Behind the Steel Door

The amazing history of Leipziger Straße 126a from shopping mecca to no-man's land at the Berlin Wall to the legendary techno club Tresor

By Stadtmuseum Berlin

Berliner*innen warten auf die Ankunft Kaiser Franz Josephs I. von Österreich (1900-05-04) by F. Albert SchwartzStadtmuseum Berlin

Potsdamer and Leipziger Platz   

Potsdamer Platz and Leipziger Platz have been one of the centers of Berlin since the very start of the 20th century. Many transportation lines cross here, as do native Berliners and visitors. It was a crossing point in May 1900 as well, when thousands of Berliners welcomed the arrival of Kaiser Franz Joseph I of Austria at Potsdamer Bahnhof station.

Luftaufnahme des Potsdamer Platz und des Leipziger Platz (1919) by Aero Lloyd Luftbild GmbHStadtmuseum Berlin

Potsdamer and Leipziger Platz

The characteristic shape of Leipziger Platz is also entrenched in its original name: Octagon (Oktagon). Businesses based here can never complain about a lack of walk-ins.     

Großstadtverkehr am Leipziger Platz (1928/1932) by unbekannter FotografStadtmuseum Berlin

The Heart of Bustling Berlin          

Traffic of all kinds meets at Potsdamer Platz. And with Berlin's very first traffic light being built here, it's no wonder.   

Wertheim in the Middle   

The department store company Wertheim built a new flagship store in this location: Wertheim on Leipziger Straße. The emporium became the face of the square and left its mark in Berlin which can still be seen today.

One of the Best Shopping Spots   

The department store's location on Leipziger Straße, which linked Alexanderplatz with Potsdamer Platz, was perfect.       

Blick auf den Potsdamer Platz (1914) by Max MissmannStadtmuseum Berlin

A Magnet for Customers    

This location in Berlin always had a constant flow of customers.    

From guests at Hotel Fürstenhof…      

…to travelers at Potsdamer Bahnhof station…   

…to pleasure-seekers at Haus Vaterland, a large entertainment and dining complex. 

Ansicht des Wertheim-Warenhaus vom Leipziger Platz aus (1908) by Max MissmannStadtmuseum Berlin

Wertheim Department Store      

The Wertheim emporium was located on Leipziger Straße and Leipziger Platz from 1896 to 1926.   

Luftaufnahme: Abgeordnetenhaus Berlin an der Prinz-Albrecht-Straße und seine nördliche Umgebung (1910/1920) by unbekannter FotografStadtmuseum Berlin

The Main Building   

After the fifth stage of construction was complete in 1926, the department store dominated Leipziger Straße with a storefront stretching over 780 feet wide (here at the top of the image).            

Everything Under One Roof                

This impressive building claimed to offer everything under one roof. Anything and everything was available for customers to purchase across just over 750,000 square feet of floor space.       

Blick in den Lichthof im Kaufhaus Wertheim in der Leipziger Straße, unbekannter Hersteller, 1911-01-05, From the collection of: Stadtmuseum Berlin
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Blick in den Hüteraum im Kaufhaus Wertheim in der Leipziger Straße, unbekannter Hersteller, 1911-01-22, From the collection of: Stadtmuseum Berlin
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Osterausstellung im Mittel-Lichthof im Kaufhaus Wertheim in der Leipziger Straße, unbekannter Hersteller, 1910/1920, From the collection of: Stadtmuseum Berlin
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Warenkatalog des Kaufhaus Wertheim, unbekannter Hersteller, 1910/1920, From the collection of: Stadtmuseum Berlin
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Das Schaufenster der Wertheim Bank an der Leipziger Straße (1905/1920) by unbekannter FotografOriginal Source: Wertheim Berlin Leipziger Straße / Wertheim. - Nachdr. d. Ausg. 1936. - Braunschweig : Archiv-Verl., 1986

Its Own Bank       

As well as offering countless products and product ranges, Wertheim was also a service provider. Customers could eat at restaurants, relax in lounge spaces, and even do all kinds of banking.    

Blick in den Tresorraum der Wertheim Bank an der Leipziger Straße (1905/1920) by unbekannter FotografOriginal Source: Wertheim Berlin Leipziger Straße / Wertheim. - Nachdr. d. Ausg. 1936. - Braunschweig : Archiv-Verl., 1986

Strong Room    

At the Wertheim bank, clients could open accounts and trade securities. Rentable safety deposit boxes and the strong room were specially showcased in the bank's window. 

The Aryanization of the Jewish Emporiums     

Attacks on Jewish emporiums in Berlin were already happening in the 1920s. A climax of these attacks, the results of which were widely visible, occurred on April 1, 1933 when a national call to boycott all Jewish businesses also affected Berlin's emporiums. Over the following years, each one of them was subject to boycotts and propaganda. By 1938, Berlin's traditional emporium dynasties had been Aryanized. Hermann Tietz's emporiums became Hertie, and his nephew Leonhard Tietz's emporiums became Kaufhof.      

Hakenkreuzflaggen an der Leipziger Straße (1938-04-09) by Rolf GoetzeStadtmuseum Berlin

Attempts to Adjust       

The Wertheim business was constantly threatened by Aryanization even before 1938. The family used non-Jewish managing directors through assets transfers and hoisted swastika flags voluntarily to try to save their business. 

Ansichtkarte mit einer Zeichnung des AWAG-Kaufhaus, ehemals Wertheim, am Leipziger Platz (1938/1942) by Arno KrauseStadtmuseum Berlin

From Wertheim to AWAG        

The Wertheim emporium remained open under this name on Leipziger Platz until 1938. 

Wertheim couldn't prevent this change of name, however, and the department stores were then run under the name AWAG, an acronym for Allgemeine Warenhaus Gesellschaft AG (General Department Store Corporation AG).     

Blick auf die Kriegszerstörungen an der Rückseite des Wertheim-Kaufhaus (1945/1947) by unbekannter FotografOriginal Source: Simone Ladwig-Winters (1997), Wertheim - Geschichte eines Warenhauses, Berlin: be.bra Verlag, 129.

The Legacy of the Second World War                

The emporium buildings were severely damaged by an air raid in 1944 and stood as empty ruins even after the war had ended.        

Szenen des Volksaufstandes am 17.Juni 1953 (1953-06-17) by Harry CronerStadtmuseum Berlin

A Witness to Postwar History         

When huge numbers of East German (GDR) citizens took to the streets on June 17, 1953, Leipziger Straße and Potsdamer Platz were at the center of the protest. Right next to Soviet panzer tanks stood the emporium, a silent witness.              

Blick auf das zerstörte Wertheim-Warenhaus im Jahr 1954 (1954-01-24) by Rolf GoetzeStadtmuseum Berlin

Reconstruction or Destruction   

Even though reconstruction could have theoretically taken place, the department store lay empty in 1954.

Luftbild des abgeräumten Leipziger Platz (1964-10-08) by Rolf GoetzeStadtmuseum Berlin

No Man's Land   

Instead of being reconstructed, the Wertheim building was destroyed from 1955 to 1956. When the Berlin Wall was built, Leipziger Platz lay directly on the city border and was demolished completely.  

The grass where the Wertheim once stood can clearly be recognized.

Years of Seclusion       

The Wertheim site remained trapped in time over the following decades due to being directly along the border. In photos taken from the West Berlin side, the small high-rise building with number 126a on the left side of the street can still be recognized. This high-rise building was the last remnant of the emporium. It later became the entrance to the Tresor club.         

Blick über den Potsdamer Platz in Richtung Leipziger Straße, Rolf Goetze, 1963-06-03, From the collection of: Stadtmuseum Berlin
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Blick über den Potsdamer Platz in Richtung Leipziger Straße, Rolf Goetze, 1963-09-14, From the collection of: Stadtmuseum Berlin
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Blick über den Potsdamer Platz in Richtung Leipziger Straße, Rolf Goetze, 1972-09-17, From the collection of: Stadtmuseum Berlin
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The Rediscovery  

Shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the inconspicuous building at Leipziger Straße 126a was rediscovered. Johnnie Stieler,  Achim Kohlberger, and Dimitri Hegemann stepped into the last remnant of the Wertheim department store and discovered the vaults of the former Wertheim bank in the basement. The idea for a Berlin underground club was born. The Tresor (vault) club opened the very next year in March 1991.        

Techno in Berlin

The Tresor fast became one of the best known techno clubs in Berlin and also worldwide. Countless famous DJs and thick dry fog were the main reason for its legendary status, but there was another reason: its preserved features, like the metal bars, safety deposit boxes, and Wertheim vault door. 

Die Fuckparade im Jahr 2005 führt auch über die Leipziger Straße. Eine Gelegenheit für viele Teilnehmer, sich an der Baugrube persönlich vom Tresor zu verabschieden. (2005) by Marco Microbi/Photophunk.comStadtmuseum Berlin

The End of the Club      

On April 16, 2005, the last ever party was held in Tresor on Leipziger Straße. The club was temporarily hosted in other locations for a time before moving into the thermal power station on Köpenicker Straße in 2007.       

Fassadenschmuck vom Kaufhaus Wertheim in der Leipziger Straße (1912/1913) by unbekannter KünstlerStadtmuseum Berlin

The End of the Building     

The building at Leipziger Straße 126a was torn down in May 2005 to make way for new apartment complexes. Some items were successfully saved at the last minute, such as these spoils from the front face of the Wertheim emporium.        

The Tresor in 2021

The demolition of the building on Leipziger Straße is not the end of the Tresor. The club lives on in Berlin and the world. The Tresor door will be on display in the BERLIN GLOBAL exhibition at the Humboldt Forum in 2021.

Take a look at the 3D scan of the original door here.

Credits: Story

Simone Ladwig-Winters (1997), Wertheim - Geschichte eines Warenhauses, Berlin: be.bra Verlag.

Neckelmann, Harald (2009), Die Leipziger Straße in Berlin - Wertheim, Concerthaus, Manufakturen, Erfurt: Sutton Verlag.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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