When completed in 1930, this consumer showpiece represented interwar Wrocław’s prosperity and splendour: a towering monument of European modernism, Renoma was the largest, most cutting-edge department store in this part of the continent selling high quality goods unavailable elsewhere. Designed by Berlin architect Hermann Dernburg, and initially known as ‘Wertheim’s’ after the Berlin family that owned the company, this flagship store was kitted out with all manner of elegant fittings including the ceramic tiles and gilded heads and flowers of the facade, the four enormous chandeliers affixed to the glass roof of the interior courtyards, floors of African rose wood and a fifth and sixth floor restaurant finished in Makassar ebony, which opened onto terraces overlooking the whole city and Karkonosze mountains in the distance. The 3,800 tonne steel skeleton was manufactured in nearby Wałbrzych, and incredibly, the entire structure took less than eight months to erect.
During the bombing of Festung Breslau in 1945, Wertheim’s was partially burned, yet reopened three years later for the Reclaimed Territories Exhibition – a propaganda stunt aimed at glorifying newly socialist Poland, with Wertheim’s playing the role of the country’s largest State Department Store. Commonly known as ‘Powszechne Domy Towarowe’ (Common Department Store), or ‘Pedet,’ upon reopening, Wrocław citizens attempted to reinfuse some of the building’s former glory by voting in a plebiscite to change the store’s name to ‘Renoma’ or ‘Excellent Reputation,’ and in 1977 the building was added to the Register of Historical Monuments.
Since privatisation in the 1990s, Remona has been undergoing a thorough renovation, returning the building to its old splendour, while modernising it for today’s retail sector. In close cooperation with the Historic Monuments Conservation Office, the unique facade has now been restored to its original appearance while the interior is transformed into modern retail space with as much respect to the site’s history as possible. Dernberg’s original vision for Remona included eventual expansion in the direction of Plac Czysty; though no blueprints were ever drawn, that plan has seen its fruition with a new wing designed by Mackow Design Workshop in collaboration with London designers, Benoy, and construction and installation designers, Arup. Connected to the old building via a glass atrium, the new wing nicely refers to the vintage of the historic building with long horizontal cornices on the facade and plenty of windows, while being wholly fresh and modern-looking at the same time. Actually it looks a bit like an enormous air filter, but we like it, really we do. The largest building of its kind in Poland, Renoma is the only surviving Wertheim department store and worth a look for the vintage character of its facade, if not the view of the Old Town from the restaurant with the Opera House in the foreground. Plus this is one of the closest shopping malls to the Rynek, certainly the most elegant and – as we already know – enjoys the most ‘excellent reputation.’