Karl Marx Allee was East Berlin's first big building project, planned as "Berlin's first socialist street", with building work beginning in 1952.
The street was originally called Große Frankfurter Straße (and, further towards the east, Frankfurter Allee), but renamed Stalinallee on December 21st 1949, for Stalin's 70th birthday. Stalin fell out of favour after his death and, in a process of de-Stalinisation initiated by Soviet premier Nikita Khruschev, it was renamed Karl Marx Allee, the eastern portion reverting to Frankfurter Allee.
It was built in two main stages - one between 1952 and 1961, eastwards from Strausberger Platz and the other from 1959 to 1965, between Strausberger Platz and Alexanderplatz . There was a third, when two blocks of modernist styled housing was built in 1949 - 1950 to plans by Ludmilla Herzenstein, an associate of Hans Scharoun, who had suggested a plan for the development of the whole city. This style of architecture was denounced as too western, however, and the rest of Stalinallee was constructed in what was seen to be a more fittingly socialist style.
I find the 1952 segment particularly striking - while the later segment of the street has a lot in common with East German architecture in other parts of the city, the ornate Soviet wedding cake style of the earlier segment was abandoned for future developments, partly for economic reasons and partly no doubt because of its association with Stalin.
We start at Strausberger Platz.
The day is grey as only a day in Berlin can be. The Fernsehturm is once again shrouded in mist. There's something bringing colour to the day, though...the Ampelmännchen!
Everything along Karl Marx Allee is listed (in German, the term is Denkmalschutz
- monumental protection), even these street lights:
Also, see how ornate the detailing is on the building behind it. All the buildings from this phase of building are clad in ceramic tiles, many of them from Meißen, a town famous for its ceramics. Some of them show scenes of workers engaged in various activities. Stalinallee was planned as an antithesis to the run down working class areas of capitalist Berlin before the war, a showpiece rather than somewhere to be ashamed of. The working classes were, under communism, something to be praised (and glorified) rather than pushed out to the edges of the city where they couldn't be seen.
This is something that's evident in the planning of East Berlin in general - there's housing everywhere, even right in the heart of the city and not vast, 'luxury apartments' for the insanely wealthy, but ordinary flats for ordinary people. Even now, a lot of them are surprisingly affordable.
The buildings are so monumental in scale that they're quite difficult to photograph in their entirety, but this should give you some idea.
I find it fascinating how you'll see a whole different set of people around here to those around, say, Unter den Linden (the main street running east - west through the city centre). It certainly feels like it's quite a long way off the beaten track as far as tourism is concerned, which is strange in a way, as it's usually mentioned in guide books. It's clearly not somewhere that many coach tours stop, though, which is something I'm actually quite glad of. Though it would be nice to think that tourists are getting a comprehensive overview of the city, there's something nice about the slightly lonely atmosphere on Karl Marx Allee which coach parties would totally wreck.
This is one of the towers at Frankfurter Tor...and look, there's a Trabbi! The Trabant was East Germany's most popular car, though they were in short supply - it could take 15 years between ordering one and receiving it. This one is taking people on a tour, which I think fits the atmosphere a lot better than coach tours!
The towers at Frankfurter Tor were designed by Hermann Henselmann, along with the towers at Strausberger Platz (and the Hochhaus an der Weberwiese, just off Karl Marx Allee). He also designed a lot of other buildings in East Berlin, though he was a modernist at heart, so reverted to that style in all his later buildings.
Even if parts of Karl Marx Allee feel like a sort of time capsule, others definitely don't - this McDonald's being a case in point. I didn't go inside - there's something far more interesting over the road...
The "Kaffee und Tee" (coffee and tea) sign on this café is quite a typical GDR era one. There are quite a few shops along Karl Marx Allee with signs like it. The café's interior is panelled with wood laminates (from what I can tell, it's some kind of particle board underneath) which look like they're probably from the 50s, while the ceiling has a wood lattice covering most of it.
The furniture is a curious mix of all sorts, as you can see! This is definitely quite representative of the more trendy, slightly subversive culture that can be found in parts of Berlin, something which I find a lot more fun than Berlin's more conventional side, which can be seen in places like Potsdamer Platz. There are more slightly alternative cafés and bars further along the road (which becomes Frankfurter Allee at this point). Definitely a place to come and take a look at...just don't bring your coach party with you.