by R.. W. Rynerson — written 8 July 1999
The richest entertainment value in Berlin, a seat at a sidewalk table at Kranzler on the Ku’damm, will only be a memory in the new millenium. (And that is the kind of lead sentence that one would write under the strong influence of “ein kaennchen Kaffee” and “ein Eisbecher” from the 147-year old business.) According to the Berliner Morgenpost International, development plans for the northwest corner of Joachimstaler Str. / Kurfuerstendamm are proceeding. Although the new “Kranzler Corner” will retain exterior lines of the familiar 1957 building, today’s 450-seat coffee house will not work with the high-rise planned to dominate the site. A small coffee place is planned, and sidewalk tables are to remain, but the corporate link with Berlin’s past will be cut as Kranzler’s closes.
The Kranzler was an anchor for many G.I.’s evenings – if the management could have charged us for service as a landmark, their income would have skyrocketed. An open corner of a table invited customers to settle into tradition intertwined with the city’s history.
Kranzler’s actually had started elsewhere, but their Ku’damm corner was the home of well-known cafes through most of this century.
Once in possession of a sidewalk seat, and with the three-flavors of ice cream Eisbecher pn the way, we could turn our attention to the passing parade. Some people claimed that they could spot CIA or KGB agents having coffee there. I found the passers-by more interesting– the guy furtively handing out cards for a purported side-street Sodom — awestruck kids on the free night in their educational tour to the “weltstadt”– film enthusiasts debating whether to head to the Ufa or the Gloria– the purposeful stride of couples holding tickets for the Theater des Westens.
As the evening would roll on, it was easy to understand English poet Charles Sorley, who wrote from this corner in 1914, “Berlin, the city where they don’t go to bed… but rush about from cafe to cafe all night long…” When to head back to the barracks? If we stayed a little longer, something would surely happen. Maybe those two cute girls would walk by for the third time! Some night in 2000, the last customer will have to make that decision to head for the Nachtlinie (owl) bus and the drowsy, caffeine-punctuated homeward ride.
Kranzler’s now is to join Berlin Brigade in the history books.
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This article was written for the Berlin U.S. Military Veterans Observer. It has been edited for general interest. The photo shows Kranzler’s during quieter hours, around 3:00 a.m. Looking across the Ku’Damm, my camera has caught the flash of light from a passing double-decker N19 bus (the Nachtwagen).
Note: a token presence of Kranzler’s was retained as a compromise on an upper floor of the modern building.
For a look at café life in pre-World War I Berlin:
Bridgewater, Patrick, editor; The Poets of the Cafe des Westens; Leicester University Press; Leicester, U.K.; 1984. Source of my quote from Charles Sorley, and with a number of comments which help to understand how Berlin café culture evolved.