Most visitors to Berlin are familiar with the exteriors of the magnificent buildings at Strausberger Platz. After all, their ornamental architecture and ceramic cladding are hard to miss. For the lucky tenants who moved into these “Workers’ Palaces” once construction was complete in 1955, the spectacular exteriors were only part of the reason they felt so privileged to live here. While the majority of the population in Berlin was forced to huddle in accommodation barely fit for human habitation among the ruins of pre-war buildings, the new apartments at Strausberger Platz met cutting-edge design standards.
Strausberger Platz with its impressive buildings
Socialist Architecture, State-of-the-Art Amenities
While the exteriors were designed in a style that owed a significant debt to Prussian classicism, the interiors were fitted with state-of-the-art amenities. At a time when their less fortunate fellow citizens had to make do with a shared toilet on the landing between apartments and a makeshift shower in the kitchen, Strausberger Platz residents lived in the lap of luxury. They had lifts to transport heavy shopping bags. They had parquet flooring in their apartments. They had hot water on tap and central heating run by long-distance thermal energy to keep them warm in winter. They even had intercoms to vet any visitors before letting them in. They had garbage chutes in their kitchens to dispose of refuse. They had tiled bathrooms, they had fitted kitchens and electric cookers. Their homes were the envy of the entire republic. And what better way to show off their impeccable taste but by furnishing them with contemporary pieces?
That’s how a living room could have looked like in the GDR. Image courtesy of Stefan Kunze – Fotolia
“A Better Life in a More Beautiful Home”
With rents priced at an incredible 90 Pfennig per square metre, Strausberger Platz residents had plenty of cash left to buy furniture. East German lifestyle magazines such as Besser leben schöner wohnen (“A better life in a more beautiful home”) promoted fresh and contemporary styles. They also show that preferences and tastes were very similar on both sides of the border. Kidney-shaped tables and upholstered pieces set on slim legs were equally popular in East- and West-Germany. “Our style of home furnishing strives for simple designs that are functional and beautiful. Our manufacturing industry needs to create designs that meet those needs,” as an article published in Die private Wirtschaft, the organ of the East Germans Chambers of Commerce and Industry, said in 1958.
The Central Berlin show flat at Strausberger Platz
For an authentic impression of the vibrant modernism of the post-war period in socialist East Germany, check out the exhibits on show at Gallery Central Berlin in the side wing at Strausberger Platz 16, which was comprehensively modernised in 2015. Lovingly curated pieces of furniture and style accessories show East German design at its most luxurious. Just like the opulent architecture that surrounds them, these items remain as fascinating and desirable as ever. As anybody lucky enough to call Strausberger Platz home knows: these apartments are just as luxurious today as they were in 1955.
Strausberger Platz – Central Berlin Gallery
As Luxurious Today as They Were in 1955
The architectural ensemble at Strausberger Platz has long been protected by a conservation order. Accordingly, modernisation work to make the interiors fit for the 21st century was carried out with due care to preserve their fabulous building fabric and architecture. Strausberger Platz residents and their guests are now able to enjoy the spectacular view of the TV Tower on Alexanderplatz through large double-glazed windows, some of them floor-to-ceiling windows. Fitted cupboards and wardrobes open up more living space. New slat parquet flooring pays homage to the stylish past East German designers have every right to be proud of.