The unglamourous end of Kurfürstendamm
by Aleksandra Potapczuk / translation by Max Bach
The Halensee station lies at Kurfürstendamm's rear, near the Grunewald villa colony built during nineteenth-century industrial growth. On the train platform there is scant indication of the neighboring hot property – a postmodern pedestrian bridge leads to the bleak Henriettenplatz. The station's entrance building, left in ruins after WWII, was rebuilt around 1960 only to be demolished in 1993 to make way for a large shopping center that also serves as access to the train platforms. Along with the already constructed office buildings, the new building was meant to represent an expansion of "City West," the project to develop the area into a main shopping and business center. But since financial conditions ended up favoring East Berlin, investors' plans went down the drain. Today many office buildings and storefronts stand empty; the train station itself received a provisional restoration.
Henriettenplatz is furnished with a fountain and large kitschy sculptures. A few paces up Ku'damm is more public art: On Rathenauplatz, above an underground section of the freeway, stands Wolf Vostell's "Two Concrete Cadillacs in the Form of Naked Maja." Many residents were so incensed by the artist's contribution for Berlin's 750-year anniversary, that they spent a year trying to get it torn down.
West of Rathenauplatz lies Halensee, at the beginning of last century one of the city's favorite getaways. On its east bank sat Europe's then-largest amusement park: Opened in 1904, Lunapark enticed the public with attractions like the "Shimmy Steps" and the "Devil's Wheel," waterslides and a wave pool, exotic cultures to gawk at, concerts and fireworks. Yet by 1933 the park was failing economically, and the Nazis considered it the epitome of decadent "Kurfürstendamm-Kultur," so they quickly tore the place down – old postcards are the only reminders of the past spectacle. Today residential buildings surround the lake and the beach is deserted due to unpleasant bacteria in the water. An elaborate filtration plant is meant to make swimming possible once again in the near future.
The history of the nearby Grunewald villa quarter goes back to William von Carstenn, whose real estate companies also developed Lichterfelde Ost, Lichterfelde West, Friedenau and large portions of Wilmersdorf. The businessman from Hamburg was drawn to Berlin around 1865 due to the cheap land, and began to build up districts of villas complete with full infrastructure, independent of the city's official development plan. Von Carstenn is thus considered to be the originator of private city planning in Berlin. His grand vision included expanding the capital to encompass Postdam, in effect creating a "Great Berlin" with Grunewald as its Central Park. It was also his idea to expand Kurfürstendamm into a wide traffic artery, connecting the city to the newly built villa districts in the southwest. Constructed in the middle of the sixteenth century between the royal residence in Berlin and the hunting lodge in Grunewald, "Churfürsten Damm" through the years had become a simple country road. With Minister-President Bismarck's encouragement, the realization of a prestigious boulevard modeled after the Champs Elysée began in 1875 (although its 53-meter width was only half that of its model). In no time at all it was a popular destination for locals and visitors. Heavily destroyed in WWII, it was reconstructed soon thereafter to fulfill its original intention as the "Showcase of the West." Up until the fall of the wall it constituted the social center of West Berlin; but after 1989 the historical city center in the former East garnered more attention.
Ku'damm is still, as ever, one of the most famous and priciest spots in Berlin although its character changes drastically along its 3.5 kilometer stretch: from tourist shops at Breitscheidplatz past the glossiness of luxury shopping to the modest ambience of the arterial road at the Halensee Ringbahn station. In a way, its tracks symbolize the city's edge. An unfamiliar view of a West Berlin institution reveals itself here at the end of Kurfürstendamm. The perceived outskirts of the city open up a new horizon – and Grunewald waits just beyond.