Soviet Berlin

Over many years, the history of Berlin was the history of a divided city. Being the capital of the socialist German Democratic Republic, in short: GDR, East Berlin was the Gate to the Soviet Union. The GDR itself was never part of that union, but as one of the so called satellite states of the USSR the ties to Moscow were very close nonetheless until the fall of the wall in 1989. Thus it is not surprising that throughout the eastern part of town, there are some Soviet traces to be found, even after all these years. We from Industriepalast Hostel went on a field trip to track the past and we found some impressive places steeped in history, where you can still feel a Soviet whiff of the cold war today:

Soviet War Memorials

Soviet Berlin

It is an uncanny place, somewhat unreal, right in the capital: Between the trunks of some mighty trees we suddenly face an enormous site, geometrically perfect, vast, massive: the Soviet War Memorial in Treptower Park We pass the portal, a mighty arch proclaiming “eternal fame to the heroes” in both German and Russian, to reach the forecourt. In its center stands a three-meter tall granite figure, “Motherland”, weeping for the loss of her sons. From here the view goes over the central alley, lined with birches, to a portal consisting of two stylized Soviet Flags built of red granite. Behind it lies the center of the site, a symbolic burial ground, framed with white coffins, and watched over by “The Liberator”, a huge bronze soldier gazing at the horizon. Twelve meters in height and weighing 70 tons, he has a child on his arm and his sword drawn, as he unmistakingly crushes a swastika under his massive heavy boots. It is not exactly what you would expect to find in Berlin, is it?

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The site at Treptower Park is one of three Soviet War Memorials that were erected in Berlin on behalf of the Red Army after 1945. A second one is located not far from famous Brandenburg Gate right in Tiergarten Park. It is a bit smaller, but the location is very interesting: Hitler’s architect Albert Speer had planned to build a vast “Victory Avenue” as part of the “World Capital Germania” here. The Soviet memorial, built in 1945 already, thus stands literally in the way of this confounded scheme. The site contains two original Russian tanks and artillery pieces that had been used during the Battle of Berlin. Interestingly, the memorial site lies in what used to be the British Sector and later West Berlin. West Berlin was basically a West-German island within the GDR, so the Soviet Memorial stood like an island within this island. The third Soviet War Memorial is also preserved, you can find it up north in the Volkspark Schönholzer Heide.

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Coffee with Stalin

moskau

The closest you will get to Moscow (at least architecturally) in Berlin is Karl-Marx-Allee in Friedrichshain: Between Frankfurter Tor and Alexanderplatz on a length of almost 2 kilometers, stand long, monumental, eight-storey apartment buildings designed in the Russian wedding cake style. It is no coincidence that the structures, built as “Workers’ Palaces” in the 1950s with representative towers to the eastern and western end, remind you of the large-scale buildings from the Stalin era in Moscow: In 1950 a delegation of the GDR government traveled to Moscow, St. Petersburg, and other Soviet cities to find examples of urban planning they could use for the schemed Boulevard in East Berlin, then called Stalinallee.

To make you feel even closer to Moscow, a famous restaurant named Café Moskau opened here as one of the popular “nationality restaurants”, some of the finest restaurants in the GDR capital. The impressive modernist building with its partly transparent facade is still there, and enjoys somewhat of a cult status. This is also due to the iconic full-scale replica of the first Sputnik satellite on the roof. Today, the heritage-protected building is a premium event location, while the basement is home to the trendy nightclub “Avenue”.

Café Moskau’s architect Josef Kaiser was also responsible for the building on the other side of the 89-meter broad boulevard: Kino International (“Cinema International”) was the most elegant movie theatre in the GDR and hosted film openings with important guests and politicians from this side of the iron curtain. Today, Kino International is a regular cinema and every year one of the venues for the Berlin International Film Festival.

German-Russian Museum

We must admit that the German-Russian Museum in Berlin Karlshorst is located a bit outside the inner city and therefore a little off the beaten track. Nonetheless, it makes for the perfect conclusion to our Soviet tour of Berlin. This former Nazi casino is the very site, where in 1945 the German Reich signed its unconditional surrender, making the Soviet Union a victorious power of World War II. There was a museum here during the GDR already; since the 2013 renovation however, it is really worth a visit. On over 1.000 sqm historical facts, interesting objects and vast information are portrayed and offer an understanding of the Relationship of Germany and the Soviet Union between 1917 and 1990. This is probably the closest you will get to the USSR outside of Russia. And from Industriepalast Hostel it is only a 15 minute train ride!

Curious about all that and more? Why don’t you come over to Berlin and start exploring the rich history of this city yourself?

Скоро увидимся and see you soon here in Berlin,

Simon

Blogger @IndustriepalastHostel

Simon Reuter (Blogger)

Simon Reuter (Blogger)

ist Wahlberliner aus Überzeugung und vielgereister Backpacker aus Leidenschaft. Als Rezeptionist erlebt er das Hostel-Leben an vorderster Front, als Blogger leitet er seit 2014 den Berlin-Blog des Industriepalast Hostels.
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is Berliner by choice and a passionate backpacker himself. As a receptionist he knows the real hostel life; as a blogger he's been writing for Industriepalast Hostel's Berlin blog since 2014.
Simon Reuter (Blogger)

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