Rosenthaler Straße 1
from my hotel room window.
AUTHOR: JAKOB HÜBNER (CENTRUM JUDAICUM); TRANSLATED BY CHRISTINA HIERATH AND PAUL SCRATON
The Rosenthaler Platz in Berlin has always been a unique and lively place, not least during the 1920s when it was the dividing line between two contrasting worlds. As a place where the working class housing neighbourhoods rubbed shoulders with the glamorous shopping streets it was the perfect setting for the German novelist Döblin in his famous description of the city in the twenties, Berlin Alexanderplatz. The protagonist of Döblin’s novel – Franz Biberkopf – is released from the prison in nearby Moabit and returns to the heart of the city and the streets around Rosenthaler Platz. Throughout the novel Döblin provides numerous descriptions of the neighbourhood that The Circus calls home, including the building that now houses The Circus Hotel. But what took place there?
“It warmed up after two days, Franz sold his winter coat, is wearing long underwear,….he is standing at Rosenthaler Platz in front of Fabisch’s Clothing, Fabisch& Co., fine men’s clothing, made to measure, quality workmanship and low prices guaranteed.”
Rosenthaler Straße 1, like many other buildings on Rosenthaler Platz and in the surrounding neighbourhood, was built well over a hundred years ago. These buildings survived the bombardments and battles of the Second World War, as well as the neglect of the communist era when these streets were at the heart of East Berlin.
When the building was first erected, one of the stores that made its home there specialised in coffee, tea, sugar and other imported goods. It was not long, however, before this store was replaced by a men’s outfitter, the “Ph Fabisch” company which would eventually find itself in the pages of Berlin Alexanderplatz. Philipp Fabisch’s clothing store was in keeping with a family tradition, the next in a long line of Fabischs that had been in the clothing business.
Philipp Fabisch opened his first store at Rosenthaler Straße 2 – at the junction with Linienstraße – in 1871. Later he would move to number one, a more prominent location directly on the Rosenthaler Platz. In 1896 he purchased the building, and by the turn of the century it was possible to purchase clothing for all the family at the northern end of the Rosenthaler Straße. In addition to Philipp’s store, there were others run by family members: At Rosenthaler Platz 3 Adolf Fabisch ran “Fabisch& Co”, supplying clothing for men and boys. Number two also belonged to the family and a certain Max Fabisch who we will return to later. A few metres down the road Bernard Fabisch was dealing in women’s hats at Rosenthaler Straße 63/64.
Elsewhere in the city, on the other side of Alexanderplatz, Gustav Fabisch ran a wholesale and export store, while Max and Alfred Fabisch had established a women’s coat factory on the Chauseestraße, close to Invalidenstraße, which was called “Max Fabisch& Co”. And it was not only in Berlin-Mitte that the Fabisch family operated. Mannheim Fabisch owned two stores in the then-outlying district of Schöneberg, a men’s and boy’s clothing store as well as a second hand store, both of which had opened in 1868.
As well as working in the Rosenthaler Platz neighbourhood, Philipp Fabisch and his wife Therese lived in the area, at Rosenthaler Straße 72. This building also housed a clothing store that had a Fabisch connection, the owner Max Cohn having married Margarete, maiden name Fabisch.
Philipp Fabisch was born on November 16th 1839 in the town of Wreschen (nowadays called Września, in Poland). He came to the Prussian capital in the wave of emigration from the outlying provinces which occurred during the second half of the nineteenth century, and made his fortune to the extent that he became a millionaire, a story repeated by quite a few of the aforementioned family members. In addition to clothing stores, Philipp Fabisch also owned buildings, such as Rosenthaler Stasse 1, Number 72 on the same street, and at least three other buildings in the city.
Despite being relatively well known for his economic achievements, not much is known about Phillipp Fabisch’s private life. He had three children (a fourth – Siegmund – died in childhood), and he was a senior member of the “Posener’s Organisation” (Verein der Posener), an organisation for people who came from the region around Posen. Philipp was also involved with and supported, along with Adolf and Max Fabisch, the “Higher Institute for Jewish Studies” (Hochschule für die Wissenschaft des Judentums) in Berlin, in which many important Jewish figures studied, taught and did research.
On October 5th 1917 Philipp Fabisch passed away, and was buried next to his wife Therese (neé Pick, b.1838, d.1899) in the Jewish Cemetery in Weissensee, where the grave remains to this day. Following Philipp Fabisch’s death, a group of his heirs managed his properties and businesses for the next two decades, namely Philipp’s three children Margarete Cohn, Hulda Pach and Max Fabisch, along with Margerete’s husband Max Cohn (who died towards the end of 1933). As we have seen the Cohn family and Max Fabisch also had their own companies as well as managing Philipp Fabisch’s empire. The clothing store at Rosenthaler Platz remained open and kept the name “Ph. Fabisch”.
As well as the Fabisch store at Rosenthaler Straße 1 (currently home to The Circus Hotel), the building also housed a branch of the shoe company Salamander in the period leading up to the First World War. Around the turn of the century and up to 1908, the basement of the building also housed one of Berlin’s oldest reading rooms that had become known as the “writers’ library” (Schreiber-Lesehalle) because of all the jobless writers who spent time there.
In 1938 this building on the south west corner of Rosenthaler Platz was “transferred to Aryan possession”. This matter-of-fact wording was used in the business section of the Jüdische Rundschau (Jewish Review) on November 1st 1938, only days before the Reichskristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass) when Synagogues were torched and Jewish-owned businesses across Germany were pillaged. The Philipp Fabisch GmbH was liquidated on April 5th 1939.
The Nazi repression and ever increasing persecution shattered the Fabisch family. Philipp Fabisch’s three children – the remaining shareholders of the company – were deported to the Theresienstadt concentration camp in 1942 and murdered, following years of harassment and oppression in their home city of Berlin. Almost all the grandchildren of Philipp Fabisch managed to escape and emigrated to the United States in time, and thus survived. A single grandchild, who emigrated to France in 1936, was most likely deported from there to Auschwitz.
After the Second World War Rosenthaler Platz was in the Soviet sector, which would later become the capital city of the German Democratic Republic – communist East Germany. Rosenthaler Straße 1 remained a clothing store, but it no long stood on the corner of Elsasserstraße, which had been renamed Wilhelm-Pieck-Straße by the new regime. This department store at Rosenthaler Platz was part of a branch of the Handelsorganisation Fachhandel Berlin, Textil the state-owned chain of retail stores. Despite the fact that former employees report that there was often not a lot of work to do, or many products on sale, there were four people employed at the Rosenthaler Platz store at any one time, and many long-term friendships were made.
After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 a clothing store continued to operate at Rosenthaler Straße 1, the Mode-Treff: Dick aber Chic for over-size clothing. In the period that followed there were many different tenants, but the story comes to its conclusion with the opening of the Circus Hotel in October 2008. The owners of the Circus Hotel are very much aware of the history of the building at Rosenthaler Straße 1, as well as the surrounding neighbourhood, and most of all they live and work on the Rosenthaler Platz, respecting the accomplishments of the Fabisch family and remembering their fate.