Some people are lucky enough to win an apartment in the centre of Berlin, others have to resort to booking a room when they want to visit Berlin. But if you’ve ever tried to find a hotel at Strausberger Platz or Karl-Marx-Allee, you will have noticed there aren’t any. That is, if you’ve tried since 1995. Until then, there was the big and once famous Hotel Berolina, right behind Kino International. Unfortunately, this hotel suffered the same fate as many other GDR buildings in the past 25 years.
Today, 25 years after reunification, Olympic Games and sports probably are not the first thing that springs to mind when Germans talk about life in communist East Germany. At the time, though, the GDR’s political leadership regarded athletic prowess as an important propaganda tool in their efforts to prove their system’s superiority to western liberalism. Accordingly, the government poured financial support into disciplines that were deemed to showcase the country’s virtues to greatest effect: athletics, cycling, rowing and tobogganing. This strategy proved extremely successful: between 1968 and 1989, East German athletes won a total of 192 gold medals, while their West German counterparts had to make do with 67. For all their international stardom, however, there was also a dark side to the triumphs of East German top athletes, who owed at least some of their successes to the use of performance-enhancing drugs.
It was a lovely summer night and I was riding my bicycle down Unter den Linden towards Alexanderplatz. There was hardly any traffic, so I had the street to myself and I was enjoying the beautiful buildings on Berlin’s most famous boulevard – except for Karl-Marx-Allee, of course. And then I saw it, crossing the road right in front of me. At first I thought it was a cat, which would have been strange enough since I hardly ever spot any cats in Berlin. Could it be a dog, wandering the streets all alone? No, I had never seen a tail like that on a dog: it was big, furry and red, with a white tip. This had to be a fox!