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.

The troops returning from Tempelhofer Feld after the annual parade are passing Jandorf´s Department Store in the background, 1908 (photo with kind permission of Blekinge Museum, Karlskrona)

The troops returning from Tempelhofer Feld after the annual parade are passing Jandorf´s Department Store in the background, 1908 (photo with kind permission of Blekinge Museum, Karlskrona)

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.

Warenhaus Jandorf in Kottbusser Damm corner Graefestrasse in 1906, destroyed during WW2 and replaced by a supermarket.

Warenhaus Jandorf in Kottbusser Damm corner Graefestrasse in 1906, destroyed during WW2 and replaced by an unsightly supermarket.

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.


  1. berlioz1935
    February 8, 2012

    Thanks for digging up all those little Kreuzberg secretes.

    It is a pity the German readers will not be aware of your efforts.

    Perhaps a book in German would be a step in the right direction.

    Perhaps the “Berlin Story Verlag” would be interested publishing such a book?

    Keep it up.

  2. notmsparker
    February 8, 2012

    Thank you so much for the words of encouragement. As a matter of fact, I am working on one but it is indeed in English. I believe that now that Kreuzberg is not only full of “transplanted” foreigners like myself but also very popular among those visiting Berlin, it´s time somebody introduced the borough to them beyond the usual platitudes of “hip”, “cool”, “party” and “international creative community”. I think people might like to know more. I know I do.
    But I am, of course, thinking of having it translated as well. By someone whose grasp of German is significantly better than mine:)

  3. Vicki Tafferner
    February 9, 2012

    From commercial tentacle to ostrich… I love it. This is a great blog! Please write that book! I constantly talk about stuff I’ve read here, and people love hearing about it. I would think that it would be a welcome addition to a bulk of literature which reads the area solely in terms of war and/or hipsterdom. Have you thought about doing a talk or presentation? Or forming a group of “history detectives”? (Count me in!) I recommend you far and wide! Keep it up! V from Neukölln.

    • notmsparker
      February 9, 2012

      Thank you – such kind words of praise make you more awake and eager to work than a triple espresso and a deadline:) A talk would be lovely, I am sure, but I´m afraid I read better than I sound. Although you never know.
      And if I should ever form a history detective agency (I´ve already got the name: “DigInDaPast Unlimited”), I shall invite you immediately.
      Thanks for reading and inviting others to read!

  4. Stella
    February 24, 2012

    Would love to know where you got the pillow from? Can you really buy a reproduction somewhere?
    Thanks so much—love reading your blog!

    • notmsparker
      February 24, 2012

      It is not a reproduction – it´s the real thing:) I found it in an online antique shop and after considering the matter (for about 1.2 seconds), bought it.
      Thank you so much for the kind words. They do give one wings.


  6. Michal
    February 7, 2014

    Keep us up to date with the book! And count me in if you do decide to do a presentation or talk! (Mostly to find out where and how you get all this information heh)

    Great article by the way 🙂

  7. Micki
    March 24, 2014

    I have a set of 4 dinnerware that appear to be hand painted (?) and are signed A Jandorf. Can you give me any information on these. I cannot seem to locate information anywhere. Thank You

    • notmsparker
      March 26, 2014

      Hi Micki, that’s quite a treasure that you have there. Big department stores used to order those with the company’s “logo” to sell them or give as gifts to special clients. I don’t know much about Jandorf’s output in this respect but will be happy to do some research on it and get back to you as soon as I know more.


  9. Jaime Chafin
    December 29, 2014

    I have one of these pillow cases, can you tell me how to determine if it is an original or replica?


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