Born in 1918, Two Minutes from his Parents’ Perfumery on Kurfürsten­damm

Fritz Scherk and the History of a Family Business in Berlin

A boy sits naked and a little upset at the table; the living room is covered with a floral wallpaper.

Fritz Scherk on his second birthday, Berlin, 26 May 1920; Jewish Museum Berlin, accession 2009/282/7, gift of Irene Alice Scherk, photo: Jens Ziehe

A beaming toddler sits naked on a lavishly laid birthday table, apparently having the time of his life. A photo like this could easily have been taken today, I thought, when I saw it in the diary that Ludwig and Alice Scherk kept for their son Fritz. In fact, the happy child would have turned 100 today. Being born in 1918 didn’t exactly promise a peaceful life, especially not for a member of a German-Jewish family.

Actually the family’s second child had been planned for 1916, three years after the birth of their first son, but the outbreak of war got in the way. But on 26 May 1918 the time had come: Fritz was born next to his mother’s Bechstein piano—by candlelight because of the war, and just two minutes away from his parents’ business, the Scherk Perfumery on Kurfürstendamm.

His mother had taken over sales and even production for a time while his father was in military service—not a foregone conclusion for the trained vocalist. In 1901, the then-thirteen-year-old niece of the owner of the Frankfurt cosmetics firm Dr. Albersheim (“A scent unlike anything that grows on earth!”) had fallen in love with the young employee Ludwig Scherk. In 1906, he moved to Berlin, initially as a representative of Albersheim, but soon the adroit businessman managed to start up his own company. After starting their own business, the two married in 1911 and had their first child in 1913.

Black and white photo of a building with illuminated showcases and the glowing lettering Scherk on Kurfürstendamm at night.

Scherk Perfumery and Leather Goods Store on Kurfürstendamm at night, Berlin around 1930; Jewish Museum Berlin, accession 2009/335/4/001, gift of Irene Alice Scherk

Alice and Ludwig Scherk were people who actively shaped their lives. In business matters, Ludwig strictly adhered to the principle “No banks—no stocks—no frivolities!” He never took out loans, and always only invested in surplus stock, limited to a few high-quality products. They were sold in aesthetically refined packaging; Alice’s artistic talent ensured that the right selection was made. Her influence is also evident in the new buildings constructed at the end of the 1920s: the brick factory building on Kelchstraße in Steglitz was designed by Fritz Höger and is still standing today; the business on Kurfürstendamm was redesigned by Otto Salvisberg; and, not least, the villa designed by Ernst Freud that the family moved into in 1931.

Black and white photograph of the interior view of a store with illuminated showcases.

Interior view of the business on Kurfürstendamm renovated by Otto Salvisberg, Berlin 1928–1938; Jewish Museum Berlin, accession 2009/235/2/001, gift of Irene Alice Scherk

But the political catastrophes came. Already in 1923, in the midst of the global economic crisis, and shocked by the rise of Ludendorff and Hitler, the Scherks had already acquired visas to emigrate to Prague. Branches of the company opened in New York and elsewhere also offered a basis for business abroad, but, as Alice wrote, “we cling with every fiber of our beings to this German soil.”

Then came 1933. Soon after the change of government, Ludwig Scherk received offers to buy the business, but he tried to keep possession of it. In 1934, Alice took her own life.

Like his brother Walter, Fritz went to France to complete his education, as his father wished. In 1938, Ludwig Scherk was finally forced to sell his company to Schering AG. While his father emigrated to London, Fritz remained in France, joining the Foreign Legion after the war broke out. Although he later would emphasize how difficult these years were, photos of him from this era show the same irrepressible good spirits, often holding a violin or accordion.

Black and white photograph of a man in profile, with a book in his hand, sitting on a sofa.

Portrait of Ludwig Scherk, Berlin, 1922; Jewish Museum Berlin, accession 2009/282/15, gift of Irene Alice Scherk, photo: Jens Ziehe

“Now came the war, and it was Fritz’s aspiration to finally change his situation,”

he versified with a pinch of humor later in life. For his father, it was the destruction of his life’s work, but for Fritz it was liberation from his imposed inheritance. But soon after the war, it caught up with him again. Ludwig Scherk died unexpectedly in 1946 while preparing to return to Germany, and Fritz, who was by then in Haifa, filed a claim for restitution. After a lengthy process, he was able to buy back his father’s company for the price of sale in 1938, and he returned to Berlin at the insistent request of the former staff, where he began reconstructing the heavily damaged factory.

Under Ludwig Scherk, there had always been a good atmosphere at the business, and Fritz put heartfelt effort into creating familial solidarity. The Scherk company parties were legendary, and on St. Nicholas’ Day, the boss handed out hand-selected and sometimes hand-made gifts. At the same time, together with his wife Ruth, also born in Berlin, he founded the first Montessori kindergarten in Berlin.

 A woman is lying in a meadow in a white dress with a short haircut.

Alice Scherk on a lawn, Berlin, 1931–1934; Jewish Museum Berlin, accession 2009/230/6/002, gift of Irene Alice Scherk

In the 1960s, the company encountered increasing economic hardship. Fritz Scherk sold the business in 1969. Production was moved to Braunschweig. The Free University of Berlin purchased the factory building. Scherk products continued to be marketed by various companies for another two decades. Fritz Scherk finally dedicated himself to his own interests once again, studying psychology and working as a consultant. In 1995, he died on a family trip to Jerusalem.

Iris Blochel-Dittrich, Collection Documentation

Three black and white photos, two showing building and one showing a middle aged man sitting at a desk.

Fritz Scherk in the new factory: photos of reconstruction and a portrait of Fritz Scherk (1918–1995), Berlin around 1951; Jewish Museum Berlin, gift of Irene Alice Scherk, photo: Jens Ziehe

Citation recommendation:

Iris Blochel-Dittrich (2018), Born in 1918, Two Minutes from his Parents’ Perfumery on Kurfürsten­damm. Fritz Scherk and the History of a Family Business in Berlin.

Behind the Scenes: Anecdotes and Exciting Finds while Working with our Collections (21)

Share, Newsletter, Feedback