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Design

Inside the Controversy Over Rebuilding an Iconic Berlin Store

The Karstadt department store in Kreuzberg was once an architectural marvel. Local officials say a new plan to bring it back would worsen gentrification.
A rendering of the new mall, which would be strikingly similar to what stood on the site from 1929 to 1945.
A rendering of the new mall, which would be strikingly similar to what stood on the site from 1929 to 1945.Courtesy of David Chipperfield Architects

For city-watchers, there’s something very familiar about the current development debate going on around Berlin’s Hermannplatz. The square, a busy shopping and transit hub in a fast-gentrifying working-class neighborhood, has caught the eye of developers. The Austrian real-estate group Signa Holdings—which also co-bought New York’s Chrysler Building earlier this year—wants to expand a long-established department store it owns there into a shopping mall, creating the usual burst of jobs and economic activity. Many locals are skeptical about the project, fearing it will increase already-rocketing residential rents nearby and cause congestion.

These conditions may ring a bell from other development fights, but the one currently taking place in Hermannplatz has a unique twist. The mall would not be, strictly speaking, an entirely new building. It would in fact be a recreation of a lost building—a Modernist icon of interwar Berlin, last seen intact in 1945.