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.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s