Berlin’s most famous trademark department store is KaDeWe (Kaufhaus des Westens) – or department store of the West. It is Berlin’s shopping paradise, a favourite, easy to spot landmark on Wittenberg Platz. With 60,000sqm, the equivalent of nine football fields, 380,000 articles, 40,000 visitors a day, this is the legendary, largest department store on the continent.
The KaDeWe has survived the turmoil of 20th century German history unscathed. Beginning its commercial life in 1907, the store was a constant Berlin presence, its highs and lows reflecting those of the city. From World War I to the Golden Twenties consumer metropolis – the Depression and Nazi years and World War II - the Cold War and the 1950s “Wirtschaftswunder” - and finally German reunification in 1989. Through all the turbulence, KaDeWe retained its aura - somewhere between consumer temple and Berlin institution – intact. The store’s 100th anniversary was a grand occasion celebrated in its 500sqm foyer with a gigantic cake. Amongst guests and celebrities was Berlin’s Mayor, Klaus Wowereit.
Whether browsing through the ceramic department, letting your mouth water at the sight of a serving of champagne and oysters, buying praline truffles in the chocolaterie departement on the sixth floor Food Halls, or lingering in the fashion boulevards, shopping here is more than just shop-till-you drop; it’s stocking-up on product awareness and consumer kudos in style.
The department store, owned by Jewish retail entrepreneur Adolf Jandorf, first opened on Wittenberg Platz in 1907 with a 24,000sqm retail surface. Designed by architect Emil Schaudt, it served the increasingly affluent middle class neighbourhood of the new Tiergarten district. In 1927 it was bought by the Warenhaus Hermann Tiez AG from whose initials the German retail giant HERTIE gets its name becoming part of the group. Founders of HERTIE, the Jewish family Tietz, in business since 1882, made retail history by pioneering the new business model, acquired by Hermann during his time in the US; large turnovers at small profit and selling at fixed prices. Tietz bought Adolf Jandorf’s store – KaDeWe - by 1926. It was at that time the largest department store in Europe with a 128 million RM turnover and 18,000 employees. In 1931 two floors were added to the original five and more extensions came in the 1990s, particularly the top of the world rooftop and Wintergarten where the self-service restaurant is today.
In 1929 the Great Depression, followed by the 1933 Nazi takeover meant that the company was boycotted together with other non-Aryan businesses when the Nuremberg race laws were implemented. Forced to sell their shares the Tiez family left Germany but the store survived. Georg Karg was the Nazis choice to manage KaDeWe and an 11 million loan from the Riechs Ministry for Trade and Commerce followed. A restitution settlement in 1949 recognised the claims of the Tietz family heirs and the Karg Foundation renamed the group Hertie in 1972.
An American plane crashed into the building in 1943, devastating the building. It was rebuilt after WW2, unlike its competitor, the Wertheim department store in the Leipzigerstrasse, which was razed to the ground by the GDR authorities.
KaDeWe reopened on July 3, 1950, celebrating with over 180,000 visitors on the day. In the years of Germany’s “economic miracle”, economic recovery was underway and the new-look KaDeWe included the gourmet Food Hall, with a new touch of luxury and flair. In the immediate reunification days in November 1989 it was literally flooded by the largest numbers of visitors in its history, eager for a taste of consumer culture Western style. The Karstadt Quelle group took over Hertie in 1994, and the last spurt of renovation in 1996, produced its present retail space of over 60,000sqm and two floors of gastronomic bliss with a view, extremely popular with Berliners and visitors alike.