A grand boulevard with monumental representational buildings in the heart of East Berlin
. Originally built as “Stalinallee” it was renamed Karl-Marx-Allee after the great late Soviet
had fallen from grace and “de-Stalinization” was undertaken all over the Eastern Bloc
. Yet, the architecture as such remained unaltered and to this day is the longest architectural monument from that time anywhere in Europe.
More background info:
What today is Karl-Marx-Allee ('Karl Marx
Avenue') used to be two streets: Große Frankfurter Straße and Frankfurter Allee further east. At the end of WWII
these parts of the city, like so much of Berlin, were heavily damaged by the Allied aerial bombing raids (cf. also Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche
As early as 21 December 1949 the young GDR decided to dedicate this long stretch of city street to its “brother state's” great leader Josef Stalin
, even though at that stage it was just lined with ruins and heaps of rubble.
But soon great plans were drawn up to transform this Stalinallee into the grandest boulevard of the new capital city of East Germany. It runs for a total of ca. 3 km (1.9 miles) from eats to west through the district of Friedrichshain.
The very first buildings newly erected were still rather bland and functional, though radical in the Bauhaus-related architectural execution. These so-called Laubenganghäuser (with the corridors leading to the individual flats on the outside like long balconies) are to be found between Frankfurter Tor and Friedenstr./Str. der Pariser Kommune.
The main phase of construction, in contrast, designed and overseen by a number of award-winning architects, began in 1951 and adopted a grand socialist style similar to Moscow
's grand Stalinist skyscrapers of the Palace of Culture
, except that instead of building high, the Berlin approach was to build long and wide. Also some elements of traditional Berlin
classicism were integrated into the style. The typically eight-storey apartment blocks to line the ca. 90m wide boulevard were to be “palaces of the proletariat”. Only the “Gates” to the main stretch of the boulevard at Frankfurter Tor and Strausberger Platz feature taller parallel towers either side of the road.
The execution of the style is not 100% uniform but clearly follows a common theme. Yet the decorations with glazed tiles depicting typical socialist-realist scenes of workers or simply abstract patters incorporating socialist symbolism are more individual. All of these blocks feature grand entrances with columns and the boulevard was lined with grand distinctive lamp posts.
A couple of elements from the early days of the Stalinallee have disappeared. The 1951 Sports Palace built for a World Festival of Youth had to be demolished in 1972, due to construction faults (and was later replaced by a bland prefab apartment block).
Opposite this used to stand a Stalin monument
– in fact it was one of the earliest elements of this phase of construction (i.e. it preceded the completion of any of the apartment blocks), erected in August 1951. Its was a 15-foot-tall statue of Stalin
on a big plinth.
Ten years later, in the wake of de-Stalinization
(with which the GDR
was a little late getting on board) the monument was removed in a clandestine operation in the night of 13/14 November 1961. At the same time the name of the boulevard
and all street signs were replaced accordingly.
Around the same time, between 1959 and 1969, the third phase
of construction began to the west of Strausberger Platz towards Alexanderplatz. In stark contrast to the “workers' palaces” of the main stretch of Karl-Marx-Allee, a completely different style was adopted here, one of socialist modernism
. The residential buildings were designed as simple prefab
apartment towers so typical of the GDR
, but a few more remarkable modernist structures stand out: The cinema “International” and the “Cafe Moskau” (the latter used to house a restaurant featuring Russian
cuisine, in addition to those of other socialist “brother countries” featured in a set of further restaurants along the boulevard which have all long since gone). Another modernist addition is also to be found further east amongst the older blocks, namely the cinema “Kosmos”.
The final touch was the completion of the “Haus des Lehrers
” ('House of the Teacher') on the corner of the south-western end of Karl-Marx-Allee and Alexanderplatz – just in time for the 20th anniversary of the foundation of the GDR
. It is still one of the most remarkable socialist buildings anywhere thanks solely to its frieze with prototypical modernist socialist-realists murals, seven metres high and in total 127m long, running along all four facades of the otherwise very bland boxy block (see the photo gallery
for some images).
Apart from providing living space (probably rather for privileged party members than ordinary workers) the wide boulevard also served as the main parade venue during the GDR era, such as the annual “Day of the Republic” celebrations.
During the construction of the main stretch of the boulevard the Uprising of 17 June 1953
started with a strike of workers on 16 June. The revolt that developed from here all across Berlin
and the GDR
was brutally crushed by the Soviet
army using tanks. There's a memorial plaque about this at the historic site on Karl-Marx-Allee – as there are in several other places (see also under Berlin
in general and under Topography of Terror
After the fall of the Berlin Wall
and the reunification
, the buildings on Karl-Marx-Allee were mostly acquired by investors during the 1990s and large-scale refurbishment and modernization work was undertaken. Yet most of the grand old socialist style survives. There are now new shop names and adverts, but only at street or first-floor level. The grand facades were thankfully spared the incongruous big advertising billboards that have sprung up elsewhere all over the former Eastern Bloc. So the main ensemble looks largely intact to this day. As such it is regarded as one of the largest surviving original relics of the socialist times.
What there is to see: Mainly lots of grand socialist-era architecture. The main stretch is between Strausberger Platz to the west and Frankfurter Tor to the east. Both of these form gates with twin towers either side of the boulevard and these stand out as the main landmarks of the area.
The 1950s grand architecture actually extends for another block east of Frankfurter Tor, though this stretch has been renamed Frankfurter Allee.
In the other direction, Karl-Marx-Allee continues all the way to the corner of Alexanderplatz, but here the architectural style is very different (more modernist – see above).
You can explore the boulevard from either end, it doesn't really matter where you begin. All along the way there are information panels that provide useful background information about various aspects of the architecture, art and history of the boulevard and specific locations. The panels are all bilingual in German and English.
Coming from the west, the first ensemble of grand 1950s buildings begins at Strausberger Platz
, an oval roundabout with a central fountain with a “Schwebender Ring” ('hovering ring') sculpture involving a circle of square metal panels that was added in 1967. In the south-eastern corner of the square you can find a modest bust of Karl Marx
, the philosopher and founder of communism that the boulevard is named after.
The square is ringed by the first set of grand socialist-classicist buildings with the larger towers on the corners forming a kind of gate. Look out for the ornamental decoration in metal and glazed tiles, both here and on the adjacent Block B further east.
Carrying on eastwards you pass a block that interrupts the boulevard's general Stalinist style briefly with a couple of more modern prefab apartment blocks (see under background
), but the next set, Block C
more than compensates for this, as it is one of the grandest of the whole boulevard's middle sections. Here you also find the Cafe Sibylle
, which features an exhibition
about the history of the Karl-Marx-Allee and also sports some of the original decorations from the 1950s and 60s.
Here you also find the “Karl Marx Buchhandlung”, a former bookshop now used as another “event location” for readings, panel discussions and the like. But the original facade and the old letters of the name above the window front form a landmark in its own right (it featured in movies such as “The Life of Others” and “Goodbye Lenin”).
Block C also sports some of the best socialist realist
artwork anywhere on the boulevard. The central facade features a set of twelve reliefs illustrating the glory of the workers' paradise of communism. Most depict men at work (as builders, plumbers, blacksmiths, etc.) but also one group apparently having a break and a good swig of beer. A couple of others also feature women, not only in the traditional family role or as cleaners, but there's also one amongst a group of engineers and another involved in what could be roadworks.
Further east still you come to another grand edifice at Block E
. Here you can find a plaque in one of the entrance passageways that marks the occasion of the GDR
's first prime minister Otto Grotewohl
laying the “Grundstein” ('cornerstone') of this building on 3 February 1952.
It's worth going off-road for a bit between Block E and D to see the Weberwiese complex of architecture to the south, especially the “Hochhaus” there, which was actually the first high-rise structure erected here even before any of the Stalinist architecture went up. To the west of this look out for a grand socialist realist relief on the frieze – a classic ensemble of communism glorification
Back on the main boulevard further east on the northern side of the road is the “Kino Kosmos”, an addition from the 1960s, set back from the main road/pavement and featuring a domed roof. It used to be the largest cinema in the GDR. Now it functions as an event and conference centre and occasional concert hall.
The twin towers on Block F at Frankfurter Tor form the most iconic landmarks of the main part of the Karl-Marx-Allee. Their top half echoes the style of the churches on Gendarmenmarkt in the Mitte district and are thus an intriguing but pretty deviation from the otherwise more Stalinist/socialist-classicist style of the boulevard.
The ensemble of grand “workers' palaces” apartment blocks continues for a bit with Block G beyond Frankfurter Tor along the stretch of street that has been renamed Frankfurter Allee.
But that is basically it.
However, the stretch of Karl-Marx-Allee to the west of Strausberger Platz warrants a brief mention too here, even though it does not feature the same style of grand architecture. However, amongst the rather bland prefabs two lower edifices stand out aesthetically. One is the “Kino International
” with its boxy, ultra-modernist style (still in use as a cinema) and the similarly designed former “Cafe Moskau
” right opposite across the street. The latter features faded socialist-realist mosaics that are worth a look. Above the entrance “hovers” a replica Sputnik on a stick. Otherwise the place is no longer publicly accessible; the refurbished interior is only hired out as yet another 'event location'. Finally, at the very western end at the corner of Alexanderplatz
you can find another marvel of socialist architecture, the “Haus des Lehrers
” – all these are covered under the Berlin
chapter (and feature in its photo gallery
Mostly between Frankfurter Tor in the east and Strausberger Platz, both in the district of Friedrichshain, east of the central Berlin
district of Mitte, north of the Spree River and Kreuzberg and west of Lichtenberg.
Google maps locators:
Access and costs: the boulevard as such is obviously freely accessible at all times (but of course daylight hours are to be preferred); involves a bit of walking.
Details: To get to the west end of Karl-Marx-Allee you can simply walk it from Alexanderplatz, the eastern end is served by the tram line M10 and the metro line U5 stop Frankfurter Tor. The U5 runs underneath the entire length of Karl-Marx-Allee and is thus the most convenient means of getting to anywhere along this boulevard … other than walking it all, of course, which is the best way of appreciating it all anyway.
The outside of all buildings along the street is freely accessible, but only few buildings can be seen from the inside (as they are either private residences or company offices or only hired out for corporate events, like the “Cafe Moskau” or “Kino Kosmos”). A notable exception is the Cafe Sibylle with its exhibition about the history of Karl-Marx-Allee (free). The cafe is normally open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. (Mondays from 11 a.m.). It also hosts a range of events and special exhibitions.
Time required: Walking the full length of the grand boulevard all the way from Alexanderplatz in the west to Frankfurter Allee in the east takes about 45 minutes, but add to that various stops to look closer at the architecture etc., so in total you may have to factor in more like two to three hours.
Combinations with other dark destinations:
In general see under Berlin
If you continue further east along Frankfurter Allee, e.g. by means of the U5 metro line that runs underneath the full length of this street and Karl-Marx-Allee, you get to the district of Lichtenberg where you can find the Stasi Museum
at this secret police's former HQ. Get out at the U5 metro stop Magdalenenstraße and walk north along the street of the same name, turn left onto Normannenstraße and left again. Or walk up Ruschestraße from the corner of Frankfurter Allee and turn right through the main gate.
In the other direction at and around Alexanderplatz
you can find yet more examples of typical representational socialist architecture, not least of all the TV Tower
, which has to be the No. One landmark of East Berlin and is one of the most iconic structures of its type worldwide (cf. Top-10 buildings
In a corner of the park to the south-west of Alexanderplatz you can find the Marx-Engels-Forum
, with the the statues of the two great pioneers of communist philosophy. To the north of this just across the street is the GDR Museum
From Frankfurter Tor, the metro line M10 can take you south to Warschauer Straße, just round the corner from the eastern end of the famous East Side Gallery
stretch of (semi-)preserved Berlin Wall
Combinations with non-dark destinations:
The heart of mainstream tourist Berlin
is just to the south-west of the western end of Karl-Marx-Allee, and the U5 metro line can conveniently take you to the central transport hub of Alexanderplatz from any of the four stops it has along the boulevard (under which it runs).
- KMA 01 - looking from west to east
- KMA 02 - Strausberger Platz
- KMA 03 - typical building and street name
- KMA 04 - bust of the man the street is named after
- KMA 05 - eponymous book shop still in situ too
- KMA 06 - tiled facade
- KMA 07 - typical grand apartment block
- KMA 08 - first PM of the GDR was here in 1952
- KMA 09 - socialist-realist reliefs
- KMA 10 - workers
- KMA 11 - another socialist-realist piece round the corner at the Weberwiese complex
- KMA 12 - derelict waterless fountain
- KMA 13 - lampposts and tower
- KMA 14 - eastern end at Frankfurter Tor
>More background info
>What there is to see
>Access and costs
>Combinations with other dark destinations
>Combinations with non-dark destinations