Monday, October 3, 2011

Der Tag der deutschen Einheit (German Unification Day) und Karl-Marx-Allee

Karl-Marx Allee: A View of the Fernsehturm
It's amazing how quickly things change. I can easily remember the Iron Curtain, the threat of Communism, and a world with two super powers. A few blocks from my apartment is Karl-Marx-Allee (Karl-Marx Blvd.). Karl-Marx-Alle is my link to the Cold War past. Whenever, I ride my bike along its wide boulevard or walk under its soviet-style apartment blocks, I'm reminded of another time, another world.
Along Karl-Marx-Allee

Entrance Ornamentation 
Today, I'm especially conscious of how rapidly the geo-political landscape has changed. October 3rd is German Unification Day, a national holiday. On October 3, 1990, East and West Germany became one nation. Even though November 9, 1989, was the day the Berlin Wall fell, November 9th was considered inappropriate since it happened to be the day the first large-scale Nazi-led pogroms began against the Jews in 1938 (Kristallnacht). So October 3rd, the day of formal reunification, was chosen.

Karl-Marx- Allee is a wide boulevard built by the East German government as its flagship building project during the 1950s. The street was used for East Germany's annual May Day parade, featuring thousands of soldiers along with tanks and other military vehicles that showcased the power of the communist state. It was originally named Stalin-Alle, but de-Stalinization led to its renaming. The massive buildings that line the street are designed in the unique “wedding cake” style (they resemble a wedding cake with frosting-like decoration). At the time of their construction, these buildings were controversial since they deviated from socialist classicism, a style developed in the Soviet Union, which emphasized function rather than the decadent capitalistic ornamentation of the west.

Kosmos Movie Theater on Karl-Marx-Allee. It was the
biggest movie theater in East Germany.
In the 1990s, shortly after German re-unification, I took a stroll along Karl-Marx-Allee. The street had a cold gray feel. The shops were deserted, the apartments vacant, and the infrastructure decaying. What struck me most was the total absence of color. Everything I saw seemed to be a shade of gray: the buildings, the signage, and even the people. It had a ghost-town quality. It felt like a movie set from the 1965 classic film, The Spy Who Came in From the Cold: a film about espionage during the Cold War. German unification had arrived, but the street was stuck in its communist past. Even the people seemed to lament the end of East Germany and the arrival capitalism.

These days, gentrification has transformed the street into a model of western consumerism. There are shops, the street is bustling with people, and the apartments are now eagerly sought after by young people. It's seems Karl-Marx-Allee has become cool.

Designed in the Socialist Style
Nevertheless, you can still see signs of Karl-Marx-Alles's former self. If you look closely, you can find an aging bronze bust of Karl Marx tucked away in a small corner, classically designed water fountains, and the now closed Karl-Marx-Buchhandlung (the official East German bookstore). For history buffs, the City of Berlin has installed informational placards along the street that tell you about the street and its significance in the history of East Germany and the Soviet Union.
Someone Posted Over the Karl-Marx-Allee Signage
There are a number of bear sculptures
throughout Berlin. The bear is Berlin's symbol. This one is found on
Notice the small vase of
flowers. It's especially poignant on
German Unification Day.

East German Bookstore. A
Film Company is now located there.

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