With 67 shopping malls and more on the way, Berlin embraces its inner suburbanist

One of the biggest surprises awaiting the visitor to Berlin is the startling number of shopping malls. It can seem as though you’re never more than ten minutes from one. I had to compile my own map to see where they all are, as well as a New York City malls map for comparison. Click on the images below for the full interactive maps.

Berlin has 67 malls and there is “no end in sight” to the construction of more according to the Tagesspiegel newspaper; in fact three more are currently planned. New York has 16, which means Berlin has ten times as many malls per capita and four times as many per square mile. If New York City had the same density of malls it would have 156. It’s possible, though, there could be an upside to the mallification to which Berlin is thought to represent – by Americans at least – an antithesis.

Berlin (left) and New York. Click for interactive map. Blue lines are 10 miles. Grey denotes area beyond NYC limits. Malls in blue are not accessible by subway.

Greater berlin w 10 mile line NYC whole city w 10 mile line 2

Still, the figures disguise the rarity of malls in the New York cityscape: most New Yorkers seldom see them and aren’t exactly sure where they are. Manhattan has three, in out of the way locations and anecdotally I can confirm that none of my acquaintances ever sets foot in them. Brooklyn, the Bronx and Queens each have only one that is accessible by subway.

Not so in Berlin, where the most irritating and saddening mall is beyond a doubt the one combined with the main train station, which opened in 2006. There, a three-story mall relegates the train tracks to the fourth floor and the basement, forcing the hapless passenger to trek through a colossal labyrinth of gangways and 54 escalators.

On the plus side, the soaring glass vaults and cavernous open spaces are indeed impressive and worthy of a great 21st-century train station, and there is a supermarket, something every train station should have.

The mall boom is a relatively recent phenomenon: most have been built within a 20- to 25-year span that began shortly after Germany’s reunification in 1990. The malls in question are not all two- and three-story structures with escalators and 100 to 200 stores. Most are smaller but still share most or all of the following traits: inappropriate scale, separation of uses (housing, stores and workplaces are each clumped together instead of interspersed, one of the key mistakes in urban planning), privatization of public space, prioritizing cars over pedestrians, sprawl (low density and high impervious surface causing water pollution and flooding), ugliness.

These traits – which are broad categories encompassing a host of other impacts – sum up the major urban planning “don’ts” known since the 1960s through such observers as Jane Jacobs, William H. White and Christopher Alexander and whose disastrous effects many cities have been struggling to reverse. To be optimistic, though, it’s conceivable these malls in Berlin could have a positive side. Given that the city still has a reasonable number of small local independent shops, it seems that concentrating the global chain stores in malls could be reducing the pressure in the storefront rental market, providing more opportunities for independent shops to remain. However, given the San Francisco-like rate of rent increases and gentrification, their future seems uncertain: in the nine months following the first posting of this article in March 2017, three small long-standing independent clothing stores (one selling only clothing made by the owner) and a children’s environmental learning center on my street closed, replaced by a hearing-aid store, a mobile phone store focusing on the Turkish market, and two empty storefronts.

Berlin center 10 mile line

Central Berlin. Click for interactive map. Blue line is 10 miles.

 

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Berlin Central Station

 

(JPEG Image, 1000 × 662 pixels)

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2 Responses to “With 67 shopping malls and more on the way, Berlin embraces its inner suburbanist”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Hi there,

    some “malls” in Berlin are only super markets with 1-3 small shops/bakery around them. You won’t call them “mall” (Plaza, Allende Center).

    But this is a fine idea to compare things on a map.

    Best
    T

    • Richard says:

      Glad you like the map. I will go back and clarify in the text what is included here. In compiling the map I checked the sites to verify that they share the same set of effects on livability and urban form:

      – inappropriate scale
      – privatization of public space
      – separation of uses (housing, stores and workplaces are each clumped together instead of interspersed)
      – sprawl (low density and high impervious surface)
      – prioritizing cars over pedestrians
      – ugliness

      There are many other effects; these six are broad, simplified categories. The sites don’t all have all six traits – a majority of sites have five or six, a minority has four, and if you click on the map you can see I separated out six sites that are borderline. So, ‘mall’ here doesn’t denote only multi-story structures such as Mall of Berlin.

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