Berlin: rebuilding the past glory of a metropolis

Before the Second World War, Hitler harboured plans to transform Berlin into ‘Germania’, a monumental metropolis where a dome of an unprecedented scale called the Kuppelberg would dwarf the Vatican’s St. Peter’s by sixteen times. However, this desire to turn Berlin into a modern version of Rome crumbled as the city suffered under heavy allied bombing raids, to the extent that visitors to the new German capital may feel that it lacks the historical grandeur of other European capitals or the architectural confidence and enthusiasm of a city like New York.

This is not the case in the city’s inner-city borough of Charlottenburg, where along the Kurfürstendamm (often described as Berlin’s Champs-Elysées) one can happily forego London and Paris, to take a chauffeured limousine from the airport for tea at the grand KaDeWe. The Kaufhaus des Westens, the biggest department store in Europe after Harrods, lit up the Ku’damm when it first opened in 1907, and stood as a spectacular beacon of consumerism throughout the world wars.

Another similarly sparkling venue in Charlottenburg is the cinema Zoo Palast which reopened this year. Built in 1950, it was constructed out of the ashes of a silent cinema which, like the KaDeWe, was heavily bombed in 1943. Shimmering through the 50s and 60s, it gradually fell out of fashion and into disrepair. But now, after a €5.5 million investment towards its renovation, the Zoo Palast has been brought to its former glory and is set to be, once again, Berliners’ premium cinema.

With the redevelopment of the Café Kranzler in 2000 (and its iconic red and white, stripped tombola hat that brightens up the Ku’damm), Charlottenburg saw a third iconic spot of West Berlin restored. Like the KaDeWe and the Zoo Palast, the café evokes the timeless sense of glamour that characterised Berlin’s social and cultural past and was to some extent disregarded in the second half of the twentieth century. In many ways, and seventy years after the ambitious ideal of Germania failed to materialise, Charlottenburg and its majestic venues are breathing new life into Berlin and creating a new sense of magnificence and sophistication for residents and visitors alike.