‘Crashed at Wittenbergplatz, Berlin’
Located between Nollendorfplatz and Auguste Viktoria Platz (today’s Breitscheidplatz), Wittenbergplatz is one of the best known plazas of the city of Berlin. It was laid out between 1889 and 1892 in the course of urban development in the western suburbs of Berlin’s Wilhelmine Ring. The square was named after the adjacent Tauentzienstraße (from General Bogislav von Tauentzien) who had received the honorific title von Wittenberg after the storming of the French-occupied town of Wittenberg in February 1814. With the Berlin’s municipal reform effective in April 1938, Wittenbergplatz became part of the Schöneberg district.
The underground station U-Bahnhof Wittenbergplatz was opened in March 1902, part of the original U-Bahn Berlin network, years later it was expanded becoming a major subway connection of the western part of the city. Together with the underground station, another major landmark here is the KaDeWe (Kaufhaus des Westens), the large West-Berlin department store located at Tauentzienstraße 21-24 in the southwestern side of Wittenbergplatz. Owned by Adolf Jandorf, it opened its doors in March 1907 with five floors, the largest department store in continental Europe at the time which transformed the surrounding area into a shopping zone. Furthermore, on the north side of the square there are very popular weekly street markets.
[Wittenbergplatz and Tauentzienstr. seen in 1904, before the famous KaDeWe was built at the southwestern corner of the square. Two of the original underground stairway entrances can be seen, placed between the streetcar tracks.]
In 1912, a major redesign of the square was made, with a cross-shaped entrance building to access the U-Bhf underground station in the centre of the plaza, designed by Alfred Grenander (1863-1931) with neoclassical elements. The hall, built by Konstruktionsbüro Siemens & Halske AG, exits the underground train platforms to Tauentzienstraße and Kleiststraße both and became its most distinctive element, dominating Wittenbergplatz. A conical lantern would be added atop of the roof in the 1930s.
[Wittenbergplatz, construction work of the new access building in 1912-13. Note the already built KaDeWe store department at left behind the hall. This picture was published by the ‘Berliner Allgemeine Zeitung’ in 1919.]
[Designed by Swedish architect Alfred Grenander, the cross-shaped hall building dominates Wittenbergplatz, Berlin circa 1920.]
[The main entrance hall, seen here a few years after its opening. The building is adorned with ceramic and neoclassical elements, mixed with some Art nouveau design.]
[A propaganda truck with a huge bust of former general Paul von Hindenburg passed by Wittenbergplatz during the Reich presidential election in 1925.]
[An aerial photograph of the western Berlin square (looking south) taken in 1928. The cross-shaped entrance building and the circling tram tracks are shown to good effect here.]
[Nazi-supporters saluting to Goebbels in the fascist way before this gave a speech protest at Wittenbergplatz against the anti-war film ”Im Westen nichts Neues”, written by Erich Maria Remarque, December 9, 1930.]
[A Nazi boycott demonstration at the gates of the closed Berlin KaDeWe store at Tauentzienstraße in April 1933. The famous department store was owned by jewish family Tietz from 1927 until it was expropriated by Hitler’s regime.]
[As early as 1933, Nazi authorities started to execute air-raid drills in Berlin and other major cities in Germany to prevent its citizens from the risk of an incoming bombing war, here a ‘mock’ bomb was placed at Wittenbergplatz as an advertisement of the Luftangriff-Schutz-Ausstellung (‘Air Raid Protection Exhibition’), celebrating during those days in the Reich capital.]
[Wittenbergplatz, early 1936. Note the Christmas Trees and the Olympic rings with swastika on the KaDeWe facade.]
[A peaceful view of pre-war Wittenbergplatz and its surroundings taken in 1937, taken from the westside. Note the KaDeWe lettering and facade at right.]
[A lottery seller next to the Kaufhaus des Westen department store on a rainy day, Berlin 1939. Note the swastika on white circle that adorned the kiosk and the lantern atop of the U-Bhf entrance hall.]
Wittenbergplatz in the Bombenkrieg, 1940-1945
Wittenbergplatz was located in one of the most bombed areas of the German capital, between the Charlottenburg and Schöneberg districts. The once highly illuminated square, the main shopping area of the western part, now looks dark due to the imposing blackout regulations which already started on the first day of the conflict in September 1939. The RAF bombing campaign hit hard the area in late 1943 and early 1944, with continuous air raids that severely damaged Wittenbergplatz and its surrounding streets. The square appears several times on the city’s bombing damage reports. The first one, on December 16, 1940, when a British HE bomb penetrated the tunnel between U-Bhf Wittenbergplatz and Zoologischer Garten train stations, traffic on line A I has to be temporarily shut down.
[View of the scarcely illuminated Tauntzienstraße, circa 1940. The city’s wartime blackout regulations make Wittenbergplatz station barely discerned in the background.]
[Deutsches Rotes Kreuz collection for the war winter relief organization in front of the KaDeWe at Wittenbergplatz during the ‘Tag der Wehrmacht’, March 1941.]
[A July 1942-view of Ansbacher Straße Nr 11 corner with Wittenbergplatz, where the Singer sewing machines company and the Rackow-Schule had their homes before the war. According to an US newspaper of the time, the ground floor now walled up for protection against bomb splinters, was supposed to be an elite guard air raid shelter. Compare this picture with the above shown taken in 1934 and the ‘mock’ bomb.]
[Wittenbergplatz, 1942: a Red Cross helper with a donation box makes collections for the war effort accompanied by a marching band of Hitlerjugend boys.]
In fall 1943, British aircraft made two huge air raids which wiped out the southwestern part of the city on the nights of 22/23 (696 RAF bombers) and 23/24 November (337 bombers), part of the ‘Battle of Berlin’, the RAF’s air campaign focused on the Reich capital. Massive damage to the underground tunnel and tracks was reported after these attacks, some parts collapsed due to direct bomb hits and fire damage was done to the entrance hall on Wittenbergplatz. Two months later, the KaDeWe store department was badly damaged and left in ruins after an RAF Halifax four-engined bomber crashed onto its roof in the early hours of January 29, 1944, during another British raid, as we have researched in our previous post that describes the terrific crash, the seven-man crew were all killed.
[The calm before the storm: Part of an aerial picture of western Berlin taken on September 6, 1943, by an No 542 Squadron (RAF) PR Spitfire, it shows the so called ‘Zooviertel’ and some of the most important landmarks of this area before the November 22/23 destruction, including Wittenbergplatz (at right) and the mighty Zoo Flakturm (top left).]
[A young woman posing beside the entrance of an underground air-raid shelter at the northern side of Wittenbergplatz square. The relatively intact U-Bhf entrance hall and the already ruined KaDeWe store indicates that the picture was taken in 1944.]
[A woman walks through Wittenbergplatz with the ruins of the Kaufhaus des Westens store department and debris as background, circa 1945.]
Furthermore, the square was hit by the USAAF daylight offensive too, when the underground tunnels between U-Bhf Wittenbergplatz and Zoo were penetrated by direct hits on May 8, 1944 (403 American heavy bombers attacked), which left subway’s Linie A out of service for several days.
From March 1944 onwards, Mosquito fast bombers of the newly created RAF’s Light Night-Striking Force (LNSF) visited almost nightly Berlin to harass the capital and its citizens. Bomb damage on Wittenbergplatz was reported on August 19, 1944, when an explosive bomb landed here bursting a pipe, and again on the night of 29/30 January 1945 when Bomber Command sent 59 Mosquitoes to attack the city. Two high-explosive bombs (most probably air-mines) landed here: one broke through the roof of the subway tunnel meanwhile the other destroyed the building at Nr. 4, on the north side of the square. Four people were injured during the attack, which also destroyed the station’s signal box and buried some of the tracks, causing the interruption of the BVG train service between Zoo and Bülowstraße. Other sources refer to a direct bomb hit which caused severe damage to the entrance hall again and to the underground platform.
[Berliners draw water from a public water pump located at Wittenbergplatz in the chaotic aftermath of another enemy air raid on the city, 1945.]
[RAF’s Mosquitoes nuisance raids were made with the aim of keeping the enemy on alert for long periods of the night. In this series of photographies taken in 1945 at Wittenbergplatz, we can see the clean-up work after an air raid, some direct bomb direct hit has already destroyed the main entrance to the underground station.]
[Curious Berliners take a look into the hole that an RAF high-explosive bomb has made penetrating into the underground tunnel, next to the U-Bhf entrance at Wittenbergplatz.]
[This detail from an PR image of the western Berlin districts shows Wittenbergplatz and the damage already done by the Allied air bombardments; it was taken by an USAAF 7th PG reconnaissance aircraft on March 22, 1945.]
[Wittenbergplatz and the Schöneberg quarter seen before (left) and after the US carpet bombings that devastated some parts of the capital in 1945. Note at bottom of the image the roofless condition of the Schöneberg gasometer at Bayreuther Str., today’s Welser Str. This picture was released for propaganda purposes in May.]
[Berliners walk through the ruins and a burned out tram at Tauentzienstraße after an American daylight air raid, circa March 1945.]
The 1945 battle
From March 1945, Berlin and its citizens prepared for the final battle with the advancing Soviet troops, strongly supported by VVS aircraft. The shelling and house-to-house street fighting would add furthermore destruction and death to the area. On April 28, 1945, a heavy fighting developed around Bayreuther Str. and Marburgerstraße, the German resistance stopped the Red Army advance through Kürfurstenstr. and Tauentzienstr. towards the Zoo area here. Soviet ground-attack planes bombed and strafed the German defenders fighting here repeatedly, and finally the Soviet 21st Guards Mechanized Brigade, part of the 8th Guards Mechanized Corps and supported by the 1st Guards Tank Brigade advanced Tauentzienstr. westwards reaching Wittenbergplatz on the 30th.
One of the last remaining subway trains ran from Wittenbergplatz to Kaiserdamm in shuttle service, until the BVG-Kraftwerk Unterspree was under fire on the 25 April afternoon and all train services were finally stopped. Small skirmishes in the area with the German garrison lasted until the final surrender on May 2nd.
[Summer 1945, this Sd.Kfz 251/21 ‘Drilling’ from German 18.Panzergrenadier-Division was left after the battle at Tauentzienstr. next to the KaDeWe’s western corner, a few metres away from Wittenbergplatz. Note the triple-AA 2cm guns.]
[British engineer Cecil F.S. Newman took this picture from Nettelbeckstraße looking into Wittenbergplatz in the summer of 1945. Mountains of rubble and bricks were piled up in front of the ruined houses and the heavy damage taken by the KaDeWe building is evident.]
Our next post will cover and describe Wittenbergplatz after the end of the Second World War, with several pictures to make sense of the damage taken by this area and its reconstruction, then part of the newly created Western occupation sectors of the divided city.