No trip to Berlin is complete without a stroll down Kurfürstendamm. Berlin’s most popular shopping boulevard is the beating heart of the western city centre.
Kurfürstendamm got its name from the prince-electors who rode along it to hunt in Grunewald, but now it’s full of Berliners and visitors on the hunt for the latest fashion and designer items or the best bargains. And that’s how Kurfürstendamm became Ku’damm.
Kurfürstendamm is Berlin’s most famous and popular shopping boulevard and is the heart of the western city centre. You’re sure to enjoy a successful shopping trip there. The 3.5-kilometre-long boulevard takes you from Breitscheidplatz and the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche to Rathenauplatz, where the Grunewald villas begin.
Breitscheidplatz is where Kurfürstendamm officially begins; before that the street is called Tauentzienstraße. This runs into Wittenbergplatz, where you will find the legendary KaDeWe – Berlin’s most famous department store, which everyone associates with Kurfürstendamm, even though, technically, it isn’t on it.
Kurfürstendamm today: shopping for everyone
The boulevard begins at bustling Breitscheidplatz. The Europa-Center on the Tauentzienstraße side is Berlin’s oldest shopping centre. The high-rise building topped with a giant Mercedes emblem houses around 70 shops, the Stachelschweine cabaret theatre and the Berlin Tourist Info centre.
Along Kurfürstendamm you pass the flagship stores of famous labels, shops of international brands and famous names, and Karstadt, another big department store. Towards Halensee from Olivaer Platz onwards, it’s less busy, and the window displays become more elegant and the shops even more exclusive. This is where you will find the boutiques of the top designers and international brands. A magnificent restoration job has been carried out on Haus Cumberland, a splendid building from the early 20th century.
Attractions on Kurfürstendamm
The most striking landmark on Kurfürstendamm is the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche on Breitscheidplatz. Behind it, an elegant new quarter has developed with the modernised Bikinihaus, the Zoo Palast cinema and the high-rise Waldorf Astoria, all of which have contributed to the revival of the western city centre.
The Ku’damm-Eck on the corner of Joachimsthaler Straße is an interesting example of contemporary architecture. At the Kranzler-Eck opposite, until it was modernised in 2000, the chairs of Café Kranzler stood outside on the pavement. Today, the red and white striped awning still decorates the rotunda of the Neues Kranzler-Eck, even if the café is currently closed.
The Theater am Kurfürstendamm and the Komödie am Kurfürstendamm are two of Berlin’s most popular boulevard theatres. Their popular plays with well-known actors are always a hit with the audience – you should go to one to top off your trip to Berlin. In the Ku’Damm Karree you will also find The Story of Berlin, a fascinating trip through the history of the city – where you can even go inside a genuine nuclear bunker. A few steps further on, the Schaubühne am Lehniner Platz regularly makes theatrical history with its gripping productions.
For Berlin’s 750th anniversary celebrations, sculptures were installed all along Ku’Damm. The intertwining sculpture Berlin on Tauentzienstraße – a famous motif from the soap opera Gute Zeiten, Schlechte Zeiten – is still a popular subject for photographs. The “Concrete Cadillacs” at Rathenauplatz are the most controversial works of art in West Berlin.
From a bridle path to a shopping boulevard
Around 1542, Elector Joachim II had a log road built from his palace in Berlin to his hunting lodge in Grunewald. The oldest document showing the existence of the unnamed bridle path was the “Plan géométral de Berlin et des environs” made in 1685 by the engineer La Vigne. Not until 1886, once the road was fully paved, could it develop into a boulevard. Its founding date is generally considered to be 5 May 1886 – the day the steam tram service from Zoologischer Garten to Halensee started.
In the 1920s, Kurfürstendamm was the centre of the new west of the city. Poets, journalists and intellectuals met at the Romanisches Café (where the Europa-Center now stands) and the Café des Westens (later known as Café Kranzler). When the city was divided, Kurfürstendamm became the heart of West Berlin and the shop window of the western world with all the latest fashions. Hildegard Knef sang of her longing for it in her hit “Heimweh nach dem Kurfürstendamm”. In those days, Berliners and tourists sat outside the famous Kranzler and Möhring cafés, wandered through the shops and department stores and danced through the night in the discos.
After reunification, Kurfürstendamm and the area around it became quieter in the evenings when the nightlife moved to the new clubs opening in the east of the city. Many established cafés and restaurants closed. Where there used to be more than 20 cinemas, only two are left: the Cinema Paris in the Centre Français and the Astor Filmlounge. But the recent revival in the City West with the new Zoo Palast and the Bikinihaus has also benefited Kurfürstendamm, which has become an increasingly elegant shopping boulevard.
It’s worth checking out the side streets between Fasanenstraße and Schlüterstraße with their Parisian flair, lined by magnificent old buildings. Fasanenstraße, Bleibtreustraße and Knesebeckstraße are full of stylish boutiques, bookshops, designer shops and cosy cafés. A walk along Uhlandstraße to Kantstraße takes you to a designer shopping area with the stilwerk design centre and many other shops selling art and furniture. The attractive Savignyplatz, with its many cafés and restaurants, is not far from here either.
Look out for the house numbers on Kurfürstendamm. You won’t find numbers 1 to 10, because they no longer exist. They were reassigned to Budapester Straße in the 1920s.