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The story of the Kurfürstendamm

The Ku’damm was built around 1680 as a connection from the hunting lodge in Grunewald to Tiergarten by the Elector Joachim II Hector. It was first mentioned as Churfürstendamm  in 1685 on a map. Compared to today it resembled rather a temporary shopping mile. Round logs led the road through swampy area. Otto von Bismarck wanted to redesign the road in 1871 to residential streets, to ensure Berlin was ready for the generous population growth. The expansion should be architecturally and culturally based on the French model: the Champs-Elysées. Until 1883, Bismarck projects experienced many difficulties, such as lack of interest from investors. The glamorous history of the Ku'damm started in 1886, with the completion of the steam tram from Zoologischer Garten to Halensee. After the trams started up business, buildings with apartments were built as well as villas between Landwehr Canal, Zoologischer Garten and Tauentzienstrasse. The Ku’damm has certainly got the Imperial flair with the influence of Wilhelm II, as he planned to build a church in memory of his grandfather Wilhelm I. In 1895, the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church was officially opened with great presence of the military. The face of the newly erected building was described until 1905 by critics as "Kurfuerstendamm architecture", which is understood a cluttered and tacky architecture with purely representative purposes.

Due to the many Jewish residents of the Kurfuerstendamm, the Great Synagogue, built in 1912 in the der Fasanenstrasse opened, which houses today the Jewish community center.

In 1907 the legendary Kaufhaus des Westens (shopping mall of the west – short KaDeWe) opened, which was a project of Adolf Jandorf. Additional came numerous cafes, restaurants, theaters and cinemas. So the original idea from Otto Bismarck to have a meeting place for culture and entertainment was almost come true. One of the cafes "Café des Westens" was growing in popularity with writers, actors and other intellectual celebrities. There many creative themes were discussed, for example the First World War was sharply criticized.

During the First World War the highlife on Ku'damm wore down, because as everywhere one struggled with the hardships of everyday life.

With the beginning of the roaring twenties, the former spirit of the revolutionary awoke again. The excessive life on the boulevard took place in peep shows and seedy establishments. The area around the western shopping and entertainment mile split opinions again. Many saw this as an opportunity to establish itself as a cosmopolitan, modern and innovative district of Berlin. Critics, however, interpreted this development as un-German and unnecessary waste of presentation and decadence. Nevertheless, many large companies wanted to be present at this site. The racing driver Caracciola opened in 1927 on Ku’damm a Mercedes branch. In addition, more and more cinemas opened their doors and so the area rose in favour of many enthusiastic filmmakers. Major film festivals took place with the participation of stars such as Henry Fonda, Sophia Loren, Walt Disney and many other international actors. After that the famous Ku’damm "Café Kanzler" opened in 1932.

The Second World War destroyed along with many houses not only the Memorial Church, but also the atrium of the shopping mall of the west.
Two years after the war, the future of the ruin of the Memorial Church was decided by the Berlin public. They voted to keep the ruins to remember the horror of the war and build new parts around it. This was based on an idea by Egon Eiermann who also called the damaged tower the "rotten tooth".

After reunification of Germany the Ku'damm was starting point of protests and demonstrations due to the high density of population and citizens of Allied countries. They demonstrated against the Vietnam war, the assassination of Martin Luther King and the occupation of Czechoslovakia. Even high-ranking political celebrities showed their presence in this part of the city, such as John F. Kennedy, Elizabeth II, Neil Armstrong … just to name a few.

But all the dazzling presence international guests prevented not the frivolous entertainment. Efforts were made to get rid of the image and make it into the “art mile”. The "City Commission", which was founded 1984, was commissioned to transfer this image and make the Ku’damm lucrative for investors. The first big step was to place street lamps in the Hardenberg design along Ku’damm. In addition, a Christmas market between KaDeWe and Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church was held annually. And eventually people started to invest back into this area. In 1988, the not yet well known Kurfuerstendamm festival was added to the calendar of events on a yearly basis.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall tourists rarely found their way into the western part of the city. Their attention remained with Potsdamer Platz, Brandenburg Gate, Friedrichstrasse and Unter den Linden. However, from sightseeing brochures is the Ku'damm long indispensable. The KaDeWe, the zoo, many theaters and the newly opened Zoopalast lure with a special flair.


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