Retracing the GDR’s History: 9 Former East German Tourist Attractions

GDR history has a special kind of appeal. If you enjoy retracing history, make sure to visit the sites of these nine former East German tourist attractions not far from Strausberger Platz.


1. The Palace of the Republic

The Palace of the Republic was one of the most popular attractions in socialist East Germany. Located directly on Alexanderplatz, straight opposite the Berlin Cathedral, it housed the East German parliament and also served as a cultural centre open to the general public with various halls for concerts, theatre and dance performances.

In the new millennium, the German Parliament decided to demolish the building and clear the path – not to mention the space – for rebuilding the Stadtschloss (Berlin Palace). Demolition was completed in 2008, and construction work on the prestigious new building started in 2013.

2. Ministry for Foreign Affairs

Located opposite the Palace of the Republic, this building was another popular attraction. As part of the socialist regime’s ambitious redesign of the centre of East-Berlin, the square formerly known as Schinkelplatz and the site of the Building Academy, which was damaged during World War II and torn down in 1962, was repurposed to build the new home of the ministry in charge of East German foreign policy, which was completed in 1967. Standing 10 storeys tall at a height of 44 metres (144 feet) and a length of 145 metres (475 feet) long, the building was impressive in size.

3. Ernst Thälmann Pioneer Palace

The large park known today as Volkspark Wuhlheide is located in Oberschöneweide, southeast of the city centre. In the 1950s, the park, which had sustained serious damage during World War II, was restored, redesigned and renamed in honour of Ernst Thälmann, the leader of the Communist Party of Germany during the Weimar Republic. This is where the Ernst Thälmann Pioneer Palace was built in 1979.

Now part of the Wuhlheide Recreation Centre, the Pioneer Palace was one of the largest facilities of the East German Pioneer Organisation, the state-sponsored youth movement for schoolchildren aged 6 to 14. The Palace hosted many free activities including classes in painting, pottery, sewing and other arts and crafts.
The park itself remains a popular spot for locals to go for walks, picnics, bike rides etc. During the summer months, concerts on the open-air stage – the second largest in Berlin after the Waldbühne, its counterpart on the western edge of the city – attract large crowds of up to 17,000 music fans.

4. Lenin Statue

It goes without saying that the capital of socialist East Germany had a stature dedicated to the founder of the Soviet Union. He also had a square named after him, which is where the statue was situated. Renamed Platz der Vereinten Nationen in 1992, the square formerly known as Leninplatz is located only a few hundred yards from Strausberger Platz at the entrance to Volkspark Friedrichshain.

The statue’s unveiling during a ceremony to mark the reopening of the newly redesigned square in 1970 was attended by 200,000 invited guests and spectators, including dignitaries from other socialist countries and high-ranking East German officials. Made of polished red granite and standing 19 metres (62 feet tall), it was literally a larger-than-life representation of the communist leader.

In the wake of German reunification, the statue was dismantled into 129 separate parts over the course of several months. It has since been replaced by a water fountain surrounded by five large natural boulders, each from a different continent.

5. Centrum Warenhaus on Alexanderplatz

Many tourists visiting the GDR considered the Centrum Warenhaus on Alexanderplatz a must-see attraction, due in part to the iconic design of the retail chain’s store façades.

 

Unlike many other buildings in the vicinity, this one was not demolished after reunification but repurposed to house the Galeria Kaufhof department store. Although the building has lost its iconic façade to refurbishment, Alexanderplatz is still a great place to visit for fans of GDR history. After all, there are plenty of other remains of socialist East Germany to see here, including the Haus des Lehrers and the World Time Clock.

6. Großgaststätte Ahornblatt

Not far from Alexanderplatz is the residential area centred around Fischerinsel, where the Großgaststätte Ahornblatt was built in the early 1970’s to cater for the staff of the nearby Ministry of Construction and a number of schools in the surrounding area. Apart from the restaurant itself, which seated around 880 people, the building also housed a shopping arcade. It was named after its roof, which resembled a maple leaf.

After the Wall fell, the building was used as a nightclub famous for its techno parties. Widespread protests were unable to stop the building’s demolition in 2000, which destroyed another East German tourist attraction.
However, for anybody interested in East German history, Berlin also offers some unique opportunities to experience life in the GDR at close quarters.

You don’t have to go too far in Berlin to discover the traces and scars of the city’s history. For Ostalgie fans, nostalgic for aspects of life in East Germany, the city has a great deal to offer. For those who want to take a stroll in the footsteps of the GDR, here are a number of sights and attractions that should definitely not be missed.

7. The DDR Museum: Get up close with the GDR

One of the city’s first ports of call for those with an interest in all things East German is Karl-Liebknecht-Straße 1, close to the Berlin Dom cathedral: this is where the DDR museum is located. This interactive museum is one of Berlin’s most popular attractions. The museum offers its visitors the chance to get an impression of everyday life in the GDR. The museum is all about creating a real GDR feeling and offers visitors the hands-on experience of rummaging in the cupboards and drawers of an authentically furnished GDR living room, finding out about the state education system and getting up close and personal with fully-functional Stasi eavesdropping equipment.
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image courtesy of suze / photocase.de

8. Experience life in a GDR apartment at WBS 70

For those who want further impressions of life for the GDR’s citizens a visit to WBS 70, a museum apartment, is a must. The apartment, in a typical high-rise Plattenbau block in Hellersdorf, is furnished with genuine East German furniture and everyday objects, including a Colorett color television in a chipboard wall unit in the living room and Rotkäppchen sparkling wine and Dederon aprons in the kitchen.

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image courtesy of mrgroove / photocase.de

Staying with the topic of housing: along Karl-Marx-Allee there is one impressive “Gingerbread-style” apartment building after the other. This style of architecture was widespread on the eastern side of the Iron Curtain and there are a number of examples still to be seen across Eastern Europe. Berlin’s imposing buildings have been granted protected monument status and form Germany’s longest single collection of historical buildings. But what is now known as Karl-Marx-Allee, once the GDR’s most impressive boulevard, is not only of interest for its historical architecture: this is also where the uprising against the GDR’s government took place on 17 June 1953; an uprising that was ended when the Red Army deployed its tanks.

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9. Relax like an East German in Café Sibylle and see the two famous GDR cinemas

Karl-Marx-Allee boasts two of the GDR’s cult cinemas, the Kino Kosmos and the Kino International. Kino Kosmos has 3,400 seats and was the GDR’s largest cinema. Café Sibylle offers todays cinemagoers a convenient option for a pre- or post-cinema coffee. The café exhibits authentic GDR flair with original painted murals covering its walls and everyday objects from 1950s East Germany dotted around its rooms.