Entschuldigen Sie... - the SED politicians' houses in Pankow

"Entschuldigen Sie, ist das der Sonderzug nach Pankow?" (excuse me, is that the special train to Pankow) sang West German rocker Udo Lindenberg in his 1983 hit Sonderzug nach Pankow. In it, he suggested he'd sit down with East German leader Erich Honecker to ask, over a bottle of Cognac, to be allowed to perform in East Germany. He suggested that Honecker was really a closet rocker who'd don a leather jacket, lock himself in the toilet and listen to western radio, an image which, once you've got it in your head is hard to let go of.
Pankow was, in the early days of the GDR, where many of the top officials of the ruling party, the SED (Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands - Socialist Unity Party of Germany), lived and so the name Pankow became synonymous with the East German government itself.

Anyone taking a Sonderzug (or even a normal S- or U-Bahn train) to Pankow will arrive here:

Pankow station

The S-Bahn station building is from 1911 and is, if you ask me, quite an impressive piece of work. It's not what I've come to look at, though. I'm headed for the Majakowskiring, home to many of the most important SED party members, before they decided they needed more security and moved to a new, specially built development in Wandlitz in 1960.

Entering the Majakowskiring from the eastern side, you're immediately greeted by the imposing building at number 2, used by the party as a guest house:

Majakowskiring 2

Number 12 was home to Lotte Ulbricht, wife of Walter Ulbricht, after his death in 1973. Walter Ulbricht was the GDR's most powerful politician, the General Secretary/First Secretary (the name of the title changed while he was in office) of the SED's Central Committee (Zentralkomitee) from 1950 until 1971, as well as being chairman of the State Council (Staatsrat) from 1960 - 1973:

Majakowskiring 12

The house which the Ulbrichts lived in before their move to Wandlitz was at 28 - 30. It was demolished in 1975 as part of attempts to remove traces of him from the state. This more modern housing block occupies the space now:

Majakowskiring 28 - 30

Number 29 was home to Wilhelm Pieck, president of the GDR from 1949 until his death in 1960, when the position was abolished and replaced by the State Council as a collective head of state, with Walter Ulbricht as its chairman:

Majakowskiring 29

Johannes R Becher lived at number 34. As well as being a poet, he was an active politician, rising to the position of Minister of Culture from 1954 until his death in 1958. He also wrote the words to the GDR's national anthem, Auferstanden aus Ruinen (risen from ruins).

Majakowskiring 34

Otto Grotewohl, the GDR's Ministerpräsident (prime minister) from 1949 until his death in 1964, lived at 46/48:

Majakowskiring 46 - 48

And last but not least, there's number 58, which was home to Erich and Margot Honecker. Erich Honecker took over from Walter Ulbricht as First Secretary (which became General Secretary again in 1976), also taking the position of chairman of the State Council in 1976. Before this, in 1961, he was, as the Central Committee's secretary for security, in charge of the building of the Berlin Wall:

Majakowskiring 58

There's a definite feeling of calm to this part of Pankow. The large numbers of trees make it feel quite secluded, protected even. It's quite easy to imagine that a politician could live quite a sheltered life here...obviously not sheltered enough to stop them from moving to Wandlitz in search of greater shelter, though.

Pankow (U2)
Pankow (S2, S8, S9)
13156 Berlin

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