Everything You Never Knew You Wanted to Know About Berlin
Warenhaus Tietz in Leipziger Straße 46-49 opened on September 26, 1900 (exactly 117 years ago) as the first Tietz department store in Berlin.
Designed by the architect bureau of Lachmann & Zauber, with an incredible, glass facade created by Bernhard Sehring (the architect of Berlin´s Museuminsel, for which he won the 1881 Schinkelpreis, as well as of the Theater des Westens in Kantstraße), it was an oversized gauntlet thrown to Tietz´s biggest competitor, Wertheim, whose largely successful and then biggest department store in Europe stood at the other end of the street, at Leipziger Platz.
Soon the conflict between the two stores escalated and took on what can be described as a comical dimension: it was all about the globe. Both companies used a globe as the symbol of their commercial success and both chose to install one on top of their building right over the entrance. However, quite understandably, soon both sought to win an exclusive right to the said globe as their symbol. Berlin press as well as the readers had splendid time following the developments in the case. The gossip war raging simultaneously in the streets (an undoubtedly fired on by the agents of both sides of the conflict) provided them with no less amusement.
Eventually, the judge made what can only be described as Salomon´s judgement: the globe is a symbol of no trademark, he announced, and as such it belongs to the People. And if the People – regardless of whether those be Herr Tietz or Herr Wertheim or any other person or company – should choose to employ it, so be it. Their competition must live with the fact.
Oscar Tietz, the founder of the first Tietz Department Store in Germany´s capital (Hermann Tietz, his uncle was the store´s main investor but was not involved in its running) accepted the decision with glee. The giant illuminated globe crowning the front of his building in Leipziger Straße was an essential part of the design created by Bernhard Sehring.
The “Curtain-Wall” facade he created – 26-metre wide and 17-metre high glass walls within a stone framework – had a lavishly decorated (some said, over-decorated) middle section, the main entrance, dividing them. In the evening, with street illumination on, the front of Warenhaus Tietz kept glistening and glowing with reflected light. It might be worth mentioning that many different reasons (too complex to divulge all of them now) Sehring´s design met with rather cold reception from most Berlin architecture critics. In any case, it actually remained the only example of Curtain-Wall in the city.
Sadly, we will not be able to make our own mind as to the front facade´s aesthetic value: Berlin´s first Warenhaus Tietz did not make it past the Second World War: the building was almost completely destroyed in the 1944 air raids. The ruins, still visible on a 1953 aerial photo of the area, were removed to make room for the high-rise residential estate constructed by East Berlin authorities at the city´s southern border and in the direct vicinity of the Berlin Wall. Currently, its site is occupied by, among others, a discounter supermarket chain, Lidl.
If you are interested in learning more about Berlin´s past and about the lesser-known facts from the city´s history, you might enjoy reading my “Berlin Companion” – now also available as an e-book. Part Two, “Kreuzberged – Berlin Companion” will be published soon!