Breitscheidplatz lies within the Charlottenburg district near the southwestern tip of the Tiergarten park and the Zoological Garden at the corner of Kurfürstendamm and its eastern continuation Tauentzienstraße leading to Schöneberg and the Kaufhaus des Westens on Wittenbergplatz. The Europa-Center mall and highrise closes off the Breitscheidplatz to the east. At its centre is the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church with its damaged spire.
Breitscheidplatz was laid out until 1889 at the former Kurfürstendamm bridle path of 1542 which led Elector (Kurfürst) Joachim II Hector of Brandenburg to his hunting grounds in the Grunewald forest. The square was originally called Gutenbergplatz after Johannes Gutenberg, the designer of the printing press, it was renamed in 1892 to Auguste-Viktoria-Platz in honor of the German Empress Augusta Viktoria of Schleswig-Holstein.
Shortly after the grounds of the square were laid, Auguste-Viktoria’s spouse Emperor Wilhelm II determined it as the site for the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche in honour of his grandfather, Emperor Wilhelm I. The church designed by royal architect Franz Schwechten was a prime example of Romanesque Revival architecture, it was consecrated in 1895. Until World War I, the square experienced further development in the shape of several fringe buildings in a similar Neo-Romanesque style with exhibition halls, cinemas, shopping and cultural centres.
After World War I Breitscheidplatz became a meeting place for bohèmiens and intellectuals in Berlin, specifically at the Romanisches Café located in a Neo-Romanesque building constructed in 1899 – where writers, artists and musicians congregated and exchanged ideas. The house was at the square’s eastern side on Budapester Straße 53 – now site of the Europa-Center mall. The Ufa-Palast am Zoo opened on the northwestern corner, then the Germany’s largest cinema, followed in 1926 by the Gloria-Palast vis-á-vis on the western side, where The Blue Angel premièred on 1 April 1930.
In 1943, the platz was heavily bombed and most of the area was destroyed. After World War II the square experienced massive reconstruction when it became the quasi symbolic centre of West Berlin compensational for the historic centre around Alexanderplatz and Unter den Linden in Mitte, now part of East Berlin. In 1947 the square took on the new name ‘Breitscheidplatz’ in 1947 after Rudolf Breitscheid, a German social-democrat who was killed at the Buchenwald concentration camp in 1944.
The Gedächtniskirche (formerly known as “Hollow Tooth” by Berliners) was in shambles after the war. In the 1950s and 1960s it became an unofficial trend in Berlin to tear down buildings damaged in the war and to build new. The renowned West German architect Egon Eiermann originally planned to completely demolish the ruins causing numerous public protests. He then commissioned a new functioning parish church, which was to stand next to the old spire preserved as a memorial. The new Gedächtniskirche was consecrated in 1961 and soon became the architectural pride of West Berlin and a memorial against war and destruction.
The development of the square included the erection of the Zoo Palast replacing the Ufa-Palast in 1956, the Bikini-Haus on the northern side finished in 1957 (named after its bare “midriff” on second floor) and the Schimmelpfeng-Haus built in 1960 (now partly demolished) at the site of the old Gloria-Palast.
In 1965, the Europa-Center shopping mall was opened by Mayor Willy Brandt at the site of the former Romanisches Café. It included a large cinema complex and an 86 m (282 ft) highrise. The Center with its characteristic Mercedes-Benz star on top became a main consumer ground and unofficially gave the Breitscheidplatz the reputation of being the commercial hotspot in West Berlin. Today the building still hosts numerous department stores, outside coffee shops and restaurants and is a popular tourist attraction. It has a preserved landmark status.
With thanks to Wikipedia
- The Berlin Wall (socyberty.com)
- What happened in Berlin during World War 2 (wiki.answers.com)
- An outing to Wannsee (bruhninberlin.wordpress.com)
- Berlin Diary: Fancy-pants Chocolates (greedygirl.wordpress.com)