Schocken Department Store
Simple, clear and straightforward, the Schocken department store was the realisation of International Style ideals for its designer, Erich Mendelsohn, when it opened in Chemnitz in 1930. Following branches in Stuttgart and Nuremberg, it was the architect’s third department store building for the brothers Simon and Salman Schocken. It is still regarded today as a milestone of the New Architecture.
During the 1920s, the Schocken company grew to become one of the most successful department store chains in Germany. In Chemnitz, Mendelsohn translated the retailers’ innovative sales concept into modern architectural language: with a dynamic, curtain-wall façade that elegantly follows the curve of the street, the department store clearly stood out from its fragmented surroundings and gave the city a touch of metropolitan flair. The window bands stretched in a large arc between stairwells at either end. The bands, which were illuminated at night, appeared to float despite their impressive dimensions.
Mendelsohn also extended his concept of “function and dynamism” into the interior, creating a unified look for the company that ran through all aspects of the department stores: brightly lit salesrooms, no-nonsense typography, a clear layout of sales counters and the city’s first escalators. Customers were meant to focus on the manufactured goods for sale rather than being distracted by the interior spaces.
By 1930 Schocken had expanded into Germany’s fourth-largest department store chain, with a total of 20 branches. However, its success came to an end when the National Socialists seized power. Salman Schocken – whose brother, Simon, had since passed away – was forced to sell his property and then emigrated, first to Palestine in 1934 subsequently to the USA. The building was severely damaged during the Second World War but was later restored and continued to serve as a department store during the East German era. Following the fall of the Berlin Wall, it was taken over by the Kaufhof Group, who later sold it.
Today, four floors of the building are used as a museum after having been renovated in 2014 to house Saxony’s State Museum of Archaeology Chemnitz, or smac for short. Space has been set aside for displays describing the building’s uncommon history. [DB/DK]