16(b): Going Shopping: The Wertheim Department Store

Next to the Transport Building (Number 33) was the very large Wertheim department store which took up a goodly sum of the south side frontage of Voss-Strasse. Like the grand hotels of Berlin, the grand department stores would make an excellent blog on their own, as would the grand railway stations. However  we will content ourselves with this particular department store. The Wertheim store was one of a number of large, modern stores in pre-war Berlin (the others included Tietz – unfortunate name – and Kaufhof des Westens, each worth a Google). The owners of both Wertheim and Tietz were Jewish and were  eventually forced to relinquish their ownership to the Nazis or approved Aryans. After the war, the remaining Wertheim assets in the eastern part of the city were confiscated by the DDR’s Handelsorganisation.

Description from Wikipedia: “Founded by German merchant Georg Wertheim (1857–1939), designed by architect Alfred Messel (1853–1909), opened in 1897 and extended several times over the following 40 years, it ultimately possessed a floor area double that of the Reichstag, a 330-metre-long granite and plate glass facade along Leipziger Straße, 83 elevators, three escalators, 1,000 telephones, 10,000 lamps, five kilometres of pneumatic tubing for moving items from the various departments to the packing area, and a separate entrance directly from the nearby U-Bahn station. It also contained a summer garden, winter garden and roof garden, an enormous restaurant and several smaller eating areas, its own laundry, a theatre and concert booking office, its own bank, whose strongrooms were underground at the eastern end of the building (and generated their own history decades later), and a large fleet of private delivery vehicles. In the run-up to Christmas Wertheim was transformed into a fairytale kingdom, and was well known to children from all over Germany and far beyond.”

Some wonderful photos of the Wertheim store here (scroll down):


and in fact the Stadtbild-deutschland site is, IMO, the best resource for pre-war photos of Berlin.

If you are standing next to Number 33 and looking towards Potsdamer Platz, the Wertheim frontage on this street roughly corresponds to the vacant lot (all of it) in this Google Earth screenshot:

Wertheim Google Earth 1

And here it is in its heyday, facing the other way:

vostr25-32_warenhausww3sgx SBD

Pretty big, eh? What I haven’t mentioned is that this view is of the rear of the store – the main entrance (shown here) fronted onto Leipzigerstrasse:


The building, one of four in Berlin alone, was remarkable: “The chain’s most famous store, on Leipziger Platz in Berlin, was constructed in 1896. It featured 83 elevators and a glass-roofed atrium, and was one of the three largest department stores (Warenhäuser) in Berlin, the others being Hermann Tietz and Kaufhaus des Westens”

Quotation from Wikipedia.

The interior was pretty flash too:


785px-Berlin_Kaufhaus_Wertheim_1900 AHF

Source: Wikipedia

And there was a U Bahn tunnel underneath and a passage to the Kaiserhof U Bahn station for customers. Remember the screenshot from the bunker under Number 33?

Screenshot 1

In the photo below, you can see (1) the ruins of the Ministry of Transport, (2) Number 33 and (3) the ‘lid’ on the U Bahn tunnel that ran under the Wertheim store. The route of the U Bahn can be seen on the map at the end of this post. The green line here shows most of the Wertheim frontage and the red line shows most of the New Reich Chancellery frontage. The orange line shows the frontage of the Borsig Palais although I’m not convinced that the very undeutsch kink in Voss-Strasse is the original. I suspect the line of Voss-Strasse has been changed slightly since the war but I really haven’t had time or inclination to investigate it further. I further suspect the Borsig Palais frontage in the photo below would have been somewhat shorter:

Voss aerial


Another unfortunate aspect for the Jewish owners must have been their view from the back gates – the building across the road was the New Reich Chancellery. (Speer had planned to demolish the whole Wertheim store in line with the Nazis’ “Make Germany Great Again” policy.)


Of course the magnificent building was bombed and shelled to buggery during the war and the ruins were demolished in 1950 (from memory). The site became part of the Death Strip between the Berlin Wall(s) with Number 33 remaining the lonely survivor and owing its reprieve to the fact that it had nothing to do with the New Reich Chancellery (or so I’ve read):

Feldgrau 1

The next photo (below) shows the western end, i.e. the end closest to Potsdamer Platz, of the Wertheim building. The photo was presumably taken soon after the end of hostilities as the building appears to be still burning and there are Russian soldiers milling around. Next to the Wertheim building is the Mosse Palais, an interesting article on which can be found here: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/lost-maidens-berlin-180969006/


From another angle, the ruins of the Mosse Palais can be seen here on the left just past the Wertheim building:

0_27ff0_149382ce_orig Feldgrau

and again here:

0_cbd52_712e78d9_orig Feldgrau

As a matter of interest the last two buildings on the south side (i.e. from Wertheim to Hermann-Goringstrasse) were the Mosse Palais, Number 22 (also Jewish-owned) and the Reich Naval Office, Number 20, which later relocated to the Bendlerblock.

leipzplatz11_straubepkws6h SBD

So now having walked the entire length of the south side of Voss-Strasse, we have arrived at Potsdamer Platz where we can pick up those who flew in earlier and who have been waiting patiently for us.

Or drinking so much German beer that they are as full as a bull’s bum.

16(a) Voss-Strasse: The Left-Hand Side.

Remember at the start of this blog I recommended that you get a wriggle on if you want to see some of the surviving historical architecture and other sites in Berlin? Well, here’s why.

As we walk up Voss Strasse towards Potsdamer Platz, on the corner we see the Mall of Berlin. Opened in 2104, it occupies the site of the former Ministry of Transport. Up until 2014, you could still see the ruins of the Ministry with a nondescript DDR wall around them. In fact. the Berlin Unterwelten (https://www.visitberlin.de/en/berlins-unterwelten-museum) used to access the air-raid shelters/bunkers from the ruins of this building.

Here it is in 1946. The building with the red arrow is the only surviving original building and indicates the end of the Ministry of Transport building. The large building next to it (further down) is the Wertheim department store:

MoT 1

And here’s what you missed by not visiting before 2014:






Kink 1


DDRWall 1





I am not suggesting for a moment that these ruins should have been saved. They were beyond redemption but what you got in their place was this:


Another shopping centre – and quite a good one if “your future dream is a shopping scheme” (Source: Sex Pistols) – but if you happen to be in there buying a fridge magnet or a novelty sign or whatever, it’s worth remembering that you are standing on the site of a building that organised the trains to take so many Jews and others to concentration camps:


and in the building which previously stood on that site worked one Erich Klausener, a Ministry official who made the mistake of not only contributing to the Marburg Speech (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marburg_speech) but also rubbing salt into the wound by delivering his own speech one week later which pretty much called out the Nazis.  (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erich_Klausener).

He was assassinated in his office in the Ministry of Transport during the Night of the Long Knives. Coincidentally – or come to think of it probably not – he had worked on the Marburg Speech with Herbert von Bose who was also assassinated in the Night of the Long Knives just across the street in the Palais Borsig in 1934. (See Post 10: Getting Around). Here’s what Klausener looked like and a shot of his grave, courtesy of Wikiwand. His gravesite is in St Matthias Friedhof, Berlin.

Klausener 3

The last sentence on the plaque is interesting – “Dr Klausener was shot in his office on 30.6.34 by an SS man”. That SS man was Kurt Gildisch. He is worth a Google if you like to read about alcoholic schoolteachers (excuse the tautology):


Moving right along, we come to the only surviving original building on Voss-Strasse, (Number 33 Voss-Strasse) now thankfully heritage-protected. This building had become a part of the Ministry of Transport which had frontages on three streets: Leipzigerstrasse, Wilhelmstrasse and Voss-Strasse.  The Leipzigerstrasse frontage still exists and is one of only three surviving period buildings on that western end of the street, the others being the Air Ministry and Das Herrenhaus (former Prussian House of Lords) :


Bearing in mind that Leipzigerstrasse was the staging point for SS and other troops during the battle for Berlin it’s surprising that either building survived as well as it did:


And in its original state (built 1894):

Liepzigerstraße 125.. Bibliothek des Ministerium

The building has since been modernised/gentrified although the sandstone facade has been retained and the building is thankfully heritage listed. There’s an excellent Youtube clip of the pre-gutted building (including its underground bunker) here:

And here’s a screenshot of the tunnel to the U Bahn lines and the Kaiserhof Hotel:

Screenshot 1

Next  we see the Transport  Building in its context, between the main Ministry of Transport building and the Wertheim department store:

Wertheim 1

Source: AHF

and here it is on its oddy-knocky, awaiting the developers to build stuff around it. Yes, it’s the same building: you can make out the Czech Republic embassy at the end of the street. No Mall of Berlin yet (slack, Google Earth, slack!). On the left-hand side of the photo are some DDR aparttment blocks which stand where the New Reich Chancellery stood.

Earth 2

And here it is, pre-war, and looking pretty:

Transport Archi

Source: SBD

The building survived the demolition of the New Reich Chancellery (which was just across the road) and was at one stage the only building left on the block. Amazingly the statuary remained fairly intact. Remember, this was the street where the (alleged) appearance of Soviet troops had been reported to Hitler just before he topped himself. I have read that the appearance of Soviet troops in Voss Strasse made Hitler realise that both his time and the jig were undoubtedly up. However, I don’t believe that Soviet troops penetrated to Voss Strasse until Hitler was dead as the Soviet advance was still being held at the Gestapo HQ on Prinz Albrecht Strasse by units of the 33rd Waffen Grenadier Division of SS Charlemagne (1st French) and the Soviets still hadn’t taken Potsdamer Platz at the end of Voss-Strasse (but it does go to show how close the Soviets were when Hitler pulled the plug. They probably would have made a greater effort had they known that he was in – or rather under – the New Reich Chancellery). In the foreground are the ruins of the New Reich Chancellery:


Bunker Bunker der Neuen Reichskanzlei

Source: Tumblr

The building itself was a bit knocked around during the Battle for Berlin and still has (or still had in 2017) several interesting, different-calibre spang marks. I photographed the building for the first time in 2011:

AHF Voss

and someone came knocking in 1945:


and here it is under renovation in 2013:


and finally rubbing shoulders with other buildings again:


So if you are a lucky building, you survive two world wars and a major battle in your city and you end up a trendy fashion house:


Next post we go shopping in a department store that would have made the Mall of Berlin look like Aldo Godolfus’ deli …