Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Berlin: Karl Marx Allee

One of the places I wanted to visit the most while in Berlin was Karl Marx Allee. Somehow I thought any area named after the great man would be inspirational and offer some further truths.

Here is a brief description of the area borrowed from A View on Cities:

The Karl-Marx-Allee is a 90m/300ft wide boulevard stretching for 2km from the Frankfurter Tor to Alexanderplatz. The monumental street is lined with apartment blocks built in a socialist realist style.

Built during East Berlin’s reconstruction period, after World War II, Karl-Marx-Allee remains an interesting and impressive monument to the Socialist era of the mid to late 20th century.

Both the eastern and western sectors of Berlin suffered much damage during the war, so by the 1950s, both had entered a period of reconstruction in efforts to bring their city back to normal. Homes, stores, and other businesses needed to be rebuilt so that residents could resume their lives.

In 1959, the mayor of the eastern sector embarked upon an ambitious project that would become known as Stalinallee, a massive boulevard with eight story buildings, designed in accordance with the socialist neo-classical style of the 1950s. The street was named after the great Russian dictator and was to include large buildings that housed stores, restaurants, and other businesses on the first few levels and apartments for workers on the higher floors. The buildings contained national elements and were sometimes adorned with decorative tiles.

From the time of its conception, the boulevard was highly criticized by the peoples of the West, who dubbed it the first “Socialist Street” in Berlin. During the building of the street, it was also the sight of an outbreak of violence by construction workers who were protesting against the socialist government. They were quickly and violently subdued.

In 1961, upon Joseph Stalin’s death, the boulevard was re-named for German philosopher and revolutionary, Karl Marx. For many years, it was the annual site of the May Day parade, as it was large enough to accommodate massive tanks and thousands of soldiers who goose-stepped their way down the street.

Today, the boulevard is recognized for its unique architecture as it relates to the style of the German Democratic Republic. One of the street’s functionalist theaters, The International, still stands today in its original glory and is a popular spot for viewing international films.

The theatre was playing a movie about the Doors when I was there.

There were posters for other cool music as well.

But actually much of the area (even more so than the rest of Berlin) seemed to be run down and/or under construction. Hardly any socialist paradise...

But in the midst of all the run down buildings and structures I heard club music blaring and saw multiple TV screens set up playing the World Cup matches. Somehow this didn't feel right. Still I decided this would be an interesting place for a meal.

The menu was as trendy as the music being played. But there was a section of DDR (Deutsche Demokratische Republik) Classic Dishes. I felt it was my duty to order such proletariat food (which turned out to be small portions of bread, bacon and eggs served with a chopped up pickle - I wasn't sure if it was to be eaten or if it was a garnish...). I also ordered a local Berlin beer but found it to be somewhat lacking. I ordered a mai tai next (which was more expensive than the food I ordered...)

Karl Marx must have been rolling in his grave...

So I did not discover any great truths. And I am not sure what to conclude about this area. My colleagues at the university are always commenting/complaining about how capitalism runs rampant in Frankfurt. But I found Berlin to be much worse, as if they were trying to catch up without realizing the consequences. Still I like to think there is hope...

Link to Karl Marx Allee Homepage (in German):

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