Berlin debates turning department store into city's first central library

Berlin debates turning department store into city's first central library

Berlin’s Senator for Culture, Joe Chialo, has announced a proposal to turn the Galeries Lafayette department store on Friedrichstrasse into the city’s first central library. The proposed project is causing a good deal of debate. 

Berlin in desperate need of new library building

Ever since 1908, when the city started putting away 100.000 marks per year into a fund, Berlin has been intending to open a central library, but over the decades plans have been scuppered again and again, by wars, political upheaval, and disagreements about the specifics of the project. 

What is certain is that the existing buildings that house the Zentral- und Landesbibliothek (ZLB) are overused and dilapidated, suffering from overcrowding, flooding and overheating. Regina Kittler, head of the Berlin branch of the German Library Association, wrote in a recent article in the Berliner Morgenpost that the buildings are “bursting at the seams and ramshackle.” 

After debating the issue for no less than 120 years - and dismissing sites from the International Congress Centre to the decommissioned Tempelhof airport as unsuitable - plans are finally afoot to unite the multiple sites into one large and central location. 

Quartier 207 building on Friedrichstrasse “perfect” for library

The chosen location is a building called Quartier 207, which currently houses the French department store Galeries Lafayette but looks set to be vacated in 2024 when the store’s lease expires. Experts say that the building is perfect for housing a central library, with a circular, open-plan layout, plenty of lifts and escalators, and an East-meets-West location with plenty of public transportation nearby. 

Joe Chialo is reportedly proceeding with plans to have the building purchased by the city. According to rbb24, the building owner, US company Tishman Speyer, last month submitted an initial purchase price offer to the city. 

The project has received the support of a broad range of experts, including the ZLB Foundation, representatives from universities in Berlin, and the Left party. However, the Social Democrats, who currently run Berlin’s coalition government alongside Chialo’s CDU party, are raising concerns about the condition of the building, its suitability as a library, and the overall financing of the project, which according to initial estimates could cost around 589 million euros.  

Kittler said that the plan presented an opportunity to breathe new life into the district around Friedrichstrasse, giving a once divided city, “a proper centre, with a space that has communal rather than commercial interests at its heart.” If all goes ahead, Chialo expects the building could be operational as a new central library by 2026. 

Image credit: Velishchuk Yevhen /



Abi Carter

Managing Editor at IamExpat Media. Abi studied German and History at the University of Manchester and has since lived in Berlin, Hamburg and Utrecht, working since 2017 as a writer,...

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