I once asked my oldest Berlin friend to name her centre of city. ‘The Ku’damm,’ she answered without hesitation.
Her answer warmed my romantic soul. Was she recalling perhaps a candle-lit rendezvous at the Café Kranzler? Or a late-night stroll along Germany’s most famous boulevard, arm-in-arm with the man she loved? Or was she remembering (one can never really be sure with Berliners) her coming out in 1989 at the inaugural Loveparade?
‘Because it was there that I first rioted against capitalism,’ she told me, shattering my gentle preconceptions.
Today the Ku’damm is a glittering two mile-long temple to consumerism with high-rent retailers like Hermès, Rolex, Mont Blanc and Louis Vuitton. West Berlin’s ‘High Street’ dates back to the 16th century when Elector Joachim II ordered a track to be built between the Schloss and his hunting lodge. In the 1870s Bismarck transformed the dirt road into a boulevard to rival the Champs-Élysées. The Kurfürstendamm was home to Berlin’s upper middle class up until the Second World War and then, with the division of the city in 1961, it became both the outpost and showpiece of (and battleground against) western capitalism.
As I wrote last week, a city is best discovered on foot so I’m sketching out a few of my favourite Berlin walks over the month.
KaDeWe – Berlin’s original temple to consumerism -- is the starting point for this 90 minute Ku’damm walk. The vast Kaufhaus des Westens at Wittenbergplatz station (U1 U2 U3) is approaching its first centenary. Check out the wonderful food floor, which rivals Harrods’ food hall. Next head up Tauentzienstrasse to Breitscheidplatz. The five year ‘Zoofenster’ building project will revitalise the square. Do not miss the Kaiser Wilhelm Gedächtis church. Destroyed during the last war, the church was rebuilt in the early 1960s and its stained glass, designed by the French artist Gabriel Loire, is among the most beautiful and soothing in the world. Now stroll west along Ku’damm itself, people-watching, window-shopping and café-stopping (my favourite is the Literaturhaus Café off Fasanenstrasse, near to where Frederick the Great build Berlin’s first peasantry). Stop by the Ku’damm Karree, soon to be redeveloped by David Chipperfield, the gifted architect who turned the Neues Museum into the Europe’s most exciting museum building. Berlin’s ‘Gold Coast’ glitters most brightly at George-Grosz-Platz, a favoured corner for wealthy Russian residents. Finally beyond Adenauerplatz, at the corner of Joachim-Friedrich Straße, you reach an important point in 'Red' Berlin’s history. The crossroads today may feature a less-than-revolutionary Saab dealership and branch of the Commerzbank, but it was here in 1968 that Rudi Dutschke – the youth leader who advocated for the overthrow of the Federal Republic – was shot.