Once the Berlin wall went up, the German Democratic Republic (GDR) was intent on showing the world – and its own citizens – that it had kudos. The Fernsehturm TV tower on Alexanderplatz in Mitte, which still dominates the Berlin skyline, is the highest structure in Germany (taller even than the Eiffel Tower) and built in 1969 as a symbol of GDR power and status.
It is no longer serving that purpose but the views from the top are probably the best of Berlin. I can see the River Spree winding its way through the city, Norman Foster’s Reichstag dome and the Tiergarten, Berlin’s vast, green city park.
“This square was pretty much the capital of East Germany,” says Konrad. “The GDR also built what is now the Park Inn by Radisson, Berlin’s tallest building. It opened in 1970 as the luxury Hotel Stadt Berlin, mainly for representatives of Comecon, an Eastern Bloc economic organization. Now you can go Base-jumping with a 125-meter drop.”
Mitte's Alexanderplatz is packed with people and lined with cafés. There is a revamped department store, chain restaurants and the new Alexa shopping mall with 200 shops and 20 restaurants. Commerce and capitalism have made their mark with barely a whiff of its Communist past. Just behind the square, however, the GDR’s Plattenbau apartment blocks remain in great numbers. Individually, they look perfectly decent, but their sheer number and density is something else.
At least, they are colorful now. Splashes of pastel colors, even reds and yellows, run down one column of slabs, brightening the blocks, streets and neighborhoods. “The flats are an improvement,” Konrad says. “There were three colors in the GDR. Light grey, dark grey and grey.”
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