City West is booming again. The surroundings of Tauentzienstrasse – and its extension Kurfürstendamm – are having a 3rd rebirth. The area started developing in the Wilhelmine era, when it was not yet part of Berlin, after the construction of the train station at the Zoological Garden, which helped Berlin expand its boundaries to the west. It was conceived as a commercial and entertainment center of the German Empire’s capital, in addition to the historical centre in Mitte. It was led by the Kurfürstendamm transformation into a boulevard and the opening of the now centenarians department store KaDeWe and the Theater des Westens, two of the most emblematic constructions of that time.
During the Weimar Republic, the area was incorporated to Berlin and was synonymous of the decadent luxury of the Golden Twenties.
After the bombardments during the Second World War, the center of West Berlin lived its second life and it was considered as a window of the progress and the “economic miracle” of West Germany in the 1960s. From 1961 to 1989, when the city was divided by the Wall, the area was developed to be the counterpart to the old town center in the district of Mitte, belonging to East Berlin.
The following days after the fall of the Wall – and the reunification of Germany – made urban developers and investors put their money to rebuild former East Berlin areas. People lost interest in the “City West” and only West Berliners continued to hang out in the area. But in the 2010’s, the area started living another transformation. New high-rise buildings and the renovation of Bikinihaus, converted into a commercial center and a hotel, turned the zone attractive again – and not only for tourists. Many people living in the former East Berlin neighborhoods, like Mitte, Prenzlauer Berg or Friedrichshain, started exploring City West, rediscovering classic addresses and brand new hip boutiques.
It is interesting to observe that the area is reinventing itself every 50 years, reflecting all the transformations of Berlin’s landscape.
Not only the heart of the former West Berlin, City West is also one of the main shopping areas in Berlin, along with Alexanderplatz, Friedrichstrasse and Potsdamer Platz. And it is the address of landmarks of great historical and cultural significance. The area is filled with accommodation and entertainment options, in addition to art spaces and modern architecture sights.
The so called City West is not an official urban area with a clearly defined border. We consider City West the surroundings areas between Wittenbergplatz (with a farmers market on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays) and Savignyplatz, alongside Tauentzientrasse and Kurfürstendamm. Thus, Breitscheidplatz is the heart of City West, home to a touristy and yet lively Christmas market.
Kurfürstendamm (also known as Ku’damm) is the boulevard for luxury shopping – or just window-shopping. From Joachimsthaler Platz to Adenauerplatz, passing by Fasanenstrasse, you will find the most famous and expensive shops. In the other hand, Tauentzientrasse and the beginning of Ku’damm, until Uhlandstrasse, are the address of German and international brands of high street fashion.
To help you explore all the “good old West” offers, we divided its places of interest in attractions and architectural sights, culture, shopping and food.
Attractions and architectural sights:
The Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church (Kaiser-Wilhelm Gedächtnis-Kirche) is the most famous example of the period of reconstruction following the Second World War. Located on Breitscheidplatz, its ruins were preserved as a memorial to the war. It was supplemented by new post modernist buildings, chapel and bell tower. Mosaics from the ruined church, together with the new constructions, show the differences between old and new and attest the horrors of the war.
The commercial and shopping complex Europa Center, was the ultimate sixties hip spot with its funky interiors. That’s how a shopping mall used to look like in the 1960’s!
Reopened in 2015, Bikini Berlin is the trendy answer to Europa Center and it is one of many venues that have contributed to the revival of the area. The 1950’s building was turned into a “concept mall”, with pop-up shops and focus on local brands and designers. The building is also the address of a hotel and, from its top floor, there is an amazing view of the Zoo, where the Monkey Bar of the restaurant Neni are located.
KaDeWe (Kaufhaus des Westens) is the largest department store in Europe, with a great selection of German and international brands. Don’t miss a visit to the food and restaurants area on the 6th floor. There you will find specialities from all over the world. It is also a nice pick for a Saturday brunch, followed by an afternoon of shopping. Recently, a few successful restaurants are opening outposts on the 6th floor, like our favorites Pignut and Mogg.
On the edge of Breitscheidplatz, two new high-rise buildings have given a 2010’s flair to City West. The Zoofenster (“window to the Zoo”) is occupied by the Waldorf Astoria hotel and the Upper West (Atlas Tower), with its curvy façade, is one of the addresses of the hotel chain Motel One in Berlin. Together, both 119-meter high skyscrapers have 33 floors and are some of the tallest buildings of the German capital.
On the 33rd floor of the Upper West tower, there is a skybar, with a stunning view of Berlin!
The Zoo Berlin has the widest range of species in the world and is Germany’s oldest zoological garden. With almost 20,000 animals of around 1,400 species, it is also home of the recently arrived Panda bears!
Part of the Zoo, the Aquarium is located in an historical building. It is the largest aquarium in Germany and houses an amazing variety of fish, crocodiles and insects. It is for sure one of the activities to do with children on a rainy day.
The Banhof Zoo, or the Zoologischer Garten train station, was (in)famous in the 1970’s for being a meeting point for drug addicts and prostitutes. The book “Wir Kinder vom Bahnhof Zoo” (“We Children from Bahnhof Zoo”) by Christiane F., followed by the movie “Christiane F. (whose soundtrack was signed by David Bowie) made the train station known worldwide, showing the drug, prostitution and crime scene of West Berlin.
These days are over now. But you can still find a bit of that atmosphere under the rail tracks on Hardenbergstrasse in a foggy winter day.
Savignyplatz is a small park split by Kantstrasse. The surroundings of the square have a certain Parisian vibe, with cafés and its wide terraces. It is perfect for people watching during the summer.
Located also on Savignyplatz, C. Adolph Eisenwaren is a journey back to the past. This traditional ironware shop was founded in 1898 and is a place where you will find that missing screw on the vintage rack you bargained for in one of the Berliner fleamarkets!
Don’t miss the neon lights installation under the rail tracks on Bleibtreustrasse. The changing colors and the trains passing by create a very special environment and it is a delight when the sun goes down!
The Ludwig Erhard Haus is a convention center. Known as Armadillo and conceived by Nicholas Grimshaw, the structure is made by steel and glass. It is pure futuristic design, à la Jetsons.
Architecture lovers will also be amazed by the façade of the Ellington Hotel. It is one of the most impressive Art Deco façades in Berlin!
The Pan Am Lounge once served as a private gathering spot for flight attendants and pilots who worked for the Pan American World Airways. The setting is stunning, with original furniture of the time and a panoramic views. It is definitely a deep dive into the Cold War era!
City West has a wide range of art options. From the renovated movie theaters Zoo Palast and Delphi Lux, to the independent venues like Astor Film Lounge, Filmkunst 66 and the Cinema Paris, part of the Maison de France, to historical theaters like the Theater des Westens, that hosts musical productions. There is always something to quench your “art thurst” in City West!
Two of the most important photography exhibition spaces in Berlin are located in City West. The Museum für Photographie also houses the Helmut Newton Foundation and showcases a lot of his works as well as curated temporary exhibitions. C/O Berlin is located in the Amerika Haus, a vibrant modernist building and mixes temporary exhibitions from debuting and established photographers.
The photogallery Camera Work (that also has an address in Mitte) and the contemporary art gallery CFA definitely are worth a visit. Galerie Max Hetzler is another “Mitte-style” gallery, situated at the end of a backyard.
On Fasanenstrasse you will find a plethora of art spaces. Galerie Buchholz is dedicated to international contemporary art and represents artists like Wolfgang Tillmans and Anne Imhof. More contemporary art can be found at the siblings venues 68projects and Galerie Kornfeld.
Alte Asiastische Kunst Günter Venzke is the address for Asian art appreciators and Grisenbach is an auction house, where you have the opportunity to admire fine art before they get snatched by some private collector…
The Käthe Kollwitz Museum houses the largest collection of the famous German artist and it is located in a beautiful late-1800 villa. The small museum showcases drawings, paintings, posters and sculptures of the socially-engaged artist. The villa is part of the “Wintergartenensemble”, the beautiful Wilhelminian houses that also include the Gisenbach auction house, the peaceful Literaturhaus and the Café Wintergarten, which is perfect for an old style Kaffee-Kuchen combo or a lavish breakfast.
If the options above are not enough to indulge the “artivores”, the Hegenbarth Sammlung Berlin showcases the private collection of Josef Hegenbarth and the Kienzle Art Foundation is dedicated to contemporary artists’ exhibits.
And finally, for a more – let’s say – mainstream art experience, The Story of Berlin is a multimedia museum documenting Berlin’s history. There is also an underground bunker with capacity for more than 3,000 people that can be visited on a tour.
The main shopping areas of the City West are the boulevard formed by Ku’damm and Tauentzientrasse, with all the German and international flagship stores, the department store KaDeWe and the “concept mall” Bikini Berlin.
Stilwerk is a furniture and design mall on Kantstrasse, with more than 52 stores selling 400 brands in 5 floors. Go up to the top floor and enjoy the amazing view!
Book worms will be delighted by the selection of classics of the German and English literature at the Marga Schoeller Bücherstube, the oldest independent bookstore in Berlin. On Savignyplatz there are two additional lovely bookshops, both underneath the rail tracks: Bücherbogen and autorenbuchhanlungberlin, with a nice choice of cook books and fine stationary.
The food scene in the City West is as diverse as Berlin is! From currywurst joints to upscale restaurants, there is always a pleasant option to take the edge off your appetite!
Schwarzes Café and Paris Bar are two institutions on Kantstrasse. Schwarzes Café is one of the few 24-hour places in Berlin, serving an eclectic menu, and Paris Bar is a French bistro, beloved, since the 1960’s, by bohemians always craving for “steak frites”!
Diener Tattersall is a Kneipe, serving traditional German food like Schnitzel and Spätzle. Alt-Berliner-Biersalon is another food-landmark on Ku’damm. For more than 100 years, the restaurant has provided delicious German comfort food.
Some of the upscale food options are Brasserie Colette, headed by the starred chef Tim Raue, the stylish restaurant Heising, serving French haute-cuisine and the restaurant of the Hotel am Steinplatz.
Perhaps the most famous food scene in City West is the Asian food restaurants of Kanstrasse. Along this street that runs across Savignyplatz, you can find great Chinese (Good Friends and Selig), Thai (Papaya), Taiwanese (Lon Men Noodle House), Vietnamese (Madame Ngo) and Japanese (893 Ryotei) options. Right by 893 Ryotei you can find Funky Fisch, the newcomer on the block serving some yummie fish dishes in a casual atmosphere.
Carnivores will be thrilled by the burgers of The Butcher, that can be gobbled in a somewhat casual atmosphere.
Coffee roasteries are not only found in converted pharmacies or small warehouses in Mitte or Kreuzberg. The Berliner Kafferösterei roasts selected coffee beans and has a delicious offer of German cakes!
Finally, if you still have doubts about how “cool” West Berlin is becoming, the coffee-makers of The Barn took over the emblematic Café Kranzler, giving a breath of fresh air to the 1950’s traditional red and white canopy, a truly landmark of City West!
*Article written by Domingos Lepores and edited by Tulio Edreira.