Hotel “Berlin-City”: Hospitality, Consumer Culture, and Visions of Urban Modernity in Nazi Germany

Saturday, January 5, 2013: 11:50 AM
Cornet Room (Sheraton New Orleans)
Adam S. Bisno, Johns Hopkins University
Berlin’s grand hotel scene was a site of Nazi intervention in urban consumer culture. The conspicuous consumption of goods and services had been mainstays of hotel life since the 1890s. In the ensuing decades, the grand hotel contributed to the culture and political economy of the urban pleasure zone, an area in central Berlin, the primary function of which was the consumption of goods, services, and amusements of all kinds. Myriad sites in the pleasure zone—the department store, the cabaret, the arcades, the bar, the cinema, and the theater as well as the grand hotel—became problem places in Nazi thinking. Nazi redevelopment of the city center, its rebranding as “Berlin-City,” entailed the expulsion of “riff-raff,” artists, and “whores,” and the renovation of several important sites, the most iconic being the Central Hotel, across from the Friedrichstraße Station. My presentation focuses on this renovation and the attendant redevelopment of the district to argue that fostering a robust, if sanitized, urban consumer culture was integral to Nazi efforts to generate a new urban modernity. Nazi business leaders and planners, like their Weimar predecessors, saw the potential of consumption to reshape not only Germans, as historians of Nazi and Weimar consumer culture continue to point out, but also the landscapes, real and imaginary, that German consumers inhabited. Attention to consumer practices in the pleasure zone, the reinvention of that pleasure zone as “Berlin-City,” and the renovation of the district’s most prominent concession, the Central Hotel, emphasizes the centrality of urban space and place in Nazi visions of urban consumer culture, an emphasis that reveals Nazi commitments to remaking spaces of urban consumption in accordance with their vision of a National Socialist modernity.