Century-Old Building To House Berlin Apple Store

January 14, 2011

Almost 100 years after it was constructed along tree-lined Kurfürstendamm avenue in Berlin (Germany), the historic UFA Film-Bühne Wien cinema will regain some of its original glory when Apple opens a retail store inside the building by year’s end. According to the Kurfuerstendamm.de Web site, Apple has leased the building at #26 and is awaiting permit approvals to begin construction. The store will finally bring Apple to the capitol city, four years after the first Germany store opened in Munich. Even though extensive renovations have erased most of the building’s historic features, it will still be a worthy addition to other high-profile stores that Apple’s retail team has carefully restored in Paris, London, Glasgow and New York City. The cinema building was constructed by Nentwich & Simon from 1912 to 1913, creating a ground-floor café and restaurant space, a second-level lobby, and an 850-seat theater on the third level under a domed, 26-foot ceiling. The first film was projected on October 3, 1913 as patrons sat in the elegance of green velvet curtains and seat cushions. Ornate fabric wall coverings lent a home-like atmosphere to the theater, while wrought-iron balcony railings and finely-detailed ceiling fixtures lent more opulence.

The building mostly survived World War II, and afterwards was repaired and continued showing movies as the Vienna Theater. Renovations in 1953 changed the theater’s wall coverings and a flat ceiling was added to cover the dome. By 1979 declining patronage forced a radical change—the 45,000 square-foot facility was crudely divided into eight theaters with 1,204 seats. Some of the midget theaters were only accessible by winding staircases. Despite the changes, much of the interior retained the dark-wood doors and other original accents.

The ground floor of the building originally housed the Cafe des Westens café-restaurant, which quickly became the “in” place to visit in Berlin in the early 1900s. Several other restaurants occupied the space over the next 100 years, including most recently the mini-brewer Aschinger Berliner Gasthausbrauerei.

The cinema operation went dark in 2000, sparking another renovation on the upper floors that brought back the original open space, but turned the building into retail, office and residential spaces.

Since the closure, the building has hosted a wide range of business operations including—ironically—a Microsoft pop-up exhibit in August 2007 to show off the company’s home server products. Other tenants included the Salvador Dali museum, the Lowe Galerie collection of individual shops, an Aveda hairstyling salon, the Dresdner Bank Berlin, various film festivals and even apartments.

Kurfürstendamm is a broad street lined with leafy trees along wide sidewalks, and is home to scores of hotels, restaurants and international retailers. It’s located in what was previously West Berlin, and has a old-world feel to it because of its mostly-original architecture. The future Apple store is at the eastern end of the two-mile long street, about a five-minute walk from a subway station, and not far from the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church visited by thousands of tourists each year.

Old Features Erased

The property consists of two buildings: a main building with an ornate façade 70 feet wide, featuring Ionic columns holding up a massive raking cornice that tops out at 87 feet, and a second, more simple structure 30 feet wide. Both buildings are about 115 feet deep.

Sadly, during the 2000 renovation, the interior of the main building was greatly simplified and stripped of its splendor, and offices were added. The wooden, ground-floor entrance doors were removed and modern glass doors and mini-lobbies were added. Escalators now connect the ground floor and two upper levels instead of wooden stairways with wrought-iron railings. The upper levels and theater are all painted white, completely erasing the theater’s original design and atmosphere. The theater does retain its dark-wood floor, walls details and balcony, but it’s hardly as grand as the original. A side-lobby on the theater level does retain some of the original elegance and scope of the 1913 design, with tall windows and some gold trim.

The main building that Apple will occupy for retail has a 9,300 square-foot basement, another 7,800 square-feet on the ground level, and 6,700 square-feet on the second level. The smaller building, if leased by Apple, would offer 6,700 square-feet on the ground-floor and first levels.

The second level (3rd-floor in American parlance) has 9,956 square-feet of space where the theater formerly resided, and there is actually 4,800 square-feet of space on a third level, which was the balcony and other spaces above the main theater floor. Overall, the building has a total of 45,000 square-feet of space, only a portion of which would be used for public retail.

Real estate sources say average rents for this section of Kurfürstendamm are about $255 per square-foot per year, or about $11.4 million a year for this building. Rents in the eastern section of the city are even higher, about $335 per square-foot annually.

During a 2005 scouting trip of Berlin, IFO noticed the empty space at #26 and concluded that it was too large for an Apple store. Now, however, an Apple store with twin 10,000 square-foot retail floors would not be over-sized.

Read about the post-1979 theater operation, with photos of the eight small theaters. View a 1946 photo of the street that shows the theater, and another photo taken in 1959.

Download (pdf) a leasing brochure that shows the building and floorplan.

Follow on-going Apple news in Germany at Macerkopf.de.

This photo by flickr photographer roger4336 was taken in 1970, showing the café-restaurant on the ground floor (under the awning), the original building façade on the left, and the rather "loud" exterior signs attached to the left-most portion of the theater building. (photo used with permission)

Kino Filmbühne Wien 1988 Berlin

The above photo was taken in 1988 by flickr photographer friedrich1955, and shows the ground floor arrangement has changed since 1970, but the gaudy sign still covers the right-most portion of the building. (photo linked from flickr)

This architectural rendering shows the main (left) and smaller (right) buildings from the 2000 renovation plan, with offices added to the top of the right-most section of the building.

This side view (looking easterly) of the building shows the various levels: basement, ground floor (originally a restaurant), upper cinema lobby, theater level with balcony, and top level.

The interior of the current building (ground floor, looking at the front doors) bears no resemblance to the original ornate structure. White paint and smooth finishes mark almost every area of the building.

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