STEGLITZ • The Titania-Palast

Located at Gutsmuthsstraße 27/28 Ecke Schloßstraße 4/5, the Titania-Palast is a cinema-theatre and concerts hall built in the south-western Berlin suburb of Steglitz during the 1920s decade. It was one of the icons of this area, a place of reference to culture life in the German capital.

The Titania-Palast cinema-theatre was built in as a luxury 2,000 seater building designed by architects Ernst Schöffler, Carlo Schloenbach & Carl Jacobi in 1927 in the style of “Neuen Sachlichkeit” or New Objectivity Social realism. The big building was criticized by many contemporary observers and architecture experts due to its deliberately asymmetrical arrangement and entire facade parts are dummies without function. It had an organ, full stage facilities and a cafe room.

[A view of the new brand Titania-Palast theatre in 1928.]

[Photo by Max Missmann. Stadtmuseum (V 68/1977 V).]

[Photos taken in 1928: friedenau-aktuell.de / Berlin-cabaret.]

[Photos taken in 1928: friedenau-aktuell.de / Berlin-cabaret.]

This hige cinema was opened in January 1928 with a big party and the gala premiere of the silent film ‘Der Sprung ins Glück’ (“Jump into Happiness”), starring Italian actress Carmen Boni, Berliner star Hans Junkermann and cabaret stalwart Rosa Valetti.

[A poster announcing the gala premiere of the silent film ‘Der Sprung ins Glück’ at the Titania and a 1929 programm of the theatre.]

[Photos: Cabaret-Berlin / AKG-images (AKG60967).]

The first films were accompanied by an orchestra of 60 musicians, and a program of cabaret and vaudeville. Within 18 months of the cinema’s opening, the first ‘talkies’ (movies with sound) were being screened and the crowds flocked in for the next years. The first sound film was Al Jolson in “The Singing Fool” which opened on 29 October 1929.

In 1933, the Titania-Palace was taken over by the Nazis like many other Berlin culture places and sold to Ton-Lichtbild-Reklame AG, which in turn passes on half to Hugo Lemke. One year later, in 1934, the theatre along with a number of other cinemas, was expropriated in favor of the UFA led by Nazi authorities, becoming the flagship of the company and Dr Goebbels’ Reichsministerium für Volksaufklärung und Propaganda (“Reich Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda”).

[The front facade of the theatre in December 1935, under the management of the Nazi authorities.]

[Photo: Landesarchiv Baden-Württemberg, Abt. Staatsarchiv Freiburg, W 134 Nr. 009918.]

During the British big air-raid on 1 March 1943 the Titania was slighty damaged when RAF bombs hit the nearby buildings at Schloßstraße. Having surviving nearly intact to the air-bombings and the Soviet assault on the city, this cinema as all the south-western suburb of Steglitz came under control of the US occupation forces from 4 July 1945. During three years, American forces seized the theatre, but allowed selected events to use it.

Since the Philharmonic at Bernburger Straße had been destroyed during bombing raids in January 1944, the modern building of Steglitz provided a welcome alternative and for a long time became the permanent home of the Berliner Philharmoniker, until 1954-55. On May 26, 1945, the Berliner Philharmoniker were able to give their first concert at the Titania after the end of the war. The former chief conductor during the Third Reich years, Wilhelm Furtwängler, was under investigation by US authorities until December 1946 and only officially resumed his duties from 1952.

In 1951 the Americans return the building to its ‘original’ owner Hugo Lemke.

[July 1945: two views of the Titania during the early days of the US occupation of the city. Notice an U.S. Army Willys jeep at far left on the first image and the big American star and stripes flags decoration on the “American theatre”.]

[Photo: Foto eines Angehörigen der US-Army, 1945. Wikimedia.]

[Photo: Getty images.]

[Here we see Berliners queuing to buy a ticket to the first concert at the Titania with Furtwängler, May 1947.]

[Photo: Wilhelm Furtwängler. Berliner Philarmoniker / Audite Musik Produktion.]

[Berlin summer 1945, view from the Titania-Palast entrance into the Schloßstraße Ecke Gutsmuthsstraße with the photographer facing north to Friedenau district. Notice American military members (men and women) at centre and severe bomb-damage on the facade and roof of the buildings across the road.]

[Photo: Original private photo of a US Army soldier (gelatin silver print on AGFA-Lupex baryta paper).]

[A view of the concert hall during an orchestra performance, May 1947.]

[Photo: furtwangler.fr]

[The Titania´s Theaterkass months after the war. Original caption says “1927” but the ‘Tagesspiegel’ sign allow us to date this image from 1945 onwards.]

[Photo by Fritz Eschen. Deutsche Fotothek.]

From June 1951 West Berlin opened the Berlinale (International Film Festival in Berlin - Internationale Filmfestspiele Berlin) under the direction of Dr Alfred Bauer and took place in the Titania. It was a cultural-political initiative by American Film Officer Oscar Martay of the American occupation military government to serve as a “showcase of the free world” in the divided city. The opening film was Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rebecca” with American actress Joan Fontaine. In 1953 this cinema was equipped with CinemaScope.

[Berlin 1955, view of the Titania-Palast main entrance adorned to present ‘Es geschah am 20. Juli’, a German film directed by Austrian director Georg Wilhelm Pabst. The movie is about the plot to kill Hitler on July 20, 1944, such an ironic event after the “Nazi” past of lived by this cinema. The film was premiered on 19 June 1955 and two days later at the Berlin International Film Festival.]

[Photo: AKG-images (AKG155166).]

This night image taken in 1956 shows the night city and captured all the darkness splendor of the Titania-Palast cinema-theatre and Schloßstraße. The original exterior lighting of the building was designed by engineer Ernst Hölsche. As we can see, the state-of-the-art theatre has a striking 30-meters height tower surrounded by 27 light rings with a 7-meter flagpole. 

[Photo by Fritz Eschen / Getty images.]

[1960 Schloßstraße Ecke Gutsmuthsstraße: Kalanag und Gloria at the Titania-Palast theatre. Kalanag, Helmut Ewald Schreiber, was a film producer and a German magician.]

[Photo: flickr.com/photos/e-ole3.]

[View of Walther-Schreiber-Platz and Schloßstraße in 1960 in south-west direction with Titania-Palast at centre of the picture. Note Rathaus Steglitz building in the background.]

[Photo: AKG-images (AKG55503).]

[A view of the cinema hall of the Titania-Palast taken in 1964.]

[Photo by Harry Croner. Gettuy images.]

Among the famous stars who performed at the Titania-Palast in Berlin Steglitz in the postwar period was Berliner actress Marlene Dietrich (December 1901 Berlin-Schöneberg – May 1992).
She visited the city as a prelude to her Germany tour performing live in large theatres and this performance at Berlin on 3 May 1960 was the first public appearance of the star in Germany after the Second World War. The tour was an artistic triumph, but a financial failure. Photographer Harry Croner (1902-1992) documented Dietrich’s visit to Berlin from her arrival at Tegel airport. Marlene’s performance at the theatre in 1960 drew adulation and glamour and she received a standing ovation during the performance but a concentration of protesters too, opposed to the famous actress and her tour of Germany, which they considered a “traitor” after leaving the country 30 years before. At least one hundred police had to protect the arrival and departure of Dietrich at the Titania and finally she had to hide from the crowd in the car (see last picture). “The Germans and I no longer speak the same language” says the cabaret actress after the incident; she would never return to the city.

[Photo by Harry Croner © Stadtmuseum Berlin SM 2013-3847.]

[Photo: Getty images.]

[Photo by Harry Croner © Stadtmuseum Berlin SM 2013-3844.]

[Photo: Harry Croner © Stadtmuseum Berlin.]

The last film at the Titania was screened in December 1965, and the building was prevented from demolition by the Berliner Städtische Elektrizitätswerke Aktien-Gesellschaft Bewag, Berlin´s energy supplier, which leased the theatre. Some parts of the building were used as a rehearsal stage during thirty years. By the early 1990′s after the Wall fell and the reunified city, work had begun to restore the theatre and divide the vast auditorium into smaller, more manageable spaces. On May 1995, after nearly three decades retired, the first films were shown in the new cinemas inside this building. A truly part of the history of Berlin Steglitz, hopefully never down the curtain again.


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Sources and Bibliography:

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  • Friese, Wolfgang. Lankwitz und seine Geschichte. Teil 5: Kloster und Luftangriff. Gabriele Schuster Eigen. 2013.
  • Grünewald, Rolf. Der Titania-Palast – Berliner Kino- und Kulturgeschichte. Edition Hentrich. 1992.
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    [https://www.deutsche-kinemathek.de/en/collections-archives/digital-collection/marlene-dietrich-collection-berlin]
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  • Stivers, William and Carter Donald A. The city becomes a symbol: the U.S. Army in the occupation of Berlin, 1945-1949. Center of Military History United States Army. Washington, D.C. 2017.
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