The Tiergarten district
The Tiergarten district, located west of Potsdamer Platz between the Tiergartenstrasse promenade and the Landwehr Canal, was incorporated into Berlin in 1841 as the “lower Friedrichsvorstadt”. The transformation of the Tiergarten into an English landscape garden from 1833-1840, the construction of St. Matthew’s Church from 1843-1846, and the construction of the Landwehr Canal from 1845-1850 set the framework and fixed points for the rapid structural development of the quiet suburb. In the further course of the 19th century, it became the preferred residence of upper-class bankers, industrialists, and merchants, as well as high officials, scholars, and artists. The small-scale parceling of the district and the given building line led to the predominant development of stately tenements with only a few apartments. In order to meet the demands of the noble clientele and to justify high rents, the detached tenements got rear gardens and were equipped with decorative forms of picturesque villa construction. During the German Empire, the district was called the “Geheimratsviertel” (Privy Councilor’s Quarter) and was considered the most prestigious residential area in Berlin. It remained so only for a few decades. With the beginning of the 20th century, the process of structural densification and functional transformation into a business, official and embassy district began. “Aryanizations” and expropriations under National Socialism and the bombing war put an abrupt end to the district. It became part of the memory of the lost old Berlin. Today, only St. Matthew’s Church and Villa Parey, which is integrated into the structure of the Gemäldegalerie (Old Master Paintings), still bear witness to the former buildings in the Tiergarten district.
The Kaiser-Platane stands somewhat forlornly on the hard shoulder of Potsdamer Strasse at the junction with Scharoun Strasse. It is said that it was planted around 1858 on the occasion of the wedding of the later Emperor Frederick III and his wife, the British Princess Victoria. At that time, the Tiergarten district was under construction and the newly laid Viktoriastrasse and Margaretenstrasse intersected at this spot. The imposing tree survived the bombing and the demolition of the district. It was to be cut down for the construction of the relief road, as it was standing in the way. After protests from the residents, it was spared. By 1923, it had already become a legend. “… when the path passes the old plane tree, the hurried step slows down. Then the tree nymph whispers so loudly, and suddenly the world of the day before yesterday and yesterday is there again. As if it had never died. As if the gruesome today was nothing more than a bad, dark dream.” (Margarete Caemmerer 1923)
With a pencil and sketchbook, Adolph Menzel explored the emerging Tiergarten district in the 1840s. With a precise eye, he documented a world in the process of transformation. He was fascinated by the still untouched wilderness with its pastures in the floodplain of the old Schafgraben, where shortly after the Landwehr Canal was built. Menzel drew the railroad line to Potsdam, inaugurated in 1838, and the lonely St. Matthew’s Church under construction. From 1875 he lived a few meters behind it at Sigismundstrasse 3 in a “stately house with high rents.” The thrifty Menzel’s property owner was the merchant, collector, and patron Eduard Arnhold, who resided around the corner at Regentenstrasse 19. After Menzel’s death in 1905, the house was demolished and rebuilt in a modified form. In 1907 it received a plaque indicating the last residence of the honorary citizen of Berlin. It survived the hail of bombs, but not the subsequent demolition.
The dream of Italy
Starting in 1837, architect Friedrich Hitzig (1811-1881) began a vigorous building activity in the emerging Tiergarten district. In 1856-1858, he founded a construction company with the banker C.S. Achard to lay out Viktoriastrasse. There he built a coordinated ensemble of detached manorial tenement houses with two or three apartments, for the facades of which he enriched the simple classicism in the succession of Schinkel with representative Renaissance forms. A descendant of Berlin’s upper middle class, he knew the wishes and possibilities of his clientele. As a successful project developer, he marketed in his buildings and publications the longing for Italy that had gripped the nobility and bourgeoisie alike. At the same time, he paid attention to costs, as he also targeted civil servants as tenants. His houses with their balconies, oriels, altans, gables and flat towers largely determined the appearance of the old Tiergarten district until 1933.
James and Eduard Simon
The cousins James (1851-1932) and Dr. Eduard Simon (1864-1929) were second-generation owners of the textile trading company Gebr. Simon, which was one of the largest trading houses in the German Empire. They belonged to the so-called “Kaiserjuden”, a group of assimilated upper middle-class Jews living in the Tiergarten district, who had achieved great prosperity in the Empire and struggled for recognition by the majority society through social commitment and patronage. Their passion was art, which they demonstrated by displaying their collections in their villas. Both were advised by Wilhelm von Bode and donated large sums to the Royal Museums. James Simon also donated numerous important works, including the bust of Nefertiti, and he financed excavation campaigns. In the 1920s, Gebr. Simon fell into economic difficulties, which ultimately led to Eduard Simon’s suicide in his house in the Tiergarten district on August 3, 1929.
In 1895, the publisher Paul Parey had a villa built at Sigismundstrasse 4a in the old German style with a front house, side wing, remise and coach house. The retro architecture by Heinrich Layser and Karl von Grossheim with 16th century style elements such as tracery parapets, reliefs, friezes, and windows with pilaster frames, documented the taste of the owner of the house, who became successful and wealthy with magazines such as “Wild und Hund”. Parey died at the age of 58 in 1900, and the villa retained his name and survived World War II, during the final stages of which it was damaged in street fighting. For many years after the war, it was one of the last inhabited houses in the former Tiergarten district. Through the tenacity of its tenant community, it was saved from demolition when it was to make way for the new Gemäldegalerie (Old Master Paintings) building. Today it serves as a reminder of the history of the Tiergarten district as a built-in spolia including bullet holes.
The Kemperplatz competition
After the end of World War I, economic decline and inflation accelerated structural change in the Tiergarten district. It was no longer possible to find tenants for the stately large apartments. Government agencies, embassies and posh stores for fashion, art and antiques settled in. The conversion of residential space into commercial space caused the Tiergarten district to lose its character as a quiet residential district. By 1929, 35% of the houses were owned by tradesmen. In 1921, a competition was held to build an office and commercial building on Kemperplatz. Innovative architects, Peter Behrens, the Taut brothers, Hugo Häring and Erich Mendelsohn took part. Max Osborn commented very critically on the building project in his review of the results in the Vossische Zeitung: “Enough is enough! The destruction of the old Tiergarten district must not be pushed any further. An audible halt is absolutely necessary here.”