So I’ve decided I’m going to do something wild and uncanny for this new blog post: I’m going to write about something that happened before the GDR existed. The U-Bahn station Schillingstraße (between Strausberger Platz and Alexanderplatz) has a permanent photo exhibition showing not only the ‘new’ Karl-Marx-Allee, but also what it looked like before the war. I started searching for the disappeared history of my street – and it was harder than I thought.
One of the pictures in the Schillingstraße station.
Image courtesy of Daphne Damiaans
Concierges play a starring role in many French films – elderly women decked out in pinafores who cast a beady eye on anybody entering the building.
Slightly humorous, utterly harmless, at most a little prone to gossip – that’s the view from the West. When the German Democratic Republic was founded 67 years ago, the job description of the Hauswart, or caretaker, was a little different. They were officious party soldiers who closely monitored the inhabitants of their assigned buildings. On Karl-Marx-Allee, special measures applied as befitted the boulevard’s special status.
The historic Strausberger Platz, image courtesy of mato – shutterstock.com
While Strausberger Platz is an excellent example of perfectly preserved GDR history and architecture, Berlin also has plenty of buildings from the same period that haven’t been this lucky. They are forgotten and awaiting a slow but inevitable decay or demolition. Sad, isn’t it? As a big fan of GDR history/architecture AND abandoned buildings, these places are small pieces of paradise to me. I’ve visited quite a lot of them and I’d like to share my favourites with you.
Ballhaus Grünau in full glory, 1910.
Image courtesy of Digital Cosmonaut
As the saying goes, when the wind blows from the East, this is where you notice it more than anywhere else. Karl-Marx-Allee, formerly Stalinallee, which cuts through the districts of Mitte and Friedrichshain, is one of Berlin’s most iconic road sections. There are few other places where political history, ideological warfare and architecture are so closely intertwined. This two-mile stretch of road is a piece of post-war history located in the heart of the German capital. So-called “workers’ palaces”, some built in the style of Socialist Classicism, also known as “national tradition” in the GDR, some harking back to Prussian Classicism, line both sides of the road, which has experienced a number of name changes over the course of its illustrious history. Before 1949, it was divided into Große Frankfurter Straße (between Frankfurter Tor and Strausberger Platz) and Frankfurter Allee (from Frankfurter Tor eastwards). After the establishment of the German Democratic Republic, its name was changed along with its architectural style: on 21 December 1949, the entire road was renamed Stalinallee in honour of the eponymous leader’s 70th birthday.
Among the most distinctive features of Karl-Marx-Allee is its expansive layout. That’s because it was designed for parades and displays of military power as much as for everyday traffic. The boulevard is bookended by the twin towers at Frankfurter Tor, built in the same style as the Französischer Dom (French Cathedral), and the iconic buildings on Strausberger Platz with their unusual step-like structure, which is reminiscent of official buildings in U.S. state capitals. This area is sometimes marketed as Berlin’s “golden east”, probably due to the location of the workers’ palaces, whose exterior facades reflect the evening sun in summer, casting the entire boulevard into a golden glow.
The Strausberger Platz.
Some things are the same in offices all over the world; that’s why TV shows like The Office (you don’t say) are a huge success: colleagues who are always late, colleagues with the worst sense of humour, office romances blossoming at after-work drinks and complaints about the bad coffee/slow computers/grumpy boss. But I also noticed that so many things are different in German offices compared to Dutch ones. And that’s great, because I think it tells a lot about a culture in general. So here are my observations.
A reason to work in the GDR.
Image courtesy of Bundesarchiv