Bikini Berlin and its 1920s twins

Bikini Berlin: a concept mall redeveloped from the former Bikini Haus

Bikini Berlin, formerly Bikini Haus: Image credit: indeedous/Wikimedia Commons

Bikini Berlin: the recent redevelopment of iconic '50s office block 'Bikini-Haus' proudly proclaims itself 'a unique combination of shopping, working, cinema, recreation, urban oasis and hotel'.

And for many, the revamped landmark has successfully placed the city's west firmly on the style map.

But who knew that in Berlin's heyday it was all there before?

Capitol Haus: a modernist forerunner to today's Bikini Berlin that included one of the city's most lavish cinemas and a parade of expensive shops

Capitol am Zoo, 1926. Image credit: © Staatsarchiv Freiburg

Shortly before Christmas 1925, a new complex opened in the exact location Bikini Berlin now occupies.

At its centre stood the glamorous Capitol cinema, and on either side a promenade of expensive stores - a foretaste of today's 'concept' retail mall.

Designed by architect extraordinaire Hans Poelzig, the low-slung, 133-metre-long building exemplified the latest modernist trends. Uncannily, too, it strongly resembled the post-war complex that would eventually take its place.

Yet the similarities became even more striking when, in 1929, the 'Gourmenia-Palast' was inaugurated right next door.

The Gourmania Palast near Zoo Station in Weimar Berlin. Some of the city's best restaurants, cafes and bars in a striking Art Deco building.

The Gourmenia Palast, circa 1930

Again a sleek, streamlined building with fashionable Art Deco details, the emphasis here was on stylish drinking and dining: the Gourmenia boasted a lavish three-floor cafe, an American-style buffet, a small pub, an English tea salon and a delicatessen.

But its most talked-about attraction was the extraordinary 'Weinrestaurant Traube' complete with tropical garden.

The Traube restaurant in 1920s Berlin included a tropical garden complete with water feature and parrots.

Weinrestaurant Traube, Berlin, 1930. Image credit: Gustav Dähn, © VBK, Wien, 2006

Let's fast forward to today's Bikini Berlin, where the Monkey Bar in the 'urban jungle' themed 25hours Hotel is likewise one of the city's current hotspots.

Berlin's Monkey Bar in the 25hours hotel

Monkey Bar, 25hours Hotel Bikini Berlin. Image credit: Stephan Lemke for 25hours Hotels

Boasting far-reaching views of the Zoo and a coolly stylish, foliage-bedecked interior, the upmarket cocktail lounge has quickly become a go-to destination.

Yet even so, it's no real match for the long-vanished Traube with its palms and flowers, a 'river' full of exotic fish and live parrots perched on branches.

Interior detail of the Traube restaurant in Weimar Berlin
Interior detail of the Traube restaurant in Weimar Berlin

Note, too, the Traube's future-forward raw concrete balconies coupled with spectacular illumination (below, left) - or even the sculptural light fitting in the adjacent Café Berlin (right) - none of which would look out of place in today's Bikini Berlin.

Interior detail of the Traube restaurant in Weimar Berlin
Interior detail of the 1920s/30s Cafe Berlin in the Gourmenia Palast near Zoo.

Sadly, both the Capitol Kino complex and Gourmenia-Palast were destroyed in World War II bombing, and although it's often assumed that their post-war replacements added streamlined modernity to what was once a predominantly 19th century quarter, it's clear that the urban landscape near Zoo station has actually changed very little.

And as visitors throng Bikini Berlin's fashionable boutiques, restaurants and bars, it's fascinating to note that one of the city's newest attractions isn't quite as novel it seems.


See also:
Zoo Palast and its amazing pre-show show
Berlin's secret stores
Hans Poelzig's Expressionist theatre
Free views of the Zoo
Remains of a Potsdamer Platz entertainment palace
The world's most remarkable clock?

Bikini Berlin: Budapester Straße 38-50, 10787 Berlin. Monkey Bar in the 25hours hotel Bikini Berlin: Budapester Straße 40, 10787 Berlin

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