Phantom Architecture is a series focusing on vanished buildings, both in Berlin and further afield.
Like so many Berlin locations, the corner of Turmstraße and Stromstraße in Moabit saw multiple buildings rise and fall over not centuries, but decades. The first, the Ufa-Palast, was built in 1925 by the state-sponsored Universum Films AG. Designed by the architect Fritz Wilms (who specialized in theaters), it was a massive, 1700-seat cinema, complete with a classical, columned facade, a lavish foyer with its own phone booth, and a restaurant (the somewhat alarmingly named Café Vaterland) in a separate building just east of the theater.
The former Ufa-Theater at the corner of Turmstrasse and Stromstrasse. Image via filmportal.de
The Ufa-Theater would last a mere two decades before being completely destroyed by allied bombs in 1945, joining the long list of golden-age cinemas gone before their time. The restaurant, however, remained standing, and in 1952, this building was renovated into a theater of its own, the Turm-Palast. Boasting almost 1600 seats, the new theater rivaled its predecessor in scale, if not opulence. It operated as a theater for another two decades, finally shuttering in 1974.
The building in 2011. Photo: Fridolin freudenfett (Peter Kuley)
The building was subdivided into numerous retail spaces, and while each had their own signage, the theater’s original neon sign remained, unlit but intact—at least until its final letter was lost sometime after 2011, leaving behind a burnt-looking phantom “T”. What remained of the original structure was finally demolished in 2015 (along with Turmstrasse 25, a large building from the same era) as part of a massive reconstruction project.
Construction has begun on the newly-dubbed “Schultheiss Quartier” (named after the brewery buildings further north on Stromstrasse that date back to as early as 1826), a project of investor Harald Huth, who was responsible for the ill-fated Mall of Berlin. “At the new Schultheiss Quartier,” says the official site, “the location’s history will be merged with our modern vision to form an innovative complex at the premises of the former Schultheiss Brewery.” It mentions that around half the new office spaces will be in the “historically protected” brewery buildings, but never refers to the already-razed theaters, illustrating the first truth of architectural preservation: a building’s best shot at surviving the centuries is to stay standing and remain useful.
The current construction site, with the brick buildings and smokestack of the former Schultheiss Brewery on the left.
As a footnote, the demolition of the building just east of the former theater has revealed a fascinatingly colorful cross-section of its former offices and apartments. Rectangular boxes of color lie between the violently separated veins of brick, including what appears to be the tiled wall a former shower (the smaller blue-and-white rectangle at the bottom center of the picture).
For a more thorough history of the Ufa-Palast and Turm-Palast theaters, as well as some haunting photos of the interior of the former, check out the excellent Kinowiki page on both (in German).