In 1924 Berlin counted about 899 nightclubs with late-night working permission. By 1937 this figure had increased to 13.346 night-clubs, one per 322 Berliners. One- third of all night-clubs in Berlin were concentrated in the City West, between Zoological Garden and the commercial boulevard of Kürfürstendamm. When in 1928 the architect Leo Nachtlicht was invited to transform an exhibition hall in Hardenberger Strasse into an entertainment centre he knew that it had to compete with the glamor and style of the neighbouring clubs.

For his Gurmenia Palace, the architect designed a hermetic, introverted space without any visual connection to other rooms in the building, nor to the outside. The central space was lit up by the lowered glass ceiling, which refracted the sunlight and allowed it to disperse into the space. To increase the light effect he used polished chrome surfaces and mirrors. But the architect, possibly inspired by the displays of the neighbouring Zoological Garden, decided to turn the whole restaurant into a tropical garden with exotic plants over the full height of the 2-storey dining gallery. The dining tables were drawn into the shade under the balconies to give the effects of a ‘waterfall of plants’ once the climbers would grow. And the upper levels were prepared to arrange plantation such that it would ornament private loggias for an exclusive dining experience.

For the design of the indoor garden he invited the landscape architect Georg Pniower, who used asymmetric and dynamic geometries to claim the „southernization“ of the landscape. To help the experience of the ‘far away’, artificial water basins and bridges were placed between the dining tables while the sound of fountains, bubbles of fishes and songs birds perfected the sensual comfort of this fantastic landscape. The tropical garden was designed to compete with nature – infallible and perfect, it was to represent the highest technical standards of air conditioning and to promote that latest innovation of modernism.

When in 1934 the Reich Music Chamber (Reichsmusikkammer) restricted playing Jazz music and reduced the permission for working hours of businesses such as these night clubs, Gurmenia was forced to close its doors. In 1938 Gourmenia filed for a licence to reopen, but it was denied. In the aerial raid of 1943 the building was seriously damaged. Only in 1957 the architects Hans Schozberger and Paul Schwebes built a shopping mall on the ruins of Gurmenia Palace.

Leo Nachtlicht who did not believe the immediate danger of Nazi Germany for him and his family tried to emigrate to England in 1938. It was too late. He was humiliated and died in 1942 in Berlin.

Ein Projekt von:

Tamara Popovic (tamara.popovic@uni-weimar.de)

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