A couple of weeks ago, I took you on a smooth ride across Berlin, Germany’s exciting capital, by bus #100. We started at the Alexanderplatz in the east and went westwards all the way to the former main train station Bahnhof Zoologischer Garten.
|At the East Side Gallery, on this picture by street artist and wall painter Birgit Kinder you can see a Trabant – aka Trabi – one of two types of cars that were manufactured in the former GDR and everyone in the west made fun of. The Trabi is crashing through a wall – guess which one – and its license plate reads Nov 9, 89 – the date the gates to the west were open and the wall – and finally the GDR – came down.|
In today’s post, let’s discover what you get to see and experience when you turn east at the Alexanderplatz – and walk right into the heart of the ex-capital of the former GDR – the German Democratic Republic.
You’ll see: It’s the Wild Wild East!
Since I’d been to Berlin for the first time, I’ve felt like literally breathing history there: From the stiff German Empire to the liberal, progressive, and exciting Weimar Republic leading into the hellish years of WWII – and eventually, of course, the division into the sectors that led into the disunion, marked by the Berlin wall from 1961 until the unification in 1989.
Sometimes it’s beyond interesting or fascinating – at times I find it simply overwhelming. Is there a spot in this city that is not of historic relevance?!
|It was sort of ironic that people in the former GDR were deprived of travelling
but could determine the time of 148 major cities around the world
on the Urania World Clock which was erected in 1969.
After I’ve guided you along a rather light and more touristy route in my former post, today, I’d like to introduce a part of Berlin where all these above-mentioned epochs are concentrated – and yet you won’t get bored since today that neighborhood is probably the hippest and most artsy part of Germany’s capital.
So again, like on the last tour, we begin our journey at the Alexanderplatz.
This square is one of the largest and most important squares in Berlin, also because of Alfred Döblin’s legendary, impressionist novel Berlin Alexanderplatz from 1929, describing in a very deep and dense way the fate of the proletarian class in a metropolis between the two World Wars.
Today, the Alexanderplatz is a central place when it comes to shopping and dining and the Weltzeituhr, a large turret-style clock, and the television tower can be visited here, too.
Coming from the tower, let’s cross the Karl-Liebknecht-Straße* in front of the Marienkirche and keep walking into a small alley at the corner of the bakery Treibmann and you’ll get to Rosenstraße. The Karl-Liebknecht-Straße is named after Karl Liebknecht:
Rosenstraße – the street of roses…beautiful name, right?! And it was at Rosenstraße where in 1943 in the middle of all the Nazi terror sort of a miracle happened: In February that year, about 8,000 Jewish men were arrested right at their working places for deportation to the concentration camps. Some of these men were married to ‘Aryan’, i. e. German, non-Jewish women, who for two months protested in front of this building against the arrest of their husbands and proving day by day that they had no intention to accept the abduction of their loved ones. In order to avoid bloodshed in the very center of the capital of the ‘Reich’, the regime backed down and released these men.
|Memorial Block der Frauen, created by Ingeborg Hunzinger.|
|Detail. The writing says Gebt uns unsere Männer: Give us our men|
Since 1995, there is a sculpture by Ingeborg Hunzinger called Block der Frauen (Block of Women) honoring these more than brave women who stood up against the Nazi terror here at Rosenstraße.
*Note In this article, I’m writing out some of the German names and places and you will notice that there are letters that might not exist in other languages:
First of all, there is the letter ß that exists only in the German alphabet and it’s by no means a B – it’s a ‘sharp’, double S as in kiss. When writing, you can actually replace it by a double S.
Then there are three more vowels, ä being the easiest one since it’s pronounced like an open e as in head.
Ö and ü are tougher, ö being pronounced more or less like the e in her and ü as the u in huge.
Turn left at the next cross street and you’ll get to the Litfaßplatz, honoring the Litfaßsäule, named after Ernst Litfaß.
|Here you see a Litfaß column, topped with a sculpture by Christoph Pöggeler. This column is actually standing in Düsseldorf – and here is a post on this fun city, capital of the federal country North Rhine-Westphalia.|
You might know the Litfaßsäule rather by the name advertising column – because that’s what it is. However, since they were invented by clever Mr. Litfaß in 1854 and the first 100 columns were actually installed in Berlin, here they are called Litfaßsäule.
After this little fun fact, keep walking towards the Hackescher Markt, you cannot miss it since it’s right behind the S-Bahn station and there is one café or restaurant next to the other and in the center are stalls selling produce and snacks and nick nacks and it’s a very vivid, nice square.
|The beautiful commuter train station, built in 1882, is surrounded by a vast variety of restaurants and bars.|
Just a stone throw from the Hackescher Markt are the Hackesche Höfe, a gorgeous courtyard complex consisting of eight interconnected courtyards.
|The beautiful Art Nouveau facades of the Hackesche Höfe….|
While these courtyards, built and decorated in an Art Nouveau style, are housing costy boutiques and chains and big labels, the adjacent Schwarzenberg house withstands posh tenants and stands like a fortress, dedicated to besiege the globalized, capitalist conquerer.
|…..and the beautifully overgrown facades of the Schwarzenberg house.|
Hence, the Schwarzenberg house is richly decorated with graffiti and quirky sculptures and the bars here are rather rustic. There are independent galleries, an arthouse cinema, and two memorial sites:
|I assume everybody knows this face: Graffiti of Anne Frank right next to the entrance to the center.|
The Anne Frank Zentrum – I refrain from explaining who Anne Frank was. Although Anne Frank was born in Frankfurt and lived most of her far too short life in Amsterdam, there is this exhibition here in Berlin on her life, the significance of her diary, and the epoch she lived in.
This center is mainly designed for encouraging young people to take political responsibility and standing up for freedom, tolerance, and democracy.
|Entrance to the Memorial fo Otto Weidt’s Workshop at the Schwarzenberg house. In the back to the right, you can spot the entrance to the Anne Frank Zentrum.|
Another important memorial is the Museum Blindenwerkstatt Otto Weidt, Museum Otto Weidt’s Workshop for the Blind, housed actually in the former workshop. By employing Jews, Otto Weidt managed to save them from deportation to the concentration camps; or at least defer it. Yes, he was a smaller version of Oskar Schindler and he saved fewer lives – and most importantly Steven Spielberg did not make a film about his heroic deeds. But his story is fascinating and encouraging just the same and everybody should know about him.
The Museum Otto Weidt’s Workshop for the Blind is open every day from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
There are two really touching tales on Otto Weidt – unfortunately only in German: One is a book by Inge Deutschkron:
Papa Weidt. Er bot den Nazis die Stirn (Papa Weidt. He Defied the Nazis)
The other one is a TV movie and deals (also) with Otto Weidt’s love for Alice Licht, one of his Jewish employees who – with his help – managed to escape a concentration camp. This is a true life fairy tale – hence far from any cheesiness:
Ein blinder Held – die Liebe des Otto Weidt (A blind hero – Otto Weidt’s love)
By the way, it’s mainly because of people like Otto Weidt that I don’t feel comfortable when people speak about ‘the Germans’ having done all the atrocities. I by no means intend to whitewash anyone, but not every German citizen was a staunch Nazi, there even was a good number of German people who were victims themselves: Communists, Clerics, Homosexuals, and others were prosecuted, too. On the other hand, sadly, the Nazis found support searching and rounding up Jewish people in every European country; actually, as far as I know, only Denmark managed to save almost the entire Jewish population by sending them in boats to Sweden. (Refugees coming by boats – doesn’t that sound familiar?!) In every other country, the Nazis had allies or collaborators.
So, however, life would be so easy if one could blame exclusively one entire nation for being the devil. We could declare the Germans the planet’s only villains and the rest of world’s population would frolick and pick daisies on a lush lawn. Unfortunately – or probably thank God – it’s not that simple.
Walking along the Hackesche Höfe on Rosenthaler Straße, turn left into Sophienstraße at the next corner. It’s a very cute street with many small shops and lovely cafés and bakeries where you can just sit in front of the window, enjoying a cup of coffee and a piece of homemade cake.
The next cross street is the Große Hamburger Straße. This used to be Berlin’s Jewish neighborhood, and on the street’s southern end is the Jewish Cemetery. Across the street, Berlin’s first Jewish retirement home was opened with the Jewish School for Boys next door. These buildings were used by the Nazis to round up Jews for their deportation.
|Sculpture Jewish Victims of Fascism by Will Lammert. These 13 figures are located on the grounds of the destroyed retirement home.
(Jochen Teufel, Skulptur Juedische Opfer des Faschismus (Foto 2008), cropped to 7:5, CC BY-SA 3.0)
In 1943, the Jewish cemetery was destroyed and turned into an air raid shelter. The gravestones were used to reinforce the walls. Later, the grounds became a mass grave for soldiers and civilians killed during Allied air raids. Today, one symbolic tombstone and a sarcophagus filled with remains of gravestones are all that’s left. About 3,000 war victims, as well as approximately 3,000 Jewish dead, are now buried together.
At the end of the Große Hamburger Straße turn right into the Oranienburger Straße. Here, too, are many nice places if you need a snack or a coffee. There is a branch of the excellent ice cream parlor chain Amorino – yes, for once in my life I’m promoting a ‘global player’:
Amorino Eis Boutique
Oranienburger Straße 1-3
Open from noon till 9 p. m.
|Currywurst and fries – simple, but so good!|
And some of the best Currywurst – the typical sausage with tomato sauce and curry powder – is sold here, too:
Oranienburger Straße 6
Open from 11 a. m. till midnight.
With your stomach full, let’s keep walking down the Oranienburger Straße to Number 28 where in 1866 the Neue Synagoge, the New Synagogue, was inaugurated. 3,200 seats made it Germany’s largest Jewish house of worship.
|Looking up the New Synagogue.|
Unlike other Synagogues, it was not destroyed during the ‘Kristallnacht’, the Pogrom Night in 1938, but eventually severely damaged during air raids and finally, in 1958, the main hall was dynamited so that only the facade remained. After restoration, in 1995 the Synagogue was re-opened. The building houses the Centrum Judaicum and its museum. There is also a small prayer room for about 100 people on the 3rd floor.
Note: The prayer room and the museum are operating independently.
Synagoge Oranienburger Straße
Oranienburger Straße 28 – 30
Phone: + 49 – 30 – 88 028-300
Opening hours April to September Monday to Friday 10 a. m. to 6 p. m. and Sunday till 7 p. m.; the cupola is open.
Opening hours October to March Sunday to Thursday 10 a. m. to 6 p. m., Friday till 3 p. m.; the cupola is closed.
At the next corner, turn left into the Tucholskystraße and eventually right into Ziegelstraße to get to the Friedrichstraße. The Tucholskystraße is named after Kurt Tucholsky:
On Friedrichstraße, to your right is the Friedrichstadt-Palast, a revue theatre from the GDR era.
|Built in the mid 19th century, this large building used to house even a circus. Honestly, I’m not fond of either circus or revues, but I find it interesting that at that time they already had this pretty plain architecture.
(Photo: User:Dabbelju, Berlin Friedrichstadtpalast 2006, cropped to 7:5, CC BY-SA 3.0)
As you cross into Reinhardtstraße, you’ll get the chance to visit one of the remaining air raid shelters that today houses a private art gallery, the Boros Foundation.
|The former Reichsbahnbunker was built in 1943 and has since then served various different purposes. In 2003, Christian Boros purchased the building for this private collection of contemporary art.|
Businessman and collector Christian Boros and his wife Karen do not only own the bunker and are living in a spacious penthouse on the upper floor. They also call an impressive collection of contemporary art their own. The gallery can be visited, but only on a pre-booked guided tour (available in German and English).
Now walk back to the Friedrichstraße and turn right to cross the Weidendammer Brücke. On the right-hand side towards the river Spree is a glass building called Tränenpalast, the palace of tears. This used to be basically the only place where the Berlin wall was a tiny bit permeable – visitors from the west were allowed to enter the GDR after having been grilled; and some people from East Berlin – namely retirees – were allowed to go west…for a short visit.
|There are still the old signs at the former interrogation booths.|
Today there is an exhibition on this whole pretty rigid and sometimes cruel border traffic.
Opening hours are Tuesday to Friday 9 a. m. to 7 p. m. and weekends from 10 a. m. to 6 p. m.
|Crossing of Oranienburger Straße and Friedrichstraße.|
To get to the next stop of our tour, you can either walk up the Friedrichstraße which further north leads into Chausseestraße.
Here you can check out what’s on at the Neuer Berliner Kunstverein (n.b.k), New Berlin Art Association. They usually have rather unusual, quirky artists – exhibitions and performances alike.
A few steps further, at number 126, is the entrance to the Dorotheenstädtischer Friedhof is to be found.
|Cemeteries always have a calm atmosphere – which, of course, is not that surprising.|
Here, some great Germans are laid to rest: The philosopher Friedrich Hegel 1770 – 1831), the artists and architects Karl Friedrich Schinkel (1781 – 1841) and Johann Gottfried Schadow (1764 – 1850), novelists such as Heinrich Mann (1871 – 1950), Anna Seghers (1900 – 1983), and Christa Wolf (1929 – 2011). And the theater power couple Bertolt Brecht and Helene Weigel.
Phone: + 49 – 30 – 461 72 79
The cemetery can be visited from March to October from 8 a. m. to 8 p. m. and from November to February till 5 p. m.
Funny enough, Bertolt Brecht and Helene Weigel didn’t have to move far after they passed away: Their last home has been right next to the cemetery and today there is a museum honoring their work. The memorial center can be visited on guided tours (German and English – no advance booking required). Please check their website since there are too many hours to be listed here.
If you’re not sure whether you’ve heard about Bertolt Brecht before: His most famous musical theater piece is the Threepenny Opera, adapted from John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera. While Brecht wrote the lyrics, the music is by Kurt Weill – and you certainly know the song Mack The Knife?! Well, here you go then. Another internationally known song would be the Moon of Alabama, written for his play Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny. So, show me the way to the next whiskey bar – and don’t ask why, no, don’t ask why….
While Brecht and Weigel, along with other artists, writers, journalist etc. saw a Socialist State as a valid alternative especially to the Fascism they just had suffered through, for many people the way this political system was installed by the leaders meant hardship and pain.
During the first years after the war, the frontier between East and West Berlin were pretty much open and the Berliners were able to travel back and forth as they pleased. Only when more and more people decided to leave the eastern part and make a living rather in the west, the grip got slowly tighter and finally, in 1961, the GDR government built the infamous wall.
|East Side Gallery: One way of using the remnants of the Berlin wall is making it into a street art gallery – like they did on almost one mile along Mühlenstraße.|
There are memorials and remnants of the wall all over the place, but at the Bernauer Straße, where we are heading next, the situation was particularly bizarre: The wall went right through the houses – and even through a church wall. So before the GDR soldiers were able to brick up the windows, people just entered the houses on the east side and jumped off the windows to the west; from any storey available. Needless to say that there were casualties since people literally jumped even from the fourth floor.
|Bernauer Straße 48 where Ida Siekmann jumped off the fourth floor – and sadly didn’t make it.
(Photo: Willy Pragher, Berlin Bernauer Straße 48 Mahnmal Ida Siekmann 078927, Formatted to 7:5, CC BY 3.0)
|Also the main gate of the Versöhnungskirche was bricked up
(Photo: Olga Bandelowa, Versöhnungskirche Bernauer Straße, cropped to 7:5, CC BY-SA 2.0 DE)
Today, there is a Memorial Park at Bernauer Straße 111 and a very informative visitor center at Bernauer Straße 119. You get here from the Brecht-Weigel-House walking up the Chausseestraße and turning right into Zinnowitzer Straße which leads first into Julie-Wolfthorn-Straße and then Bernauer Straße.
Julie-Wolfthorn-Straße is named after:
So what do you think so far? A city bursting of history from different epochs – terrible and full of hope, very dark, but with a tiny spark of light.
And today? Today this part of Berlin is one of the hippest neighborhoods.
As you walk on Ackerstraße back south from the Memorial Park, you’ll get to Torstraße, Linienstraße, Auguststraße: cross streets, each of them full of art galleries, snack bars, coffee shops – just take your pick where to hang out with the in-crowd.
|Going west on Auguststraße, a street packed with galleries, hip shops, and restaurants.|
Linienstraße and Auguststraße end at Oranienburger Straße in the west, and this is the Land of Cockaigne when it comes to food from all over the world: Asian, Arabic, European – everybody finds its favorite here.
|Art on the street on Auguststraße….|
|….and at galleries like KW Institute for Contemporary Art.|
Walking down Linienstraße eastwards, you’ll get to our final stop, the Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz, the Rosa Luxemburg Square.
|The Karl Liebeknecht house, housing the headquarter of the left-wing party Die Linke, on the Rosa Luxemburg Platz. The pavilion to the left is a….Pavillon, an annex of the Volksbühne where e. g. exhibitions are taking place.|
No wonder that this place, named after one of the world’s greatest communist icons, is home to Germany’s extreme left-wing party Die Linke with a huge portrait of Che Guevara decorating their building.
But the most impressive structure here is the Volksbühn, the People’s Theater, built in 1913 / 1914. The idea was to have a theater literally for the people instead of a bourgeois elite. They tried to promote naturalist plays people could relate to and offer them at prices that the common workers could afford. Obviously, the theater could not keep these ideals up after the Nazis came into power. After the war, the heavily damaged building was rebuilt from 1950 to 1954.
|The Volksbühne: Modern plays on a traditional stage.|
Since their repertoire – apart from interesting, new plays – includes also modern dance performances and different concerts, it’s worth to check it out for a pleasant evening out – like a real Berliner.
Walking down the Rosa-Luxemburg-Straße, you’ll get back to the Alexanderplatz where our tour started. The Rosa-Luxemburg-Straße is named after:
So, guys, I hope I managed to show you some interesting and inspiring things – and I hope you’ve enjoyed your walk through the Wild Wild East.
I’d be more than pleased to learn what you think, so just let me have it in the comment section below.
Under the Same Sky
1. If you want to go on a little splurge, stay at the Hotel Indigo, located one block from the Alexanderplatz. If you book yourself into a suite on the 10th floor, you have all the little extras like a spacious room, a cozy sitting area, a DeLonghi coffee maker, house slipper, a bathrobe and much more.
|Comfy, elegantly furnished room.|
|Definitely the hotel’s strongest feature: The balcony from where you can see Berlin’s most important square.|
But most of all: You have a balcony and a million-dollar view of the Alexanderplatz with all the iconic buildings.
2. If you prefer to keep it a bit more simple, you just go next door, there is the Holiday Inn. Everybody knows what to expect: A reliable, comfortable traditional hotel with nice rooms and a small gym.
|If you stay at the Holiday Inn, you can use their outdoor area,….|
|….or enjoy a drink or dinner at the Indigo’s restaurant La Maison de L’Entrecôte.|
3. Travelling on a budget? Then the third option will be perfect for you: The One80° Hostel. A very laid back yet comfortable accommodation for those who want to be close to the action without burning a hole in the pocket.
|At the One80° Hostel the reception is also a bar. Very inviting…|
So far, so good, right?! But the best thing is, that these three accommodations are connected and built around a nice patio with seating areas under lush trees.
And you know what? You can enjoy the special atmosphere of each of them without having to move. That means that a backpacker can have a drink or one of their incredible steaks at La Maison de L’Entrecôte, the fine restaurant located at the Indigo. And if a guest from the Holiday Inn wants to drink his bear on the One80°’s terrace – well, be their guest!
|Can you guess at which of the three houses this stylish seating area can be found?
It’s at the One80° Hostel – not bad for travelling on a budget, right?
But the guests from the other two hotels can let their hair down here, too.
Final Note: Since I’ve published and updated a couple of post on Berlin over the past weeks, I’m refraining from posting general travel info on how to get there and around, the money, the WelcomeCard etc. and ask you kindly to check the posts that have these info.
However, I’d like to help you a bit with your orientation when it comes to the places I introduce in this post, so this is the area I’m describing:
This article contains affiliate links. By purchasing items through my affiliate links at no extra cost to you, I will receive a small commission that helps to run this site.
|There are far worse working spots than a balcony on the
10th floor overlooking the Alexanderplatz.
I was very lucky to have been invited to stay at the Hotel INDIGO Berlin Alexanderplatz.
However, all opinions expressed in this post are mine and weren’t by any means influenced by my cooperation partner.