Grand tour of the Apple retail palaces of Europe: Berlin

April 11, 2014, 10:54 AM UTC

Photo: Apple


FORTUNE — After Paris, the big Apple Store on the tree-lined Kurfürstendamm — the wide boulevard that is Berlin’s version of the Champs-Élysées — was a bit of a shock.

The classical Greek revival facade, with its tall windows and inset Ionic columns, is even more imposing than its Parisian sister store‘s.

The shopping area inside, however, has none of the Opéra’s old-world charm.

It’s a huge space, with 43 tables (four times the typical mall store). But it has been stripped of every pre-war detail that graced it when the building opened in 1913 as the Film-Bühne Wien (Vienna Cinema), with an elegant ground-floor restaurant, a second-level lobby, and an 850-seat theater on the third level under a domed, 26-foot ceiling.

The ground floor as it used to look.

The damage was done long before Apple (AAPL) arrived. The cinema went dark in 2000 and the space was carved up every which way. According to ifoapplestore‘s Gary Allen, the building has been home, at various times, to a Salvador Dali museum, some Loewe Galerie electronics shops, an Aveda hairstyling salon, the Dresdner Bank, eight mini theaters, a few residential apartments and briefly, in 2007, a Microsoft pop-up store. 

I got a tour of the whole building. My guide proudly showed off the limestone walls, hewed from a local quarry, the thick German oak tables (the Genius bar alone weighed 1.8 tons), the red-carpeted stairway and the third-floor theater which is regularly packed for whatever musical group happens to be passing through Berlin. (Recent appearances: Passenger, 30 Seconds to Mars, and Crosby, Stills and Nash.)

I learned in Paris that it’s a mistake to compare the foot traffic at any Apple retail outlet with the always-mobbed New York Fifth Avenue store I know best. Also, shoppers tend to come in waves. At noon, customers were walking into the Kurfürstendamm store at the rate of 4.5 per minute (compared with 6.3 at Opéra). Two hours later the rate jumped to 9.5 per minute — better even than the 8.6 per minute I counted at the Apple store under the Louvre.

Photo: PED

Let’s put it this way. In the 15 minutes that the Berlin Apple Store drew 68 visitors, only 3 shoppers entered the Timberland outlet next door. And nobody lined their children up for a photograph in front the shoe store, as this family from Belgium did in the attached photo.

I found the kids inside happily ensconced at the Kinder table. The other customers were spread out roughly as follows: 14 at the MacBook tables, 5 at iPhone tables, 4 at iPads, 2 at iMacs and 0 at iPods. The Genius bar and accessories room were both busy.

Still to go on my five-city tour: London, Amsterdam and Barcelona. But first, since I’m within rail distance, side trips to Prague, Kraków and Auschwitz.

See also: Grand tour of the Apple retail palaces of Europe: Paris