There are 67 shopping malls in Berlin — far too many, says columnist Gero Schliess. To him, these buildings are symbols of artificial consumption that are ruining Berlin's character. His cry: Stop the mall madness!
A shopping heaven? Or hell? For me, there's no question!
These fashionable shopping malls are supposedly a catalyst for consumption. Stimulating, inspiring, output-enhancing. That only turns me off.
To me, these are just artificial worlds of consumption. You couldn't get me into a shopping mall if you tried. Only in absolute exceptions. The only person who could lure me into one of these sterile monsters is my friend, who likes to shop there as though his life depends upon it.
Or else in an emergency, like when Christmas is nearing and I have little time to make many purchases. Otherwise, I give those places a wide berth.
But in Berlin, that's getting harder and harder. There are now 67 of these real space eaters. Of the 4.4 million square meters of retail space in Berlin, one in three is part of these "shopping paradises," at least that's the horrifying statistic available in the current urban development plan.
Of course I know that even people in Berlin have to shop. But why in these unimaginative parts? Many have the charm of a dresser drawer, with masses of non-designed areas, which are carelessly planned and built according to the same pattern.
Take for instance the Schönhauser Allee Arcades in the middle of Prenzlauer Berg, where shops are lined up on several floors, centered around a sort of atrium. Grocery stores are squeezed into the basement.
On Ku'damm or along Friedrichstrasse, there are finer versions of it, prepped up with marble and chrome. But that does not change anything.
For me, it is a dead space — clinical, extraterritorial, removed from Berlin and its city life.
Where is Berlin's flair?
They are known as arcades, centers or in new-German, "Karree." The concept is as simple as the name they've been given. It is always the same mix of clothing stores, restaurants, supermarkets or gourmet shops.
A mall like this can be found anywhere. I don't know of any in Berlin that has its own unique flair — just the KaDeWe but that isn't even a shopping mall, just a department store.
Oh, there is one laudable exception for me, but it is far away — in the US. The Shops at Columbus Circle are located at one of Manhattan's most beautiful squares. As elegant as the Circle itself is the mall's architecture. The shops, too. The view from the bar on the first floor looking out onto the pulsating Columbus Circle, Central Park and the New York sunset is unforgettable.
Is there anything similar in Berlin? The Mall of Berlin (top picture), which opened in 2014 in Berlin-Mitte, makes an effort. From the covered piazza, there is a view of the representative column facade of the former Prussian House of Lords, which is today the seat of the Federal Council of Germany, where the states are represented.
But the older the mall, the less attractive it is. The first Berlin mall is one of the ugliest: the Europa-Center from 1965 in the fine west of Berlin. On the outside is a dark, repellent façade; the inside is functional and soulless. A date for its tear-down is not yet known.
There is no Ku'damm mall
In Berlin, plans for new malls continue to be discussed. But thank God: a spectacular shopping project on the fashionable Kurfürstendamm avenue, colloquially known as Ku'damm, has once again been rejected.
Just a few months ago, plans were in the works for a particular Mall of Ku'damm to be created, where already 200 stores and restaurants have made the heart of retail beat faster. The excitement was premature.
No official reason has been given for the rejection of the proposal. Until now, there seems to have been one approach to the city's plans to accommodate the nearly 50,000 new residents of Berlin and hundreds of thousands of visitors and that was: There can never be too much room to shop. Yet this rejection could indicate a thirst has been quenched. Finally, more and more people have had enough of the boring malls.
That sounds a bit like Christmas has come early for me and many Berliners who fear for their neighborhoods and their characters to be overrun by these interchangeable glass-walled bubbles. For those of us who are afraid for the survival of our unique shops and boutiques on traditional shopping streets.
From now on, I also plan to enjoy them with a bit more consideration. Because what is more beautiful than to stroll down Ku'damm, along Schlossstrasse or around the Hackeschen Markt quarter? Those places are, for me, the true shopping paradises — and not only at Christmas time.