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East Berlin Tour: Discover the Former Soviet Sector

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The GDR has left its mark on the Berlin cityscape to this day. This walking tour takes you on a journey of discovery into the world of the former socialist workers' and farmers' state. The tour includes 16 stops and leads you along Karl-Marx-Allee, the longest monument of Stalinist neoclassical architecture, past Alexanderplatz, the stone blueprint of socialist utopia, to the TV Tower.

Starting Point: Magdalenenstraße Subway Station

Flüchtlingsunterkunft auf MfS-Gelände

Our tour through East Berlin's past starts at the Magdalenenstraße subway station in the Lichtenberg district. Starting from Frankfurter Allee, oriented in the direction of the TV Tower, the approximately five-kilometer walk all the way to Alexanderplatz begins. You can shorten the route as desired by hopping on a train at one of the various subway stations along the way.

Stop 1: Former Ministry of the Interior of the GDR with Stasi Headquarters

Tag des offenen Denkmals in der Stasi-Zentrale

After about 100 meters, turn right into Ruschestraße. Here, at number 103, is the former Ministry of the Interior of the GDR with the State Security (Stasi) Headquarters. The building now hosues a research and memorial site and museum where you can view numerous photos, documents and equipment used to monitor the citizens of the GDR. The highlight, however, is the office of former Stasi chief Erich Mielke.

Stop 2: Frankfurter Tor


Back on Frankfurter Allee, the route leads along the course of the road to Frankfurter Tor. The two tower skyscrapers, which look like an artificial city gate, can be seen from afar. The domes were modeled after those of the German and French cathedrals on Gendarmenmarkt.

Stop 3: Kosmos Cinema

Feuer im Kosmos

Shortly after Frankfurter Tor, on the right-hand side, a flat building deviates from the rest of the architectural style of the street. This is the Kino Kosmos, formerly the largest cinema of the GDR, which was still used as a premiere cinema until 1989. These days it serves as an event center for conferences.

Stop 4: Karl-Marx-Allee

Karl-Marx-Allee in Berlin

From here, a view of Karl-Marx-Allee, the former grand boulevard of the GDR, opens up. Up to 90 meters wide, the boulevard was intended to serve as a place for the government to hold parades and marches, among other things. It is lined by monumental buildings on both sides, the majority of which were built in the Stalinist neoclassical style - the so-called "confectioner's style" - of the 1950s. The buildings were supposed to represent the efficiency of the Socialist regime. The avenue, which was initially called Große Frankfurter Straße, was first renamed Stalinallee on December 21, 1949, on the occasion of Josef Stalin's 70th birthday, before receiving its current name on November 13, 1961.

Stop 5: Karl Marx Bookstore & Café Sybille

Der Buchstabenfreund und die Neonröhren aus der Nachkriegszeit

Karl Marx Bookstore

Halfway to Strausberger Platz, you pass by two interesting establishments in the store fronts of the buildings on the left side of the street. First you reach the Karl Marx Bookstore, which was featured in classics of modern German cinema such as "Good Bye Lenin" and "The Lives of Others". Literary classics of socialist literature were still available here until February 2008. Just a few steps further, at number 72, is Café Sybille, whose interior still retains its GDR charm and which houses an exhibition on the history of "Stalinallee".

Stop 6: Strausberger Platz

Start der Berliner Brunnensaison

Strausberger Platz

After about 300 meters, you reach Strausberger Platz. The exits of this square have also been designed in gate-like strcutures. The two 14-story towers on the west side, which allow a view to Alexanderplatz, are particularly striking. The one on the left side is called the "Haus des Kindes" ("House of the Child"), the one on the right is called "Haus Berlin". On their west side, they each bear a large inscription: on the "House of the Child" one can read a quotation from Goethe's Faust. The square was also one of the starting points for the workers' strike that led to the popular uprising on June 17, 1953.

Stop 7: Mokka Milk Bar & Kino International


Shortly after leaving Strausberger Platz, inside a corner building on the right, is the former Mokka milk and ice cream bar, which was a popular meeting place for young people during the 80s. The facade of the prefabricated building behind the bar still bears an old illuminated advertisement for the Czech car brand Tatra.

Next to the Mokka Bar is the Kino International, a large-capacity cinema, which, like the Kosmos, was used as a premiere cinema until 1989. The building's large glass front, which opens to the street, is its most striking characteristic. Today it houses the "Klub International", a venue for numerous parties.

Stop 8: Café Moskau

Cafe-Moskau_ Café-Moskau-GmbH.jpg

Across the street, the building ensemble is completed by the Café Moskau. The building, which is now a listed building, was one of a total of 7 nationality restaurants in the GDR (including Warsaw, Budapest, Prague), which were intended to give guests an insight into the cultural and culinary world of the socialist brother countries. With the exception of Café Moskau, all the restaurants were closed after the fall of the Soviet Union. Above the lettering is a full-size Sputnik, which was a gift from the then ambassador of the USSR.

Stop 9: Prefabricated Buildings on Karl-Marx-Allee

DDR vor 70 Jahren gegründet

This archive picture shows soldiers of the National People's Army during a military parade on Karl-Marx-Allee in East Berlin.

Between Strausberger Platz and Alexanderplatz, the architectural development of Karl-Marx-Allee changes once again. Now, plain prefabricated buildings, which were constructed between 1959 and 1965 in the style of "caught-up modernism", dominate the picture. This section of the street was also the location of the grandstands where the GDR government watched the annual military parades, the last of which took place in honor of the GDR's 40th anniversary in 1989.

Stop 10: Haus des Lehrers


At this point in our tour, we are not far from Alexanderplatz. On the corner to Alexanderstraße, on the left, standd a 12-story, 54-meter-high building in the shape of a box which is entirely surrounded by a colorful frieze. This is the Haus des Lehrers ("House of the Teacher"), built from 1962 to 1964, which is now also a listed building. The frieze titled "Our Life" shows motifs from the social life of the GDR. The building served as a meeting place for educators and also contained a library. The dome-covered congress hall slightly behind it is also part of the architectural complex.

Stop 11: Haus des Reisens

Haus des Reisens am Alexanderplatz in Berlin

Diagonally opposite, on the right-hand side, another high-rise dominates the view: the 65 meter high Haus des Reisens ("House of Travel"). It was built between 1969 and 1971 in the course of the socialist transformation of the square and used to house the headquarters of the GDR's travel agency as well as the headquarters of the GDR airline "Interflug".

Stop 12: Haus der Elektroindustrie

Haus der Elektroindustrie

Haus der Elektroindustrie

Behind the Haus des Reisens, the 220-meter-long, ten-story Haus der Elektroindustrie ("House of the Electrical Industry") stretches out like a ribbon. Between 1969 and 1990, the building housed the GDR's Ministry of Electrical Engineering and Electronics. In 2000, the facade of the building was renovated and now features a large quotation from the 1929 novel "Berlin Alexanderplatz" by Alfred Döblin.

Stop 13: Alexanderhaus and Berolinahaus


After crossing Alexanderstraße, you have now reached Alexanderplatz. The two oldest buildings on the square are the Alexanderhaus and the Berolinahaus, which are located on the left side of the square. They were completed in 1932. During GDR times, the Alexanderhaus housed a department store, while the Berolinahaus housed the administration of the Mitte district and a post office.

Stop 14: World Clock

Sommertage in der Hauptstadt

In the immediate vicinity of the two buildings is one of the most famous meeting places in the city, the World Clock. The clock, which weighs 16 tons, was installed in 1969. At the bottom is a stone mosaic in the shape of a compass rose. The clock itself is a cylinder representing all 24 time zones of the earth. The names of important cities are carved into the metal. Above the clock, you can also see a simplified representation of our solar system. The clock is still powered by a converted Trabant gearbox.

Stop 15: Alexanderplatz

Frühling in Berlin-Mitte

In the center of the Alexanderplatz is the colorful Brunnen der Völkerfreundschaft ("Fountain of Friendship between Peoples") , which was inaugurated in 1970. Behind the fountain stands the former Centrum department store, which today houses a branch of Galeria Kaufhof. Completed in 1970, it was the largest department store in the GDR. In the course of reconstruction, unfortunately, the characteristic white honeycomb facade, for which the building was once famous, also disappeared.

Stop 16: Hotel Park Inn Berlin

Hotel Park Inn

The Hotel Park Inn on Alexanderplatz is surpassed in height only by the television tower. The hotel was built between 1967 and 1970 and features a publicly accessible roof. The hotel is 125 meters high and was called "Interhotel" at the time of its opening. During GDR times, delegations from the socialist brother states were accommodated here.

Stop 17: TV Tower

Fernsehturm mit Marienkiche

Although not strcitly located on Alexanderplatz, but still towering over everything, the Berlin TV Tower was the tallest accessible building in Western Europe even during GDR times. In 1964, the first secretary of the SED Central Committee, Walter Ulbricht, ordered the construction of the tower in the city center. Except for the St. Mary's Church and the Red City Hall, the remaining buildings were demolished. The tower is a total of 368 meters high and includes a rotating restaurant in addition to a panoramic floor in the sphere. Here, we reach the end of our walking tour.

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Last edited: 9 March 2023