Architectural highlights of Berlin’s GDR history are hidden in plain sight. Lauren Oyler visited some of the former East Berlin’s architectural gems.
Architectural highlights of communist Berlin: a great lesson in history.
Caught between the mid- century Bauhaus aesthetic and the Soviet impulse towards both regulation and intimidating grandness, Berlin’s remaining East German buildings tell a fascinating story of an attempt at an empire, and a tour of these communist treasures is a great history lesson. Start at the Soho House club and hotel ( Torstr.1), which once housed the Communist Party archives and the Central Committee’s Historical Institution. Perhaps fittingly, most of the hotel’s facilities are closed to all but club members, but its façade and lobby retain the heavy look and feel of Socialist modernism. From Alexanderplatz, take the U5 for one stop and get off at Schillingstraße to admire
Karl- Marx-Allee. Designed in the late 1950s by Bauhaus-trained star architect Hermann Henselmann, the imposing boulevard was the GDR’s response to the West’s Kurfürstendamm. Its eight-story, wedding- cake-style buildings inspired by Stalin’s socialist classicism had elevators and other luxuries and were meant for party officials, who could admire the glory of their beloved government right from their windows when the 89-meter-wide avenue was used for military parades a few times a year. On normal days, however, the Allee was one of East Berlin’s main shopping strips, as attested by the stillstanding retro signs of shops, like the once-renowned bookstore Karl-Marx- Buchhandlung, closed since 2008. Another example of austere communist beauty is the Kino
International cinema (Karl- Marx-Allee 33, www.yorck.de), which screened premieres among the Plattenbau prefabricated apartment complexes and still offers a rich movie program today. Further on is the Capitain
Petzel gallery (Karl- Marx-Allee 45, capitainpetzel.de), a former center for Eastern art exhibitions that is now an art gallery, and
Frankfurter Tor, where massive Stalinist towers flank the former central square of East Berlin.
A Plattenbau building standing behind the Kino International on Karl-Marx-Allee