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The Main Attraction


Berlin’s prestigious Kurfürstendamm area is enjoying a renaissance. Louise Barnett provides a guide to the sights and shops

Louise Barnett ,

West Berlin’s prime boulevard celebrates its 125th birthday this year. Kurfürstendamm has been called the Champs-Élysées of Berlin because of its mix of shopping and cultural destinations and it is the ideal place for a leisurely stroll, or a ‘Bummel’ as the locals say.

A walk along the 3.5km street takes visitors past top designer boutiques, well-known fashion chains, eateries and theatres. The boulevard and its surrounding area – known as Ku’damm – also provide a glimpse into the history of Germany’s capital city. ‘The Kurfürstendamm was and is an important symbol of our city,’ says Burkhard Kieker, managing director of Visit Berlin.

Ku’damm’s 125th birthday marks the year when the first steam tram rolled down it in 1886. But the street’s history stretches back another three centuries to the 1540s when it started life as a bridle path between the city and the forest.

At the boulevard’s easterly starting point on Breitscheidplatz stands the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church which was nearly destroyed by a bombing raid during World War II. Instead of clearing away the ruins after the war, Berliners opted to have them integrated into a new glass and concrete building that was completed in 1961.

Since then, the Memorial Church’s contrast of original brickwork and modern architecture has stood as a striking visual memorial to peace and reconciliation as well as a reminder of the will of the Berlin people to rebuild their city.

During the post-war years Berlin was sliced into two halves by the Wall and Ku’damm became the glamorous centre of West Berlin. The mayor of Berlin Klaus Wowereit says the boulevard took on a special significance for people living in East Berlin.

‘After the war, the Ku’damm evolved into a boulevard symbolising West Berlin’s pursuit of freedom and the city’s lust for life – as such it also became a focal point of longing for many East Berliners,’ says Wolwereit.  

‘The images of the fall of the Wall are unforgettable, when people from East Berlin were able to experience this legend for themselves. The Ku’damm was thus one of the first locations where citizens from West and East Berlin met.’

Today, the area around the Memorial Church bustles with activity as shoppers spill out of numerous shops and cafes.
Fashion chains including Desigual, H&M, Zara and Levi’s are within a stone’s throw of the church whilst Berlin’s prime department store, the luxurious KaDeWe, is just a short walk away on Tauentzienstrasse.

Strolling further along Ku’damm takes visitors to the boulevard’s intersection with Fasanenstrasse, a tree-lined side street full of upmarket boutiques, furniture stores and art galleries. A cluster of designer shops is to be found slightly further west on Ku’damm where Prada’s flagship Berlin store rubs shoulders with Gucci, Bulgari, Cartier, YSL, Chanel, Burberry and Louis Vuitton.

Further west, beyond Ku’damm’s midway point at Adenauer Platz underground station, is the Schaubühne theatre and a quieter section with offices, small shops and banks used by local workers and residents. Finally, the boulevard ends in the affluent suburb of Grunewald filled with impressive homes.

Despite Ku’damm’s long history, it suffered a change of fortunes after the fall of the Wall in 1989. That momentous event meant that the city’s attention shifted east and Mitte, its former centre, consequently enjoyed a boom.

For a while it seemed that Ku’damm was falling permanently out of fashion. But the grand old boulevard is re-carving her niche within the city, with several ambitious projects to draw well-heeled workers and visitors to the area now underway.

The 1950s Zoo Palast Cinema, close to the Memorial Church, is being refurbished and will reopen late next year as a state-of-the-art venue with comfortable seats and a cocktail bar.

Next to the cinema is the winding 1950s Bikini Haus which will re-open with restaurants and shops in autumn 2012. A later phase of its refurbishment will include a new public roof garden with views onto the giraffes and elephants in nearby Berlin Zoo.

A 32-storey building, Zoofenster, is currently under construction, also on Breitscheidplatz. Made with stone and glass the property will house Germany’s first Waldorf Astoria luxury hotel and is in another sign of the renewed interest in Ku’damm.

Burkhard Kieker describes the boulevard’s latest phase as a renaissance: ‘The reconstruction of east Berlin is now almost completed and money is once again flowing west. New shops and galleries are opening everywhere, making it once again a hotspot for tourists and Berliners.’

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