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Updated: Jul 3

A old illustration of the corner of Friedrichstrasse and Unter den Linden

Turn of the 20th century Friedrichstrasse, Wikipedia


History of Friedrichstrasse

Though already a bustling area by the late 19th century Friedrichstrasse had very simple beginnings of connecting the neighborhood of Friedrichstadt -developed in the late 17th century - to the river Spree to the north. The main residents of Friedrichstadt were religious refugees from France called Huguenots, who were given commercial and long-term tax exemption, free building materials, subsidies for construction costs, and an exemption from having to quarter soldiers. This led to the rapid completion of the neighborhood by the early to mid 18th century, whose plans were drawn up by the royal architects.

An old map of Berlin from 1737

1737 Berlin Plans; the grided neighborhood is Friedrichstadt with Friedrichstrasse extending through it north to south


Progressively over the next two centuries, Friedrichstrasse - and its important intersections with Unter den Linden and Leipzigerstrasse - grew with lovely cafes, shops, cultural venues, and historic buildings. It was a street where Berliners and visitors alike could experience the vibrancy of a growing metropolis. Like for example Mark Twain who in 1892 during his European travels remarked on the lively atmosphere of Friedrichstrasse, with a blend of sophistication and order as well hustle and pubs.

Fast forward to the 1920s, and Friedrichstrasse had become the heart of Berlin's nightlife, earning the nickname "Cabaret Mile." This era, known as the "Golden Twenties," was marked by cultural and artistic flourishing despite the underlying political and economic instability. On Friedrichstrasse, one could find a myriad of cabarets, theaters, and clubs, where the avant-garde mixed with the bourgeoisie.

The street was always moving with the sounds of jazz, laughter, and performers like Marlene Dietrich and Anita Berber dazzled audiences, pushing the boundaries of art and society. The atmosphere was one of daring creativity and hedonism, a stark contrast to the grim realities many faced outside the cabaret walls.

A street in Berlin with the Central Hotel located on a corner and people moving around the streets

The once world famous Central Hotel and its Wintergarten theater; Wikipedia


These jubilant days of the 1920s came to a halt with the rise of the Nazi regime and the outbreak of World War II. Friedrichstrasse, like much of Berlin, suffered extensive damage during the war. Bombings reduced many of its grand buildings to rubble, and the street's lively spirit was all but extinguished.

Ruins of a building in Berlin with people moving around the streets in front

The ruins of the Central Hotel and Wintergarten, 1945


With the end of the war and the division of Berlin, Friedrichstrasse found itself in a unique and challenging position, highlighted in 1961 with the construction by East Germany of the Berlin Wall. The south-side of the street was split by the Wall with one part lying in East Berlin and the other in the West. It was here where East met West, where the United States would construct Checkpoint Charlie.

More than just a crossing point, Checkpoint Charlie was a focal point of Cold War tensions and was the most famous of the Berlin Wall’s border crossings. Here, dramatic escapes, spy exchanges, and even a standoff between Soviet and American tanks occurred, making it a global symbol of the ideological battle between communism and democracy.

As foreign tourists were allowed to cross here though, it also became a tourist attraction, allowing for visitors to see the skeleton of Friedrichstrasse, a mere shadow of its Cabaret days.

View of Checkpoint Charlie with a checkpoint house in the background and East Germany

View from Checkpoint Charlie from West to East; Friedrichstrasse in the background; Wikipedia


The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 marked a new chapter for Friedrichstrasse. The reunification of Germany brought significant changes, as the street once again became a unified entity. The 1990s and early 2000s saw extensive redevelopment and modernization efforts, transforming Friedrichstrasse into a blend of historic charm with mostly contemporary flair via shopping.

Today, Friedrichstrasse is still finding its footing and its undergoing change. High-end boutiques, office buildings, and cultural institutions line the street, but with commercial interest wanning and traffic remaining a problem due to the interest of Checkpoint Charlie there is intense debate about how the street fits into a modern Berlin.

Urban development has focused on preserving the historical essence of Friedrichstrasse while trying to promote growth. This clashes somewhat with initiatives to make the area more accessible for pedestrians and cyclists, thus the street will likely undergo further changes in the coming decades.


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