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The Fabisch Family and The Circus Hotel

There are a number of important events that took place in Germany on 9 November, which is known as the ‘Schicksaltag’ or Date of Fate. It was on this day that Kaiser Wilhelm was dethroned in 1918, that Hitler launched his failed and infamous Beer Hall Putsch in 1923, and that the Berlin Wall came down in 1989. It is also the day of the November Pogrom of 1938, sometimes known as ‘Kristallnacht’ or the Night of Broken Glass. 

On this day Nazis from the SA, the SS, the Hitler Youth and German civilians carried out a pogrom against Jews in Germany, attacking homes, hospitals, schools, synagogues and people across the country, damaging or destroying 7,000 Jewish businesses, with 30,000 Jewish men arrested and taken to concentration camps, with more than 100 people murdered. It was a violent and bloody prelude to the crimes to come, and the murder of six million Jews during the Holocaust.

In November 1938, a building on the south-west corner of Rosenthaler Platz was ‘transferred to Aryan possession’ from its Jewish owners. Today, this building is home to The Circus Hotel. Since 1896 it had been the property of the Fabisch family, known throughout our neighbourhood and the wider city of Berlin for their clothing stores. Indeed, such was their renown that it even provided a backdrop for a scene in one of the most important German novels of the early 20th century – Berlin Alexanderplatz by Alfred Döblin:

A couple of days later it’s warmed up, Franz has hocked his coat, put on some warm underclothing that Lina had from somewhere, stands in front of Fabisch & Co. on Rosenthaler Platz, gentlemen’s outfitters, quality work and low prices are our hallmarks. Franz is selling tie-holders…

Phillip Fabisch was born in 1839 in the town of Wreschen (today Września, Poland) and came to the Prussian capital in the second half of the 19th century to make his fortune. He opened his first clothing store at Rosenthaler Straße 2 in 1871, and fifteen years later added Rosenthaler Straße 1, a more prominent location looking out onto the square itself. A little further down the street, the family owned a hat shop, while elsewhere in the city the Fabisch family ran a wholesale and export store as well as a womens’ coat factory and two stores in the then-outlying district of Schöneberg.

Although Phillip Fabisch was relatively well-known for his achievements, becoming a millionaire by the turn of the century, not so much is known about his private life. He had four children (one who died in childbirth) and was a senior member of the Posener’s Organisation (Verein der Posener), an organisation for people who came from the region around Posen. Phillip was also involved with and supported the Higher Institute for Jewish Studies (Hochschule für die Wissenschaft des Judentums) in Berlin, in which many important Jewish people studied, taught and researched.

Phillip Fabisch died in 1917 and was buried in the Jewish cemetery in Weißensee, where his grave remains to this day. Following his death, a group of heirs managed his properties and businesses for the next two decades, namely his three surviving children Margerete, Hulda and Max, plus Margerete’s husband Max Cohn. The clothing store at Rosenthaler Platz continued to carry the Fabisch name.

Following the ‘transfer’ of the property in November 1938, as Jewish-owned businesses were being damaged and destroyed in the pogrom or falling victim to property transfers, the Phillip Fabisch GmbH was liquidated on 5 April 1939. The Nazi repression and ever increasing persecution shattered the Fabisch family. Margarete, Hulda and Max, the last shareholders of the company, were deported to the Theresienstadt concentration camp in 1942 following years of harassment and oppression in their home city of Berlin.

Phillip Fabisch’s three children were all murdered in Theresienstadt. Almost all of his grandchildren managed to escape and emigrate to the United States and survived the Holocaust. A single grandchild, who emigrated to France in 1936, was most likely deported from there to Auschwitz, where he was killed.

During the years following the Second World War, the Fabisch building was used as a state-owned clothing store, and following the fall of the Berlin Wall it was used by a number of renters until it became home to The Circus Hotel in 2008. One of the first things we did with the opening of the hotel was to research the history of the building and find ways to tell the story of the Fabisch family and those who had gone before us.

For those of us who work at The Circus, as for so many Berliners, the history of our city offers not only reminders of the past but lessons for the future. We work at Rosenthaler Straße 1, welcoming our guests from around the world, with full respect for the Fabisch family and their achievements, and we remember their fate. There is a memorial plaque to the Fabisch family on the outside of The Circus Hotel, and in the basement you will find an exhibition, including photographs and other artefacts, to help us to continue to tell the story.