Everything You Never Knew You Wanted to Know About Berlin


Berlin, U-Bahn viaduct at Landwehrkanal in October 1928 seen from the dir. Möckernbrücke  (photo: Willy Pragher through Staatsarchiv Freiburg

Berlin, U-Bahn viaduct at Landwehrkanal in October 1928 seen from the dir. Möckernbrücke (photo: Willy Pragher through Staatsarchiv Freiburg

Here is a rare photo of the Hochbahn (elevated U-Bahn line) viaduct in Berlin-Kreuzberg used by the line U1 today. It was taken late at night on October 11th, 1928 by one of the best photo-journalists of the pre-war Germany: Willy (Wilhelm Alexander) Pragher.

Despite the obvious technical difficulties that night photography still posed in the 1920s, Pragher managed to capture a scene that is not only eerily beautiful but it is also one which we will never be able to enjoy again – apart from the house at Tempelhofer Ufer 2 where the old post office of Berlin SW 61 used to have its seat until long after the war (here in the upper right corner of the image), none of the buildings in this image exist any more.

The brightly lit building on the southern bank of the canal is the old Jandorf department store (you can read more about its history in the following post). Built in 1898 by the same man who built the über-famous KaDeWe – Berlin´s greatest and most revered department store in Tauentzienstrasse in Charlottenburg – it changed its name to Tietz Warenhaus in 1927 after the whole chain of Jandorf´s was sold to Hermann Tietz.

After 1933 the shop will see its name changed again. This time to HERTIE, a word created out of the first syllables of the Jewish owner´s name and surname (HERmann TIEtz). Even though that might have seemed like a positive gesture towards Tietz himself, he had to give up his position of the company´s director and pass it onto a properly “Aryan” Georg Karg of Dresdner Bank. In 1940 Karg became the owner of the whole Tietz group.

After the war the damaged building was patched up, then slightly “beautified” and continued its business as HERTIE until March 1999. Today it is home to Poko Domäne: a low-priced and rather low-quality German answer to IKEA. The new unsightly facade of the building seems to be a perfect match for that image.

But in 1928 when Willy Pragher was setting up his equipment for this long-exposure shot (see the long light marks left by a passing car to the left of the viaduct) Tietz Department Store was still one of the most elegant and popular places for shopping. With its 19th-century neo-baroque facade “up-dated” by adding new texture as well as lots and lots of electric lights, it beckoned potential shoppers from far down Friedrichstrasse, Königgratzer Strasse (Stresemannstrasse), Belle-Alliance-Strasse (Mehringdamm) and Tempelhofer Ufer.

Back in Willy Pragher´s days the bright aura above Hallesches Tor was visible from afar. No wonder he felt compelled to capture that beauty.

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