Posts Tagged ‘Karl-Marx-Allee’

Story behind Max Lingner wall mural

Monday, August 28th, 2017

 

In 1950, Max Lingner (1888 to 1959), German painter and graphic artist, won a competition to create a 60-foot mural. Made out of Meissen porcelain tiles, the mural embellishes the exterior of a massive office complex on Wilhelmstrasse in central Berlin. When Lingner created the mural, the complex was known as the Haus der Ministerien (House of Ministries). During World War II, it was called the Reichsluftfahrtministerium (Reich Aviation Ministry. Since 1991, it is referred to as the Detlev-Rohwedder-Haus (Detlev Rohwedder Building). http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/detlev-rohwedder-building-history/

 

Bundesfinanzministerium (Federal Finance Ministry) in Berlin. The building is named "Detlev Rohwedder Building". Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2002. www.walled-in-berlin.com

Bundesfinanzministerium (Federal Finance Ministry) in Berlin. The building is named “Detlev Rohwedder Building”. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2002. www.walled-in-berlin.com

 

Why such a large mural was commissioned

The East German state was created  in 1949. At the time of the design competition, Germany was divided and the House of Ministries was located in the Soviet Occupation Zone. It had miraculously survived World War II and needed to be repurposed. First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany, Walter Ulbricht, http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/image-challenged-walter-ulbricht/ and East German Prime Minister, Otto Grotewohl, tried to reinterpret the building’s Nazi architecture in accordance with the new socialist ideals of East Germany. They commissioned Max Lingner to create a large mural depicting contented citizens looking toward a bright future under communism.

Max Lingner tries to meet the challenge

Lingner’s original design was entitled, “Die Bedeutung des Friedens fuer die kulturelle Entwicklung der Menschheit und die Notwendigkeit des kaempferischen Einsatzes fuer ihn.” (The Importance of Peace for the Cultural Development of Humanity and the Need to Fight for it). https://www.museum-der-1000-orte.de/kunstwerke/kunstwerk/aufbau-der-republik He chose to portray several self-reliant, poised family groups filled with zest for a new and better life. But Otto Grotewohl had different ideas. He sought a mural with political undertones. He changed the name of the mural to Aufbau der Republik (Building the Republic). Lingner was asked to revise his design no fewer than five times to achieve these new objectives. In fact, Grotewohl, a hobby-painter, changed Lingner’s drafts several times himself.

As far as East Germany’s leadership was concerned, Max Lingner, who had lived and worked in Paris for many years, had adopted a style of drawing that was considered too frivolous and playful. His style was criticized as being “too French.” The final product bore little resemblance to Max Lingner’s original design. In fact, neither Lingner nor Grotewohl were ever really satisfied with the final “Aufbau der Republik” mural.

Elements of the Max Lingner Mural

In the “Aufbau der Republik” mural, everyone looks strong, healthy and happy to work toward a common cause. Young members of the FDJ (a youth movement in the former East Germany), musicians and young pioneers sing and dance in the streets. Officials in business attire, working class tradesmen, a farmer, an engineer and an intellectual work closely together in the new classless society.

 

Max Lingner's famous wall mural embellishing the Detlev Rohwedder Building in Berlin. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2002. www.walled-in-berlin.com

Max Lingner’s famous wall mural embellishing the Detlev Rohwedder Building in Berlin. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2002. www.walled-in-berlin.com

 

It is all the more ironic, then, that only one year after installation of the Max Lingner mural, the House of Ministries became the focal point of the 1953 East German Uprising http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/east-german-uprising-of-17-june-1953/ when construction workers from a Stalinallee project (renamed Karl-Marx-Allee) http://walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/karl-marx-allee-post-wwii-flagship-project/ marched to the House of the Ministries to protest a 10% increase in performance quotas. When the peaceful march turned into a rebellion, Soviet tanks crushed it.

In 2000, Wolfgang Rueppel’s magnified photo of the 1953 protesters was laminated under glass and sunk into the floor in front of the Detlev Rohwedder Building, not far from the mural. Rather than happy, contented faces, the photograph shows angry and disappointed ones. Next to each other, mural and photo clearly reflect the conflict between socialist wishful thinking and social reality.

 

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 Walled-In is my story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.

 

East German Uprising of 17 June 1953

Monday, November 7th, 2016

 

Is there a parallel between the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/who-really-opened-the-berlin-wall/ and the uprising of East German workers in 1953? Maybe. Both confrontations started with relatively small requests for policy change and ended in calls for freedom and democracy. The big difference is that Soviet tanks rolled in 1953, but not in 1989.

Factors in the Uprising of 17 June 1953

In spring of 1953, the East German state budget was in serious trouble. Sixteen percent of the budget supported the military, rearmament, occupation costs and reparations, leaving little for the production of food and consumer goods. In addition, expropriations and land reforms had caused droves of East German farmers to walk away from their farms. There simply was not enough food being produced. Staples continued to be allocated with ration cards in East Germany until 1958. Even with the cards, people could put only half the amount of meat and fat on their table as they had done prior to WWII. Long queues regularly lined up in front of shops. Residential power cuts often began at nightfall to meet the needs of industry during peak hours. And most importantly, price levels in East Germany were well above those in West Germany. While the average income in East Germany in 1952 was 308 marks, one kilo of butter cost 24 marks, one kilo of sugar 12 marks and one kilo of pork 15 marks. http://www.bstu.bund.de/DE/Wissen/DDRGeschichte/17-juni-1953/Ursachen-des-Aufstands/_inhalt.html While a bar of chocolate cost 50 pfennigs in the West, it sold for 8 marks in the East. In short, the prosperity gap between East and West Germany was very obvious to the people in both East and West.

Calls for New Production norms

The East German government recognized that corrections in the centrally planned economy were necessary and proposed to increase taxes and reduce salaries. But on 11 June 1953, the government announced a new direction: There would be no tax or price increases and no more power cuts. Instead, production norms would be raised by 10%. The planned increase in norms translated into a reduction in wages, which triggered widespread discontent among workers.

The Uprising of 17 June 1953 gains momentum

The next day, there were peaceful protests in many villages across the country. On 16 June, workers at two major Berlin construction sites – the gigantic reconstruction project on the Stalinallee, http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/karl-marx-allee-post-wwii-flagship-project/ and the new hospital construction project in Berlin-Friedrichshain – dropped their tools and marched in protest to the seat of the government. Not getting any satisfaction, they called for a general strike and a protest meeting at the Strausberger Platz in the Stalinallee (now called Karl-Marx-Alleee) the following day. On 17 June, thousands marched to the seat of the government again. Along the way, more and more workers stopped work and joined in. As the protest gained momentum, demands no longer focused solely on production norms but also on free elections and the resignation of the leadership. Spontaneous protests broke out that day in over 700 cities and towns across East Germany.

Soviet tanks and East German police fired into the crowd. Demonstrators responded with sticks and stones. Many were injured or killed. Others fled to the West. The East German Uprising of 17 June 1953 was bloodily squashed. East Germany did not revolt again until 1989.

Demonstrators throwing rocks at Russian tanks in the Stalinallee during the East German Uprising of 17 June 1953. www.walled-in-berlin.com

Demonstrators throwing rocks at Russian tanks in the Stalinallee during the East German Uprising of 17 June 1953. 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

 

Karl-Marx-Allee – post-WWII Flagship Project

Monday, October 31st, 2016

 

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