From a bridle path to a boulevard

From a bridle path to a boulevard - the history of Kurfürstendamm

Ku'damm, Berlin, Charlottenburg, Boulevard, Einkaufsstraße

Fifth Avenue in New York, the Champs-Élysées in Paris – and Kurfürstendamm in Berlin. It may not be as grand as the other two, but Kurfürstendamm still counts as one of the most famous streets in the world. There is a clear link to the Champs-Élysées in that the design of Berlin’s magnificent boulevard, which is 53 metres wide and surrounded by luxurious Wilhelminian-style buildings in the adjacent streets, was based on the French model at the behest of the Imperial Chancellor Otto von Bismarck.

Bridle path for the Electors

Construction work began on 5 May 1886, which is why Berlin held a big celebration in 2011 for the 125th anniversary of the 3.5 kilometre street. But in reality, it is actually much older: ‘Ku’damm’ was created in 1542 as a bridle path for the Electors, connecting the Berlin city palace with the Grunewald hunting lodge.

Ku´damm was already known as a popular promenade in the imperial period, and in the 1920s it garnered a reputation as Berlin’s entertainment strip as artists, writers and actors gathered in the countless cafés, bars and vaudeville theatres. After the war, Ku‘damm developed quickly into the place to be for shopping and commerce, becoming the largest retail area in Berlin. Kurfürstendamm had it all: exclusive fashions and extravagant design, magnificent carriages, expensive perfumes and high-carat jewellery – anyone who was anyone was there.

The Kranzler-Eck re-ignition

Kranzlereck, Kurfürstendamm

The demonstrators of 1968, for whom the luxury was nothing more than a representation of the establishment that they despised, also gathered at Ku´damm. The street had become a prime location for demonstrations: at Christopher Street Day in 1979, homosexuals protested for their rights for the first time in Germany. Ten years later, the thumping beats of the first Love Parade shook Ku´damm.   

After the fall of the Wall, Kurfürstendamm calmed down. Tourists were drawn to the boulevards in the eastern part of the city, amongst them ‘Unter den Linden’. Suddenly there were empty shops on the boulevard in the west, and the Europa-Center on Breitscheidplatz couldn’t keep pace with the shopping centres that were springing up all over the city. The historic Bikini-Haus – opposite the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche – was subjected to the ravages of time. The years passed. The construction of the new ‘Kranzler-Eck’ – the new glass building that is today the location of the tradition-steeped Kranzler Café – rang in a change of fortune for the area. The futuristic structure was the spark that re-ignited Kurfürstendamm. A renovation of the Gedächtniskirche tower ruins followed, as did a facelift for the Bikini-Haus, which was reinvented as a ‘concept mall’ and now houses boutiques and temporary shops, and a makeover for the Europa-Center, which is now a listed building.

The beating heart of west Berlin

The newest project near Ku´damm is the Zoofenster (Zoo Window). The 32-storey structure reaches 118 metres into the air, and its completion will add yet another luxurious element to the area. Kaufhaus des Westens (KaDeWe) on Tauentzienstraße, not far from Ku´damm – the most famous department store in Berlin, and not just because of its gourmet foods department – is therefore once more in the best of company. A strong pulse beats anew in the heart of west Berlin.


Pictures: „Bundesarchiv Bild 204-003, Berlin, Kudamm, Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtnis Kirche“ von Bundesarchiv, Bild 204-003 / CC-BY-SA. Lizenziert unter CC BY-SA 3.0 de über Wikimedia Commons -,_Berlin,_Kudamm,_Kaiser-Wilhelm-Ged%C3%A4chtnis_Kirche.jpg#/media/File:Bundesarchiv_Bild_204-003,_Berlin,_Kudamm,_Kaiser-Wilhelm-Ged%C3%A4chtnis_Kirche.jpg

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