Hiding amidst the chaos of a building site is the Tränenpalast (palace of tears)...

The Tränenpalast at night

This building was departures hall for the border control point Friedrichstraße station. Here, visitors returning to the west (though of course the checkpoint was open to citizens of the GDR too, if they had the correct permission to leave) by train would have to say goodbye to their eastern friends and families before entering the entering the series of customs, ID and visa controls, hence its association with tears.
The building was completed in 1962, designed by Horst Lüderitz. I find its combination of curves and angles, with its wide expanses of glass, quite stylish and quite in contrast to the rather grim function it was built for. It was used for cultural events between 1991 and 2006, then closed when work began on the Spreedreieck (Spree triangle) development which now stands next to it. The Spreedreieck is big and brown. I think I preferred it as a building site really, it was nice to have the space to admire Friedrichstraße station, the Tränenpalast and the quirkily ornate Admiralspalast over the road.

There was something else I wanted to feature here. On the corner of the building site stood Check Point Curry, my favourite Imbiß in Berlin. Konnopke's may have the heritage and the fame, but Check Point Curry had personality (as well as a slightly questionable name). Run from a portakabin up a set of stairs, facing the Spree, it served currywurst with a special 'Scharfer Soße' (hot sauce) with pieces of jalapeño pepper in it, which was really quite something. It also seemed to be frequented by some of Berlin's more unique characters, perhaps thanks to the fact it stayed open late at night; a visit there was always entertaining.
It's gone though. I hope it might just have moved (as it did a few years ago, when the building work started - it used to face onto Friedrichstraße), but there seems to be no sign of it anywhere nearby. Another casualty of progress, perhaps...progress this time being in the shape of a big brown heap of...office building.

"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.

I thought I'd grab a few snaps of Leipziger Straße on my way from the Mossehaus to Stadtmitte U-Bahn (that is, underground) station.

Leipziger Straße

Leipziger Straße was once a busy commercial street. Many of the buildings were damaged in World War II and the whole area was cleared in 1969 to make way for a development more in keeping with the socialist ideas of the time. Tall buildings were seen as more efficient and economical, as well as fitting the character of a large city. It was also felt that housing developments should be close to the things necessary for daily life - here, the tower blocks are interspersed with shops and leisure facilities (which are of course in many cases different now to what was there when the development was conceived, but the fact that there are 2000 flats here means there's likely to be a healthy demand for those services). Again we have an example of housing being placed right at the centre of the city, though of course in a way, it was right on the edge - the course of the wall ran just two blocks away.

They've been renovated since the wall fell, with new facings on the outside (which are ceramic, I think), though the basic shape of the buildings is unchanged.

There's another theory about why such high buildings were built here...

Axel Springer Haus seen from Leipziger Straße

This is the view south from the northern side of Leipziger Straße. The building with the illuminated sign on it is the headquarters of the newspaper publisher Axel Springer AG, built between 1959 and 1966, right next to what became the wall (it hadn't been built when planning for the Axel Springer building started). It's often speculated that part of the reason for the tall buildings on Leipziger Straße was to obscure the view of this beacon of the western press. It makes a good story, at least!

We've seen the idea of old meeting new already in the Kaiser Wilhelm Gedächtniskirche and there are more modern buildings where it can also be seen in practise. It's a concept which goes back much further, though, as this next building shows - the Mossehaus.

The Mossehaus

This was originally a building by Cremer und Wolffenstein, completed in 1903. It was damaged during the January uprising in 1919 and its owner, publisher Rudolf Mosse, employed leading modernist architect Erich Mendelsohn to rework and expand the building. With various building and roadworks taking place in the road, it was difficult to find a good angle to photograph it from, but I hope this gives some idea of what a dramatic piece of architecture Mendelsohn's reworking is, having the lines of a cruise ship, or an airliner with outspread wings.

The building fell into disrepair after World War II and was repaired in 1992 - 93 with a modern addition on the eastern side (on the left of the picture), but I think it still remains an exciting building, now tucked away among building sites.

Talking of which, I was intrigued to see what was going on just over the road. I think it's time for a black and white moment...

Rubble and a building with holes in it!

They seem to have knocked a building down, then punched a series of holes in the building next to it. There appears to be one hole for each floor of the building, though I can't quite work out why they're staggered like they are. I didn't fancy climbing in to look for clues.

Actually, this building is another piece of GDR history:

Sign: Akademie der Landwirtswissenschaften

This was the Akademie der Landwirtswissenschaften (academy of agricultural studies), an agricultural research institute.

The façade is quite imposing:

Façade of the building

It was designed by Hermann Dernburg and Albert Bohm, completed in 1911 and was known as the Krausenhof. It was home to Universum Film AG (Ufa) from 1933 to 1945, then the GDR's Deutsche Film AG (Defa), before the Akademie der Landwirtswissenschaften moved in. The Landesdenkmalamt (the authority which deals with the protection of monuments) moved in here in 1993, before moving to a new office in the Altes Stadthaus in Klosterstraße. The Krausenhof is a listed building and there have been plans to renovate it since at least 2004 (when an article in German newspaper Die Welt reported on its situation), but as you can see, not much has happened yet.

Anyway, it's time to move on...

So, the trip's coming towards its end...but there's still time for a few more things...

So, my next exciting destination is...

Ullrich supermarket

A supermarket! This isn't just any supermarket, though. According to Jutta Voigt in her book Der Geschmack des Ostens (the taste of the east), if anything was needed for East German state banquets which was only available in the west, this branch of Ullrich, under the railway lines at Zoologischer Garten, was where they came to get it. It's not exactly the first place you'd expect to find someone shopping for a state banquet.

Many western goods were highly prized, either because they were better quality than what was available in the east, or because they were unavailable altogether. When the wall was first opened, many East Berliners flocked to this area of West Berlin, famous for the lavish shops which can be found along the Kurfürstendamm and Tauentzienstraße. Perhaps legendary above all others is Kaufhaus des Westens (Department Store of the West) at the end of Tauentzienstraße by Wittenbergplatz:

Ka De We

This is Germany's largest department store and has been there for over 100 years. The Nazis forced its Jewish owners to sell their shares in the business in the 1930s, then it was damaged in World War II, but it was reclaimed and rebuilt after the war, to become a symbol of West German prosperity. It apparently recorded its greatest sales figures ever in 1989, with many East Berliners making it one of their first stops on their quest to sample a slice of western life.
The name of Kaufhaus des Westens is normally shortened to Ka De We (cunningly, not only just the first two letters of each word, but also the way the letters KDW are pronounced in German), but the banner hanging from it in the picture is calling it Ka De Be - Kaufhaus der Berliner (department store of the berliners), asking passers by where they were when the wall fell with the question "Wo waren Sie am 9. November 1989?"

Another symbol of West Berlin, placed neatly between Ullrich and Ka De We, is the Kaiser Wilhelm Gedächtniskirche (Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church...you could translate his name and title as Emperor William if you like) on Breitscheidsplatz. There are quite a few examples of buildings in Berlin where old has been fused together with new and this is definitely one of them.

Kaiser Wilhelm Gedächtniskirche

Kaiser Wilhelm II built the original church in memory of his grandfather, Kaiser Wilhelm I. It opened in 1906, having taken 15 years to build. It stood until 1943, when it was damaged by bombs. After the war, the decision was taken to build a new church on the spot, but some of the old ruins were kept and incorporated into the design, the new church being designed by Egon Eiermann and completed in 1963. The new parts are made from concrete, glass and steel and, to be honest, I think it looks better at night as a result, when the light shines through from inside and brings colour to its otherwise rather austere dark grey exterior.

I take the U-Bahn from Platz der Luftbrücke up to Friedrichstraße. A pair of young women get on, giggling. They sit down a few seats away from me and giggle some more. They seem to have their heads bowed down, looking at something.

They have a large leather handbag placed between them. The head of a kitten appears from inside it, mostly white, with dark tabby brown ears. They both stroke it as it looks around. This certainly brings a new meaning to not letting the cat out of the bag.

When I said in my last post that I was headed for something connected with Hitler's Welthauptstadt Germania plans, this is what I meant. It's...

The Schwerbelastungskörper

A block of concrete. With cracks in it. Exciting, isn't it?

This is the Schwerbelastungskörper (heavy loading body) which stands between the S-Bahn tracks and a housing estate in the Tempelhof district of Berlin. It was built in 1941 as part of the planning process for Hitler's desired transformation of Berlin into Germania.

Berlin is built on unstable ground, with sandy soil, no bedrock and a high water table. This causes problems occasionally - the demolition of the Palast der Republik (as mentioned in my earlier post about Schloßplatz, for example, was done very slowly and carefully, with all removed material being replaced by something of equivalent weight, out of fears that its removal could otherwise lead to changes in the water table, damaging the foundations of nearby buildings.
Similarly, engineers tasked with building Germania wondered whether the ground would be solid enough to hold some of the huge structures which Hitler had asked architect Albert Speer to create. He had planned a monumental axis running from north to south, with a colossal 117 metre high triumphal arch at the southern end, just a little further south from here and a huge Pantheon-like 'Volkshalle' at the northern end, near where the Reichstag is today.

To give you an idea of just how far that would be, this picture was taken from the Kolonnenbrücke, close to the Schwerbelastungskörper.

Potsdamer Platz from the Kolonnenbrücke

The buildings in the distance are Potsdamer Platz, two miles away. The arch would have been another mile south from here, and the Volkshalle almost a mile north of Potsdamer Platz, so close to four miles in total, with structures at each end big enough to be clearly visible - and still imposing - from the opposite end.

The idea with the Schwerbelastungskörper was that if it sank less than 6cm in two years, the earth would be considered stable enough to build on; it sank 19. War intervened before Hitler's plans could progress any further.

The Schwerbelastungskörper has recently been restored and, apparently the area surrounding it is now open to the public on Sundays. Coming on a Tuesday, all I could do was peer over the high fence surrounding it.


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