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Consumerism: Berlin Department Stores (1908)

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I once saw somewhere a caricature of the modern department store as a ventilator into whose wide-open orifice the large and the small, the old and the young, little men and little women all disappeared – whose suction power, in short, drew everyone in. The image is persuasive, even with respect to the finer side. I do not want to weigh the pros and cons. I am writing neither a national economic analysis nor a politico-economic polemic. However, I do not want it to go unsaid that, in my opinion, the big department stores of Berlin have played a large role in the transformation of the metropolis along the Spree.

At every spot where department store palaces have emerged, an exceedingly lively commerce has developed as a matter of course. Wisely cognizant of [the inherent potential of] the growing commercial traffic, specialty shops of all kinds have arisen, thereby disproving the old wives’ tale that department stores have a destructive impact on such shops. With their modern facades, they incorporate, in both form and substance, the best elements of the department stores.

To take a prime example from recent times: Tauenzien- and Kleiststrasse in the west side of Berlin, a boulevard of flirtatious teen-age girls, a stomping ground for Spreewald ladies and nannies pushing baby carriages was – only four weeks earlier – a fashionable residential street in the elegant west side.

A housing complex was bought up. Grand residential complexes that had barely been completed [suddenly] fell victim to the pickax, and in no time Kaufhaus des Westens began to rise up and spread over the capacious terrain. The metamorphosis of the entire area, which currently proceeds in leaps and bounds, dates from this exact time period. An early summer afternoon: It has become dark. Coming from the Zoologischer Garten train terminal, and just before the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtnis Church, we cross August-Viktoria-Platz along the center divide of the wide Tauenzienstrasse. A display of lights streams towards us. Right and left [there is] one store window after another, filled with masculine and feminine elegance. A polished stream of humanity flows up and down the street, laughing, flirting, gay, enjoying leisure. Strollers, idlers. Further on at Wittenbergplatz, [another] fairytale-like show of lights, sparkling treasures, reams of silks, gold brocade, bronze statuary, ostrich-feathers, store windows like jewelry boxes – [this is] the new department store. Ceaselessly, neck and neck, the people push on. The ruler calls. One cheerfully obeys.

I would like to refer to the new Leipzigerstrasse as “Tauenzienstrasse,” the Leipzigerstrasse of idle strollers. Farther up in the old western part of the city, along Potsdamerplatz, where Wertheim, Tietz, and Jandorf hold sway, is the Leipzigerstrasse of labor. There, one finds a forever rushing stream of people, little populated by idlers. Here, at the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtnis Church, by contrast – bon vivants, young people, the Berlin “new west” smart set.

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