The show must go on

by Tania Wannenburg

An old cabaret theatre from the roaring 1920s has been uncovered in the heart of Berlin, Germany. With project developers The Moritz Gruppe at the steer, the building will be restored to its former glory.

The city of Berlin, Germany, has experienced enormous change over the past century. As a result, many of its old secrets have been lost. When an old cabaret theatre  from the roaring 1920s was rediscovered in the heart of the city, both historians and residents had reason to celebrate this former architectural jewel.

Some four years ago Dirk Moritz,  founder and chief executive officer (CEO) of the German real estate firm Moritz Group, literally stumbled upon the abandoned three-storey building located behind a courtyard in the former communist east of the city. He first noticed a run-down building in the trendy central Berlin district of Mitte when visiting a public indoor swimming pool with his daughter next door.

“Something  just didn’t  seem right with the building,”  he said. It was deserted and derelict, completely  shut off from the now sprawling modern-day Berlin.

Out of curiosity, Moritz asked the caretaker for the keys to take a peek inside.

“From the outside, with its bricked-up windows and rundown facade, it was hard to imagine the impressive architecture that awaited me within. Opening the front door revealed an amazing sight: I found an old hall, a grand ballroom, a 300m2 theatre, wall paintings and metres-high stuccoed ceilings – memories  of a glorious time at the beginning of the last century,”  said Moritz.

With 30 tonnes of garbage that included everything from old sofas and shoes to construction rubble, much of the building was inaccessible. Still, its high ceilings, wall paintings and large theatrical stage clearly had a story to tell. The discovery inspired an odyssey of research.
History revealed

Moritz first got in touch with the owners, a group of Czech heirs that had reacquired the property during the post-reunification privatisation of former East Berlin. He wanted to know more about its history, imagining an old private residence or church property. Sadly, all the owners’  records and documentation had been lost or destroyed.

Likewise, Internet searches and trips to the city registers and museums produced nothing. Finally, after teaming up with the Berlin-Mitte municipal archives and putting out calls to private collections, he came across postcards containing pictures of the interior when it was used more than 80 years  ago as a swinging cabaret hall and restaurant. Gradually, the property’s  rich history began to reveal itself.

Moritz discovered that it was designed by the famous businessman/architect Oscar Garbe and constructed in 1905. In the same year, the theatre hall, complete with a stage and vaulted ceilings, was opened as a musical hall and restaurant, named “Fritz Schmidt’s Restaurant and Festival Halls”, and was soon an established venue for Berlin’s ballroom society.

After changing operators in 1919, it became “Kolibri Festival Halls and Cabarets”. Its location was in the Latin Quarter, as Berliners called it in the 1920s during the heyday of the German “Kabarett”. After 1934, the theatre hall fell into oblivion. No records could be traced on why it closed, although the Nazis often suppressed cabaret. After World War II, the lower floor was used for storing building rubble and rubbish. A locksmith moved in later, but only used the ground floor. By the time the Czech organisation inherited the building, it had been abandoned and fallen into disrepair.

A new beginning
Moritz bought the building last year and has since cleaned out the tonnes of rubbish and will now renovate the spaces. Called the Secret Garden, the building will include spaces for performances and exhibitions, studios, meetings and conferences, as well as luxury apartments for short-term and executive rental. The space recently hosted an exhibition by a British artist, Mike Nelson.

“Unfortunately we can’t turn it back to a music hall due to city regulations, but we will conserve interior features including the beautiful stucco. Our aim is to make a contribution to art and contemporary living – a mix of old and new. Otherwise this beautiful piece of history would just be forgotten completely and probably demolished at some point,” added Moritz.

“There  are only a few remaining structures from this period, for example Clärchens Ballhaus, nearby, making it one of the last properties in Berlin where one can still experience the untouched atmosphere of the 1920s and 1930s.” – Dirk Moritz,  founder and chief executive officer (CEO) of the real estate firm Moritz Group

Full acknowledgement and thanks are given to The Moritz Gruppe and www.spiegel.de for providing the information to write this article.

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