof terrace, on which a music band played daily, one could see all over Berlin. Such a variety of entertainment naturally attracted people from near and far.
DESTRUCTION IN THE 2ND WORLD WAR
Shaken by the economic crisis, several floors had to be closed in the 1930s. After the National Socialists seized power, all Jewish employees were dismissed. In April 1945, the Karstadt building fell victim to a perfidious Nazi action: In order not to leave anything to the advancing Soviet troops, the SS blew up the building. What remained were parts of the wall, rubble and debris.
RECONSTRUCTION OF THE KARSTADT BUILDING
In 1950 Karstadt came back to life – although not in its old glory. Despite the deployment of hundreds of workers, it took almost a whole year to clean up the Karstadt ruins. 15,000 m3 of rubble had to be removed. On the west side, parts of the historical facade testify to the lively history that once surrounded the walls.
REOPENING AND EXTENSION
On May 71951, the first construction phase was celebrated. The Karstadt department store finally had more than 5,000 m2 of sales space again. Soon, the extension of a shop window front along Hermannplatz followed. Later, this front was extended across the corner to Urbanstraße and the site was further extended by a customer car park. In 1959, the sales area on the ground floor was enlarged and a spacious self-service food department created in the newly developed basement.
SEPARATION OF EAST AND WEST
In August 1961, roads and railroads to the West were interrupted as East and West Berlin were separated by the construction of the Wall. The department store on Hermannplatz was suddenly no longer in the middle of Berlin but in the west of the city. Customers from the east no longer had access to Karstadt and the company’s turnover was reduced accordingly.
FALL OF THE BERLIN WALL
1989 the Berlin Wall fell! The rush on Karstadt was great. For customers from East Berlin and the surrounding area, the department store held a historical significance. This eventful period of reunification and the takeover of the Hertie Group by Karstadt further delayed the planned construction project by several years.
THE LAST MAJOR CONVERSION
Finally, in 1998, the sales areas were once again enlarged to 31,500 m2. The concrete-clad façade was replaced by glass fronts, providing more light on the sales floors. 200 million D-Mark in building costs went towards a new roof terrace and a modern multi-story car park with 650 parking spaces. Larger events began taking place again – but never captured the original flair of the 1920s.