Standing conspicuously among the traditional baroque buildings of the Friedrichstadt district in Dresden, Germany, the glazed dome and minarets of the Yenidze Building add an unexpected Middle Eastern flair to the city’s skyline.
In 1907, cigarette manufacturer Hugo Zietz’s plans to build a factory in the middle of Dresden were denied by the city, on the grounds that the standard aesthetic of a factory—bland, generic, obstructive—would threaten the architectural integrity of the historic center. So, with determination and ingenuity, Zietz began imagining a novel design that could satisfy city regulations while also providing clever advertising for his Turkish cigarettes.
Architect Martin Hammitzsch (who would later marry Adolf Hitler’s half sister) was hired to design the factory in the style of the mosques of the Ottoman Empire, where the tobacco was grown. But there was a minor problem: Hammitzsch had never seen a mosque in his life. After studying photographs and drawings of tombs and mosques in Cairo and Andalusia, he created blueprints that blended art nouveau and Moorish elements. At the time, such influences were deemed so controversial that Hammitzsch was ejected from the distinguished chamber of architecture.
There was nothing left for him to do but to add icing to the offense, by including a garish final touch: a neon sign—the first in Germany—was mounted onto the building. On it were emblazoned the words Salem Aleikum, meaning “Peace be with you.” Conveniently, the Arabic greeting was also the name of the cigarette brand produced within. The highly ornamented factory that came to be referred to as the “tobacco mosque” opened its doors in 1909.
The Oriental Tobacco and Cigarette Factory Yenidze soon became the largest cigarette manufacturing facility in Germany. While taking breaks from hand-rolling butts, the 1,500 workers at the factory were free to stroll through the immaculate light-flooded, well-ventilated halls. On the upper floor, there was an employee rest area equipped with a canteen and luxurious canvas chairs. The staff could even relax on the roof terrace and enjoy a full view of Dresden through the building’s glass dome.
During World War II, Allied bombing devastated Dresden, leaving few structures untouched. The Yenidze was no exception. A third of it was destroyed; its neon sign of peace collapsed in a pile of rubble. After the war, the East German government made attempts to repair the damage, but the Yenidze was not fully restored until the reunification of Germany in 1990.
It is now a modern office building with a trendy restaurant on the top floor and a new sign that reads “Yenidze” where “Salem Aleikum” once blinked in neon. Attempts have been made to embrace its original inspiration, such as using the venue for performances of Middle Eastern music and belly dancing. Perhaps befitting the candy-land facade and exotic minarets (well-disguised chimneys), fairy-tale readings for children are held there every weekend. No smoking is permitted on the premises.