What is the degree of hatred of the superlatives

100 years of KaDeWe

Thursday, May 20th, 2021

The history of a Berlin institution

By Franz Michael Rohm

There are 34,000 different edible items in the gourmet section. (Stock.XCHNG / Janis Lanka)

The KaDeWe - three syllables with sound - is considered a house of superlatives. Only Harrods in London surpasses the size of this consumer palace in Europe. The gourmet floor is particularly popular with tourists and locals. The hundred-year history of the luxury department store also reflects the eventful history of the city.

If you enter the Kaufhaus des Westens from Tauentzienstrasse, you switch to another world. It's the world of consumption and the world of dreams.
It's called: KaDeWe. Three syllables that have a sound, arouse memories and release emotions.

Customer: "I usually go to my 6th meal here for a nice shrimp cocktail. Drink some wine and buy something on the side. It's nice. I think our KaDeWe is great."

Exactly a hundred years ago today, on March 27, 1907, the Kaufhaus des Westens opened its doors. Since then, tens of thousands of customers and visitors have flocked through the five entrances every day. The whole world meets here for the 100th birthday.

Nils Busch-Petersen: "For Berlin, the KaDeWe is the marketplace that exemplarily reflects the history of the city, the social classes of the city, through all the epochs of its hundred-year history."

Nils Busch-Petersen is the managing director of the Berlin-Brandenburg Trade Association and co-speaker of a book that is being published by the renowned Berlin-based Nicolai publishing house on the occasion of the 100th birthday of KaDeWe.

At the beginning of the 20th century, Berlin was one of the fastest growing metropolises in Europe. The first department stores by Karstadt, Wertheim, Tietz - and by Adolf Jandorf - were built in the center of the city. In contrast to his competitors, the merchant from Württemberg had so far mainly made his money with cheap department stores in working-class districts such as Kreuzberg and Wedding. Now he dreamed of the most luxurious department store in Germany.

Nils Busch-Petersen: "With the KaDeWe, the development of the west of Berlin really begins ... In the then not yet merged city, in Schöneberg, to build a large department store, and not to do it in the classic center, on Leipziger Strasse Where one department store stood next to another, not even in the densely populated quarters of Wedding, Prenzlauer Berg, Friedrichshain, that was a very courageous decision. "

"I decide what the location is," Jandorf is said to have said defiantly when the competition ridiculed him for his plans for a luxury department store outside the city limits. He was advised that instead of KaDeWe he should rather call it "Jot we de", the abbreviation for the Berlin word "Janz far outside". Jandorf did not care and relied on the wealthy strata of the population who moved to the New West and on local public transport.

Gaby Reynolds, house manager: "The underground, which has been around since 1902, Wittenbergplatz underground station, and that ensured the frequency of the affluent population and of Berliners as a whole."

Gaby Reynolds, a discreetly dressed woman with blonde hair, is one of six leaders in the Department Store of the West. Several times a week she leads tour groups through the KaDeWe. The one-hour tour begins on the ground floor and leads up to the most famous floor of the department store, the gourmet department on the sixth floor.

Gaby Reynolds: "The house has been a house of superlatives since it was founded. Especially when it comes to the display of goods. You can find everything here, from model dresses to saucepans, in top quality. And this vision has been maintained into the 21st century . We are still a house of superlatives. "

The superlatives of the KaDeWe are in sober numbers: More than 40,000 customers on a regular weekday, Friday and Saturday around 60,000. Before Christmas and Easter, up to 100,000 people crowd the seven floors of the largest consumer palace on the continent - only Harrod’s in London is bigger.

After several renovations, the sales area, which has been expanded to 60,000 square meters, houses around 400,000 different items - it's hard to imagine.
The best-selling is presented by department head Alexander Frank:

"The KaDeWe articles, KaDeWe own brands ... are very popular with tourists.
For example, we have a mustard bear, the KaDeWe mustard bear, which runs very hard. That's a mustard bear, a curry bear, and a ketchup and mayonnaise bear. "

The 250 gram jar costs 6 euros 98. Another reason for many critics to describe the KaDeWe as a consumption palace where you can get everything - but with a 50 percent surcharge. By the way, cheaper souvenirs are the fabric shopping bags for 1 Euro 50 each, which are very popular with men because of the subtle black and blue design.

Visitor: "Because I just got a call from Minden, where we come from, and they say: If you are at the KaDeWe, please bring me five bags of these black ones. They are in great demand."

Busch-Petersen: "The twenties began with this horrific inflation. It was also a catastrophic situation for the department stores. With the coming stabilization of the currency and the beginning upswing, which is a bit associated with the Roaring Twenties, it was also the case Department stores suddenly better. So far Jandorf has acted very cleverly and rationally, because he sold his stores at the height of development. "

Adolf Jandorf sold his department stores, including KaDeWe, to Oscar Tietz's sons, who owned the largest family-owned German department store group. They were Germans of the Jewish faith. Nils Busch-Petersen has dedicated a separate chapter in the KaDeWe book to the history of KaDeWe during the Nazi era.

Busch-Petersen: "This Jewish company in particular was always a particular point of hatred by the Nazis."

When the Tietz department store group got into trouble in 1933 as a result of the global economic crisis, there were two options: restructuring or liquidation. Although they originally advocated breaking up the department stores, the Nazis made a different decision.

Busch-Petersen: "So the decision was made here to reorganize. But not a Jewish company. Phase 1 came about. Not only at Tietz, but later at all companies that were Aryanized, ensuring a so-called" Aryan overweight in the management of the company "."

The next measures followed after a year.

Busch-Petersen: "So we are in the next two steps of Aryanization. The owner is displaced and then, as a rule, there are the stages of" name change "and" dismissal of all Jewish employees "."

A dark chapter that Berlin's Governing Mayor Klaus Wowereit also addressed at the celebration of the 100th birthday of KaDeWe.

Wowereit: "A lot has happened in Berlin in a hundred years. Even with the KaDeWe, not only brilliant times, if you think of the Nazi era, many people here became unemployed just because they were of Jewish faith, were deported and killed one must not forget that. "

Georg Karg, the new Aryan managing director, who had learned and made a career with KaDeWe founder Jandorf, seized the opportunity and was soon the sole owner of the new Hertie department store group. In December 1943 the department store came to a temporary end: during a bombing raid, an Allied plane crashed into the atrium and the KaDeWe burned down completely.

When the war was over and the property and compensation issue had to be clarified, Georg Karg and the Tietz family reached an out-of-court settlement.

Customer: "I usually go to my 6th meal here for a nice shrimp cocktail. Drink some wine and buy something on the side. It's nice. I think our KaDeWe is great."

G. Reynolds: "We are also the third most popular tourist attraction in Berlin. First everyone visits the Reichstag and the Brandenburg Gate, and no tourist misses a visit to the 6th floor in the KaDeWe."

That is the goal of most KaDeWe visitors. House manager Gaby Reynolds has now reached the sixth floor with her group. The offer is simply overwhelming.

Gaby Reynolds: "Here is the highlight of the house, the delicatessen department. This is the largest delicatessen department in Europe. Here we have around 7,000 square meters of sales area and show around 34,000 different edible items."

G. Reynolds: "The KaDeWe has its own agent in Rungis, which is the largest fresh market. Twice a week a truck with the fresh products comes from Rungis and delivers the fresh goods to the KaDeWe."

Norbert Könnecke has been the master of the delicacies for almost 20 years. The graying late fifties from Rhineland-Palatinate is noticeably proud of the gourmet floor:

"We offer 1200 different sausage and ham specialties. Germany is the number 1 sausage country. We have 3400 different wines and 1300 different cheese specialties and over 400 different types of bread and rolls. .. Our range is leading in Europe. We don't need a comparison to shy away from. "

Exotic fruit seller: "This is durian, for example. That is very special. That is called stink fruit because when it is ripe it stinks. But the taste, pineapple and vanilla. And that is jackfruit, typically Asian, African, but it is If it is unripe, it is vegetables, if it is ripe, it is fruit. "

Norbert Könnecke leads us to one of his favorite places:

"The fresh fish area represents a competence area for the gourmet floor. We have modernized and redesigned the fish area, on 400 square meters we offer up to 120 different types of fresh fish during the season. Smoked fish, live fish. We are trying to eliminate the middleman and import on the coast, in Scotland, or in Asia. In order to increase the freshness of the fish significantly. The time from catch to the counter at KaDeWe is only one to two days. "

One of the heart chambers of the KaDeWe beats directly opposite the fish department: the oyster bar. Regulars and tourists sip freshly opened oysters at the curved bar. Horst Reinwald has been Master of Ceremonies for 23 years. For the native of Franconia, there is always a party atmosphere at the oyster bar:

"Above all, all the people who are here almost always have Sunday faces. It's something very special, maybe better than at other stands. It's a completely different audience. Nice atmosphere. People want to relax, want to relax."

Oyster bar guest: "Eat delicious oysters, drink great champagne, super great service here. Competent and in a good mood. It's really fun to be here."

With 33 other gourmet stalls and over a thousand seats, the gourmet floor also houses Berlin's largest restaurant. A quarter of the approximately 2,000 employees work on the sixth floor.

For the reopening of the first two floors of the KaDeWe in June 1950, more than 150,000 people flocked to Tauentzienstrasse.

Busch-Petersen: "First of all, KaDeWe 1950 stands for the will to build up, I still think of all people in Berlin, the sectors and Germany. Well, this bit of legend that has done something with emergency sales here and there in different places back at the old place. It has something of the will to go on living. "

Irene Gießmann worked in the sausage department in the early 1950s:

"People ate a lot, bought a lot of goods. That didn't work in slices, but mostly in pieces. Because they were all starved. And KaDeWe was already a magnet. We were under construction at the time, and it came down to it, we were trained to address the audience appropriately nicely. We addressed our people with "Madam" and "Please, what will the Lord get?" It was a great courtesy asked.

After the construction of the Berlin Wall, the fame of the KaDeWe increased: dubbed the shop window of the West, it was considered living proof of the superiority of the market economy over the planned economy.

Busch-Petersen: "Also broadcast in reports from returning travelers, business travelers as well as pensioners, when they returned home to East Germany, to the GDR, of course KaDeWe always played a role. I also remember as Pankower I am, that with a certain malice you heard one or the other message about which relatives were caught stealing by which GDR bigwigs. There was then a bit of malicious glee. "

G. Reynolds: "In the 1970s, parts of the KaDeWe were already renovated, smaller conversions were carried out. Overall, the sales area was expanded from around 24,000 square meters to 44,000. A major renovation also took place in the 1990s. (... ) After the reunification, there was the biggest rush of customers in the history of the house. Renovation began in 1991. 464 million marks were invested back then. Over five years. Karstadt-Quelle bought Hertie in 1994. And so we are now the flagship from the Karstadt Group. "

Just in time for its 100th birthday, the department store is considered to be well-styled for the next few years and brought up to date with a sales-promoting atmosphere.

G. Reynolds: "As you can see here, the color scheme for the next ten years is light, white, light gray, black, extremely bright light. Very straight lines, no playful details. You have the luxury boulevard, especially with the renovation last year Here on the ground floor, top brands like Louis Vuitton, Dior, Chanel, Gucci line up like a string of pearls, and that continues in the jewelry area via Bulgari, Cartier, Omega. The customer who walks into the house takes this feeling of luxury with them. (...) The customer becomes interesting for KaDeWe around the age of 35 or 40. Because that is the first time he wants to own brands and, above all, has the money to buy brands. "

Brands play the most important role in the modern department store business. They are a coveted status symbol for customers and department store operators appreciate brands because of their high profit margins. KaDeWe managing director Patrice Wagner had already developed his concept of increasingly relying on brands at the Berlin KaDeWe competition Galeries Lafayette on Friedrichstrasse before he moved to the top of KaDeWe at the age of just 35.

Patrice Wagner: "There are certain brands that are important, that we also have to lead ... Hence, the luxury positioning ... simply has to do with this society that is now developing like this. This globalization, where we, Whether we like it or not: either we go in the direction of mass market, i.e. commercial positioning. And because of the size of this house, the positioning of this house, because of the rent we have to pay, the topic of discount and mass market does not come into play Question. That is why we have decided on a significantly higher positioning. This now confirms our customers and our sales development. "

Dynamically styled with a short haircut, designer glasses and a tightly cut suit, Patrice Wagner has detoxified and reinvented KaDeWe in recent years. For KaDeWe boss Wagner it is now about:

"... to stabilize success. But then also to keep developing. Because trade is change. If we stop developing at some point, then at some point we will get bored. The customer punishes us by not coming to us anymore no longer visited. "

How important the right timing is for marketing campaigns was demonstrated by Wagner when planning the dates for the centenary celebrations for the 100th anniversary. They began four weeks before the actual birthday date.

"... Because I think that a 1 goes better with 100. There is also a 1 in 100, 100 times 1, and that's why we said that March 1st might be a nice start."

And so they celebrated on March 1st in the KaDeWe with Prosecco and tartlets for the people. Together with Berlin's Governing Mayor Klaus Wowereit and Karstadt department store manager Peter Wolf, Patrice Wagner cut the huge birthday cake, a superlative treat: six meters fifty high and 1.3 tonnes in weight.

Wowereit: "If KaDeWe is doing well, Berlin is doing well too."

Customer: "I usually go to my 6th meal here for a nice shrimp cocktail. Drink some wine and buy something on the side. It's nice. I think our KaDeWe is great."

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