Karl-Marx-Allee – post-WWII Flagship Project

 

The Karl-Marx-Allee in Berlin, Germany, was East Germany’s post-WWII flagship reconstruction project. The majestic 1.25 mile-long boulevard is almost 300 feet wide. Between 1951 and 1965, 8-story to 10-story buildings were constructed on both sides of this grand boulevard. Shops, restaurants and cafés were built to line the ground floor. Around 5,000 apartments were constructed above. Today, all of the buildings have been restored to their former glory, and the entire street is a designated historic site.

Typical apartment building along Karl-Marx-Allee. photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2015, www.walled-in-berlin.com

Typical apartment building along Karl-Marx-Allee. photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2015, www.walled-in-berlin.com

Naming the Karl-Marx-Allee

In the Golden Twenties the boulevard was known as the Grosse Frankfurter Strasse, a notoriously poverty-stricken locale. During World War II, the Red Army turned the area into a wasteland of rubble. In the aftermath, some 2 million volunteers cleaned up the debris with bare hands. They picked thirty-eight million bricks out of the rubble and prepared them for reuse so that 70% of the project’s bricks were salvaged ones. http.//www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/legacy-of-rubble-women

In 1949, the Grosse Frankfurter Strasse was renamed Stalinallee in honor of the Soviet leader’s 70th birthday. Two years later, a 16-foot-high bronze statue of Stalin was unveiled, but during a November night in 1961, that statue vanished. It was melted down as part of the East German government’s de-Stalinization process. When residents awoke that morning, they saw brand new street signs, and the Stalinallee had been renamed Karl-Marx-Allee, after the German philosopher and revolutionary, Karl Marx.

Purpose of the Karl-Marx-Allee

The post-WWII reconstruction project was conceived not only for the purpose of building apartments, shops, a movie theater, public offices and schools, but the boulevard was also supposed to reflect the new social order. Therefore, in October 1952, a special commission was formed for the “artistic decoration of the Stalinallee,” as the boulevard was still called at that time. Elements were developed to give the boulevard its unique appearance: Huge candelabras, columns, balustrades, Meissen porcelain facings, fountains, clocks and other elements. Dual towers were constructed at both ends of the boulevard, the Frankfurter Tor and the Strausberger Platz. During 1966/67, a floating ring fountain was added in the center of the Strausberger Platz. The fountain, made of copper sheets welded together, gives the impression of crystals floating in the air above the water.

Famous Floating Ring Fountain at Strausberger Platz. photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2015. www.walled-in-berlin.com

Famous Floating Ring Fountain at Strausberger Platz. photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2015. www.walled-in-berlin.com

High Quality Living in the Karl-Marx-Allee Apartments

For the times, the Karl-Marx-Allee apartments offered workers a fairly high quality of living. Rents were affordable. The apartments were spacious and equipped with modern amenities such as hot water, central heating, elevators, tiled bathrooms, bathtubs, built-in cupboards, balconies, even garbage chutes and house phones. http://coldwarsites.net/country/germany/karl-marx-allee

Therefore, the Karl-Marx-Allee became a source of great pride for the people of the former East Germany. In 1953, however, when the production norms for laborers on the project were raised by 10% without a correspondent pay increase, it was also the site of a massive uprising. http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/east-german-uprising-of-17-june-1953/

Rent Levels in the Karl-Marx-Allee Apartments

1953 – For an 860 square-foot, three-room apartment with kitchen and bath, as described above, the original tenants paid 78 DDR Mark (East Mark) in monthly rent. That amount represented 21% of the average resident’s income.

1979 – The rent was still 78 DDR (East Mark) per month. It had not changed in 26 years and now represented only 10% of the average tenant’s income.

1990 – Following the 1:1 currency exchange to DM (West Mark), the monthly rent remained fixed at 78 DM, which amounted to a mere 6% of the average renter’s income.

1991 – Following reunification, rents rose to 620 DM (West Mark), a shocking 51% of income for many.

2000 – Following repair and renovation of the apartments, rents rose to 931 DM, which represented 40% of income.

2013 – Following the adoption of the Euro, rents settled at 650 Euros for original tenants and at 720 Euros for new renters, representing 48% of the average income.

Today, Berliners of all ages still scramble to secure one of the bright, spacious apartments on the Karl-Marx-Allee. Rents are still rising, but potential tenants value the broad sidewalks, the public gardens and the proximity to cafés and restaurants. They might even catch a movie at the Kino International, a popular spot for viewing international films.

Kino International on the Karl-Marx-Allee, photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2015. www.walled-in-berlin.com

Kino International on the Karl-Marx-Allee, photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2015. www.walled-in-berlin.com

 

For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, “Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom,” click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of http://www.walled-in-berlin.com

 

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