Everything You Never Knew You Wanted to Know About Berlin
January 7th, 1870 marks the birthday of the man who will irrevocably change the way Berliners have done and still do their shopping. He was born in a small town of Hengstfeld, in the south-western state of Baden-Württemberg – a long way from the glorious capital of Prussia.
Abraham Adolf Jandorf reaches Berlin some twenty two years later. In 1892 his employer, an excellent textiles company of MJ Emden & Söhne from Hamburg sends him there as their commercial tentacle. He is entrusted with 500 Marks and told to go and multiply them where the economic heart of the nation is beating. Faster and faster.
Jandorf, being a very talented and self-assured young man, needs only 6 weeks to find his way around. One and a half months after his arrival he is already running his own shop at a very promising spot on the corner of Spittelmarkt and Leipzigerstrasse. “His own” must not be seen too literally since it was still Emden who was footing the bills. However, Jandorf makes sure it is his name that gets stuck in people´s minds. The sign above the door reads: A. Jandorf & Co., Hamburger Engros Lager. Emden is not featured even in small-print.
This little trick leads to certain frostiness in the employer-employee relationship and to plenty of angry messages being exchanged, but A. Jandorf is adamant to keep the name as it is. He decides to go va banque and threatens to resign with immediate effect. Miraculously, his boss gives in. If Jandorf succeeds, he must have been thinking, it will bring him more money. If he fails, he could still fire him later. One should never be too hasty with an axe.
And Jandorf did succeed. The business idea he brought back from New York – lots of cheap products for not-so-well-heeled clientèle – allowed him to turn the original Jandorf & Co. shop into a hen, or rather an ostrich laying golden eggs.
In 1898 he opens a brand new department store at an equally promising new address: in Belle-Alliance-Strasse 1-2 (today Blücherplatz 3). Built after the plans of the architect Fritz Flatow Jandorf invests in a shopping palazzo with 3 floors, a baroque façade and 1,500 square metres of shopping floor.
More department stores follow. His sixth one will be in Kreuzberg again: in Kottbusser Damm 1 Jandorf buys a finished house for 3.35 million Marks. It is going to be not only the very first privately owned ferro concrete building in Berlin (Eisenbetonbau – for those amongst us possibly interested in pursuing a career in construction). It will also give Jandorf a firm position in the Very Top 10 of German department store chains.
In 1907 Jandorf sees his most famous work being stormed by excited crowds: on March 27th the tills of Kaufhaus des Westens known as KaDeWe start ringing and filling up with cash. Something they are still doing daily 107 years later.
Unfortunately, the tills in Kottbusser Damm and in Belle-Alliance-Strasse are gone together with the rest of both buildings. Their place was taken by “Domäne” (German answer to Ikea, one can suppose, and not a very good one either) and a supermarket respectively.
Jandorf´s story is a story of the American Dream made in Berlin. Funnily enough, the product that really made him rich and actually paid for the new department store in Belle-Alliance-Strasse 1-2 in today´s Kreuzberg was one of the seemingly most useless things one could imagine at the time when a 7-day working week was nothing unusual and napping a luxury of the dining classes.
It was a little embroidered cushion with a text saying: Nur Ein Viertelstündchen – “Just A Little Catnap” – of which Jandorf sold more than a million. 105 years later the author of this text purchased one for herself as well.
For shopping empires might rise and fall but one thing remains the same: a happy customer is one who believes the promise of a bit of luxury.