Here in Berlin socialist East and capitalist West once lived in stark, hostile contrast to each other.  We set out to explore what’s become of the old East Berlin neighborhoods since  reunification over twenty years ago. Sure enough, Karl Marx’s effigy still haunts the district.

Can you believe Karl Marx was born just one year after  Jane Austen died?

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The vast scale of  Karl Marx Boulevard was designed for military parades and for showing off  ultra-modern new housing complexes

from 1949 to 1955. There’s no cosy neighborhood feeling here.

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 The GDR architecture included plenty of social realist style murals meant to inspire the workers. Whoever designed this enthusiastic atomic themed mosaic hadn’t yet heard of Chernobyl or Fukushima.

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Just as in the  West, the arts were an essential part of East German life. Film makers who could get by the censors had a rich artistic life.

We loved the severe design of this palace to movie culture.

Still in business today.
Moscow Restaurant featured a Sputnik on top.

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Since 1969 the pride of East Berlin has been the Berlin Needle,  Berliner Fernsehturm, which is still the tallest building in Berlin today.  More than 60 radio and TV stations broadcast from the antenna at the top.

Visitors buy a 12 euro ticket to take a high-speed elevator to the observation deck. No one walks up the 986 steps. We ate at the restaurant which rotates 360 degrees every half hour. The food up here is beside the point, trust me.

The restaurant is about 100 feet in diameter, and the tables are numbered so your wait-person can find you as you spin around above planet earth.

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A man-hole cover at Alexanderplatz  features landmarks from a united Germany: the Needle, the Brandenburg Gate and the Reichstag.

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Another proud product of 1969 GDR is the World Clock, Weltzeituhr.

I come here whenever I want to find out what time it is in Beijing.

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There’s a profusion of edgy graffiti and murals in the eastern part of the city.

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Since 1989 murals have decorated 1.3 km of the old Berlin Wall bordering the Spree river (adjacent to Warshauerstraße SBahn station). This is the East Side Gallery (www.eastsidegallery.com) – 106 paintings by artists who came from all over the world to paint the remnant of the east side of the wall. I  would have liked to see more quality control and less disheartening graffiti, but alas, it’s still an impressive appeal for peace.

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Not too far from the East Side Gallery, but worlds away in culture is East Berlin’s Turkish Market, open Tuesdays and Fridays  11am-6:30pm  (UBahn at Schönleinstraße and walk to Maybachufer Straße). The produce is decidedly Mediterranean, and refreshingly inexpensive and plentiful. The catch is there are no organic venders (bio).

Beautiful chanterelles at a fraction of the price at Whole Foods!

You can also just eat your way through the market the way we did. Loved the falafel.

It helps to speak Turkish here.

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By contrast, the Mauerpark Sunday flea market (8am – 6pm) sits exactly on the west side of  the former “Death Strip”,  the area where the Berlin Wall was actually two walls, each guy patrolling his own side of the Iron Curtin.  Today there’s a light-hearted anarchic spirit running through this market.

Couldn’t find a suitcase big enough to fit the big typeface. Maybe next time.
Local venders.

This market is frequented by young, hip Germans, but  since it’s Sunday and Berliners love their brunch, it’s also known for a curious variety of foods.

Mr. Flaming Mackerel Man serves his fish wrapped in a piece of butcher paper topped with a dollop of tartar sauce.
Wood fired pizza attracted the longest lines.

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Strolling through East Berlin up the famously elegant Unter den Linden boulevard, we came to the spot where the wall once divided the Tiergarten from the Brandenburg Gate. Even in the 21st century it is still a place for confrontations.  Anti-abortion demonstrators carried white crosses.

Would love to have my own “anti-konflict” vest for dealing with everyday altercations with my husband.

 The protesters were peacefully challenged by pro-choice advocates.

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To complete our discovery of  life in the East we visited Museum Island  (future blogpost) and Volkspark Friedrickshain, one of the oldest parks (c. 1848) in all of Berlin.  It is situated next to our rented apartment in eastern Prenzlauer Berg. Landscaped with fountains, tree houses, a skate park and cafes, it is idyllic, but its charm masks its dark history.  During WWII thousands of people took refuge in the bunker complex tunneled under the park. In 1941 two park hills were commandeered by Luftwaffe anti-aircraft units.  Both young German teenagers and slave laborers were forced to load the artillery that shot down allied planes as they dropped bombs over Berlin.

The Fairytale Fountain was originally built in 1913. It suffers from clumsy restoration. The original, more ornate, delicate figures live in a storage area protected from vandals.

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The cows herald the pizza cafe and outdoor movie theatre in the park.

Life sized cows graze on an East Berlin apartment building.

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If you are looking for a great place to stay in former East Berlin, we recommend staying in the Mitte area at the brand new CIRCUS HOTEL APARTMENTS. Reasonably priced, spacious, with a sidewalk cafe, it’s walking distance to trendy shops, restaurants and best of all, Museum Island. The hotel is located on quiet Choriner Straßer. Don’t confuse the Circus Hotel with the Circus Hostel unless you’re carrying a back pack and a copy of the “Lonely Planet” guide:  http://www.circus-berlin.de/apartments

One thought on “EAST IS WEST – BERLIN 2012

  1. this was so transporting that i am no longer at my desk and there is no possibility of work.
    I am not only in East Berlin of today, but of those days, the fifties, the sixties–I had forgotten but this brought it all back.

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