5 May 2011

Karl Marx Allee - socialist lifestyle in Berlin

Originally named Stalinallee, this boulevard is a two-kilometre long living museum dedicated to the ideals of socialist living.  The buildings went up in the early 1950s, with the aim of providing spacious housing for the proletariat, and emulating the socialist classicism of Soviet architecture.  This region of Friedrichshain suffered heavy wartime damage and in the post-war era, new housing was needed.  Since the area fell under Soviet jurisdiction, it was only natural that the housing constructed reflected Soviet tastes.

The boulevard has its own homepage which gives inside views of apartments for sale or rent, in addition to business premises available.  Prices are not exactly ‘bargain basement’ but then I suppose the developers are placing emphasis on the historical element. 

East German buildings are not known for their technical sophistication or high quality and I can well imagine these apartments would have had their fair share of problems.  Labourers had to contend with a strict schedule and manage without modern construction technologies: they literally used their bare hands to erect each floor. 

Deemed to be of significant architectural merit, the entire complex is now listed and under state protection.  As such, no structural changes can be made, for example, installing double glazing to replace badly fitting windows.  Potential occupants might want to bear this in mind before they buy a piece of history.

Frankfurter Tor
If you wanted to take a look inside one of the buildings you could always pretend to be a potential buyer and approach an estate agent.  A quicker alternative would be to visit the Humana second-hand shop at Frankfurter Tor.  The building in which the shop is housed forms part of the Karl Marx Allee complex and the visitor is free to wander around inside.  As a charity shop, they have obviously left the interior as they found it – winding stone staircase, draughty metal-framed windows, mosaic-marbled floors.  By the way, the Humana shop is itself another museum of GDR fashion trends.  Lots of 1960s polyester skirts, loud ties, and absolutely hundreds of gents’ long leather coats, of the kind once favoured by the secret police.

Domed tower at Frankfurter Tor
Finishing this short tour of socialist architecture, I found the following detail ironic.  At Frankfurter Tor, there are two corner buildings facing each other from opposite sides of the square.  Each building is topped by a grand, domed tower which the architect (Henselmann) intended to resemble the domes of the French and German cathedrals (c.1705) in Gendarmenmarkt.  How appropriate that the German Democratic Republic wanted its grandest square to resemble the splendour and grandeur of eighteenth-century Calvinist churches in Friedrichstadt.

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Squeaky Door by Elizabeth Chairopoulou is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.