Wertheim (department store)

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Inside the first Wertheim store in Stralsund, Western Pomerania

Wertheim was a large department store chain in pre-WWII Germany. It was founded by Georg Wertheim and operated four stores in Berlin, one in Rostock, one in Stralsund (where it had been founded), and one in Breslau.

The large Wertheim store on Leipziger Platz in Berlin, seen in the 1920s. It was the biggest department store in Europe at the time.

The chain's most famous store, on Leipziger Platz in Berlin, was constructed in 1896. It featured 83 elevators and a glass-roofed atrium, and was one of the three largest department stores (Warenhäuser) in Berlin, the others being Hermann Tietz and Kaufhaus des Westens. Brian Ladd called it “the crown jewel of the main shopping street."[1] The building was badly damaged in WWII and fell in the no man's land between East and West Berlin after the division of the city. The ruins were demolished in the 1950s.

The atrium of the Wertheim store on Leipziger Platz, c. 1900.

The company was subjected to the Nazi Aryanization policies in the 1930s. Jewish employees were forced from their positions by government mandate. The Wertheim family attempted to avoid losing control of the company by making Georg's wife, Ursula, the principal shareholder, since she was considered "Aryan" under Nazi law. In the end this was unsuccessful, even though they divorced to keep the shares in purely "Aryan" hands. The family was forced to sell all their shares at reduced prices to "Aryans" and in 1939 the store was renamed AWAG, an acronym for Allgemeine Warenhandelsgesellschaft A.G. (General Retailing Corporation).

Kurfurstendamm in 2003, Wertheim is the large silver and blue building at lower right.

For many years there were two remaining stores in Berlin which operated under the Wertheim name, even though they were owned by Karstadt. The flagship store was on the Kurfürstendamm. It was built in 1969-71 and was converted to a Karstadt in 2008. The other store was on the Schloßstraße in the Steglitz district. It was demolished in 2009 for construction of a new shopping center.

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