The Karl-Marx-Allee is a broad boulevard stretching for two kilometers from Frankfurter Tor to Alexanderplatz. The street is lined with apartment blocks built in socialist realist style.
Built during East Berlin’s reconstruction period after World War II, Karl-Marx-Allee remains an interesting and impressive monument to the Socialist era of the mid to late twentieth century.
History of the Boulevard
seen from Frankfurter Tor
Berlin suffered much damage during the Second World War, so by the 1950s, both East and West Berlin had entered a period of reconstruction in efforts to bring their city back to normal. Homes, stores, and other businesses needed to be rebuilt so that residents could resume their lives.
In 1952, the government of East Berlin embarked upon an ambitious project that would transform the Große Frankfurter Straße into a massive boulevard with eight-story buildings. Since most of the existing buildings were in ruin, there was plenty of room for expansion so the street was widened to ninety meters (300ft) with six car lanes and extremely wide sidewalks – in fact, there was more space allocated for pedestrians than for cars.
The street was named Stalinallee after the notorious Russian dictator and was to include large buildings that housed stores, restaurants, and other businesses on the first few levels and apartments on the higher floors. Unlike the new buildings in the West, which were devoid of any decoration, the buildings here contained neoclassical elements and were often adorned with decorative tiles.
From the time of its conception, the boulevard was highly criticized by the peoples of the West, who dubbed it the first “Socialist Street” in Berlin. During the building of the street, it was also the site of an outbreak of violence by construction workers who were protesting against the socialist government. They were quickly and violently subdued.
In the East however the boulevard was a source of pride. The quality of living here was relatively high and the apartments were spacious and equipped with modern amenities.
In 1961, upon Joseph Stalin’s death, the boulevard was renamed for German philosopher and revolutionary, Karl Marx. For many years, it was the annual site of the May Day parade, as it was large enough to accommodate massive tanks and thousands of soldiers who goose-stepped their way down the street.
Today, the boulevard is recognized for its unique architecture as it relates to the style of the former German Democratic Republic.
The spacious sidewalks make for tranquil walks. The buildings on Karl-Marx-Allee are all restored now and the whole street is even protected as a historic site. A couple of buildings stand out, in particular the Kino International and the towers at Frankfurter Tor.
One of the street’s functionalist theaters, Kino International, still stands today in its original glory and is a popular spot for viewing international films. One of the few remaining theaters in the eastern portion of the city, the interior of the International is large and splendid, boasting crystal chandeliers and elegant seating.
Frankfurter Tor, a large square connecting Frankfurter Allee with Karl-Marx-Allee, serves as a gateway to Berlin’s Mitte, the city’s historic center.
Two symmetrical highrise buildings on either side of the Karl-Marx-Allee seem to serve as watchtowers guarding the entrance to the city center. The towers, designed by German architect Hermann Henselmann, were built between 1953 and 1956 in typical socialist wedding-cake style. The facades are covered with white ceramic tiles.