Wendy Liebmann, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of WSL Strategic Retail, recently visited Berlin, where she was blown away by a retail concept unlike she’s ever seen. Here, Wendy discusses the pros and cons of West Berlin’s newest architectural fete.

“Berlin is a very hopping town of late for lots of reasons: music, food and culture abound. On my visit, from July 13 to July 16, I went to Germany’s first concept mall, Bikini Berlin, located in West Berlin. What makes it interesting is that it’s anchored by the Berlin Zoo on one side and a hotel, 25hours Hotel, on the other side, which in itself is really novel. It’s called ‘bikini’ because the building’s design in the Fifties was once split into an upper and lower area, reminding Berliners of the swimwear fashion making headlines at the time, the bikini. What they’ve done is focus on making it an artsy, edgy concept mall that isn’t just about typical retailers. There are no department stores in sight. There’s a mixture of deconstructed retailers made up of unknown fashion and home brands. We are all so used to malls being fashion focused; this doesn’t feel like that at all. With the exception of Gant and Vans I didn’t know any of the brands. Even the way some of the companies presented signs—handwritten— and loose hanging curtains, it is unusual and special. I haven’t seen this anywhere. There is also an art gallery, some home stores and de rigueur electronics stores. The highlight of Bikini Berlin is the large, landscaped and publicly accessible roof terrace that allows for a unique view of the zoo.”

“The design materials they use give it a raw feeling with unfinished cement floors, unfinished wood, and it’s all very open and lofty. There’s lots of natural light, with skylights from the top; one wall is next to the zoo and is made of glass so you can look into the monkey exhibit from inside the mall. There’s a wooden center staircase that accesses all three floors. Bikini Berlin has taken on the task to preserve or restore the original architecture and uses extensive, horizontally arranged glass plates in colors of sand, amber, black, white marble and stone gray.”

“When I visited it was Mercedes Benz Fashion Week so there were lots of pop ups on the ground floor where you would usually see carts and smaller brands. There were also open shipping containers, Bikini Berlin Boxes, stocked with fashion and beauty items that gave a feeling the products were ‘just off the ship.’ Many of the pop ups are rented out for three to 12 months at a time to rotate the offerings.”

“Prices of merchandise are in the $100-$500 range, not low-end by any means, not designer or luxury either. The crowd was quite edgy and artsy, a reflection of the area. I think the challenge is why someone would want to revisit the mall. It’s only about two-thirds rented, and there’s that feeling of what’s to come? I think they need to balance it out with not just esoteric retailers but with more food or maybe a glasses store or sneakers. There wasn’t a pure play beauty retailer so that could be an opportunity, too.”