So I’m assuming if you’re reading this, you’re (to some extent) as fascinated by the GDR as I am. You might have visited Berlin before, or maybe you’re still planning your first visit. And chances are you’re thinking: where to start?! I know, because I had the same feeling while planning for New York a couple of weeks ago. Fear no more, because I am here to provide you with the perfect day for fans of (GDR) history. Good to know: make sure you have a day ticket for the public transport.
Image courtesy of flobox / photocase.de
Morning: Russian Breakfast and a Whole Lot of Architecture
Blintschiki and Sirniki
The GDR and the Soviet Union were best friends, so it comes as no surprise that there were a lot of Russian influences in the former East German culture. That’s why I suggest to start your day in Friedrichshain and have breakfast at Datscha. This bar/restaurant serves traditional Russian cuisine with a modern twist. There’s à la carte breakfast every morning and one of the best brunch buffets in Berlin on Sundays.
Russian with a twist at Datscha. Image courtesy of Daphne Damiaans
Datscha: Gabriel-Max-Straße 1, Friedrichshain
Frankfurter Tor and Karl-Marx Allee
If you’re doing this tour on a Sunday, you could choose to walk to Boxhagener Platz and see if you can score some GDR furniture at the weekly flea market. Chances are you’ll be carrying a lamp with you all day, though. Otherwise go straight to Frankfurter Tor, where Karl-Marx-Allee starts. Built in the 1950s, the first years after the creation of the country, this is without a doubt one of the finest pieces of GDR architecture. The point was to show what this new Germany was capable of, and there are information signs at the most interesting locations in the street, telling you more about this fascinating street.
Frankfurter Tor and Karl-Marx-Allee. Image courtesy of Daphne Damiaans
Strausberger Platz, Kino International and Eisbein
Depending on how much you like to walk, you either follow Karl-Marx-Allee on foot or take the U5 to Strausberger Platz. Admire here, once more, the Stalinist-style architecture. Highlights are Kino International and Café Moskau. Take a right at Berolinastraße and zigzag your way towards Volkspark Friedrichshain, passing apartment buildings in the ‘Plattenbau’ style that couldn’t be more typical 1960s/1970s GDR. In fact, this is the street where Alex and his mother lived in the movie Goodbye Lenin.
Arriving at Volkspark Friedrichshain, check out the ‘Spanienkämpfer’ monument. It was erected to commemorate the early socialists who went to Spain and supported the revolutionary army during the Spanish Civil War. Just follow the edge of the park, walking northwest, and after a few minutes you’ll see Speisegaststätte Pila on your left. This is not just a restaurant serving authentic (East) German dishes, but also a small GDR museum. Perfect for lunch!
The Spanienkämpfer monument. Image courtesy of Daphne Damiaans
Speisegaststätte Pila: Weinstraße 11, Friedrichshain (closed Sundays and Mondays)
Afternoon: Alex, the Wall and Everyday Life
From the corner of Greifswalder Straße and Friedenstraße, a short walk from Pila, the tram will take you to Alexanderplatz in a few minutes. Needless to say, this is the GDR square in Berlin. At first, you might mostly see huge stores, an open square and that tall tower. Take your time though, and you will notice why GDR lovers admire the ‘Alex’, as the square is affectionately known. There’s the Park Inn hotel, the Haus des Lehrers, the Haus des Reisens and so much more. Some new buildings appeared after 1989, but all in all the square hasn’t changed much since the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Alexanderplatz from above. Image courtesy of Daphne Damiaans
Gedenkstätte Berliner Mauer: the Wall
It might not be the prettiest heritage of the GDR, but a visit to the Wall is non-negotiable on your time travel day. Alexanderplatz is a big public transport hub too, which makes it easy to get to your next destination: Bernauer Straße. The Wall ran straight through this street, splitting it in two for 40 years. At the Gedenkstätte Berliner Mauer, you can see an original section of the Wall (that is: without the post-GDR graffiti of the Eastside Gallery) and read/listen to the stories behind it. Don’t miss going in the tower – entrance is free – to have a view over the wall.
Section of the Gedenkstätte Berliner Mauer. Image courtesy of Daphne Damiaans
Gedenkstätte Berliner Mauer: Bernauer Straße 119, Mitte
Kulturbrauerei and GDR museum
When following the Wall, you end up at Nordbahnhof. Here’s an interesting permanent exhibition about the ghost stations during the east/west separation, but you can also stay aboveground and directly take the tram to the Kulturbrauerei. This former beer brewery is now a cultural hotspot and houses one of my favourite (and free!) GDR museums, displaying items connected to everyday life in the GDR. You could easily spend hours in their interactive exhibition, but chances are you’re getting hungry…
GDR museum in the Kulturbrauerei. Image courtesy of Daphne Damiaans
Kulturbrauerei: Knaackstraße 97, Prenzlauer Berg (museum closed on Mondays)
Evening: Sausages and Big Beers (What Else?)
Konnopke’s Imbiss: Currywurst
Only a few steps away, at the Eberswalder Straße station, there’s probably the most famous Currywurst stand in all of Berlin: Konnopke. Currywurst isn’t an East German invention – and neither is Konnopke – but both have survived the GDR and were an inseparable part of Berlin during this fascinating period in German history. Ever since the fall of the Wall, Konnopke is cult – so go ahead and taste for yourself why all Berliners love it so much.
Konnopke’s Imbiss: Schönhauser Allee 44B, Prenzlauer Berg (closed Sundays)
Prater Biergarten and restaurant
Looking for a little more than just a sausage, preferably with a freshly brewed beer to go with it? Again within a stone’s throw is Prater Biergarten, Berlin’s oldest (since 1837!) and most renowned beer garden. If you’re visiting between April and September, you can end the day in the huge outdoor area. Any other time there’s the authentic restaurant serving typical Berlin cuisine. Königsberger Klopse, anyone?
Prater Biergarten and Gaststätte: Kastanienallee 7-9