Eavesdropping on all things Berlin related
My first trek along Karl-Marx Allee almost 7 years ago was totally intimidating. I was on foot, walking from Alexanderplatz to Warshauerstr. I remember being awed by the Stalinist architecture and annoyed by the later period Plattenbaus. I fell in love with Kino International and the old Moskau Cafe building. I was thrilled by the old left-over signage from the 70s still visible on the roofs of some of the main buildings.
But, the street went on forever. The boulevard is very wide, and although the walking path is quite far back from the street, I still found the traffic loud, the air dry and dusty, and the space uncomfortable. Nothing here seemed human sized. For all the vintage/ddr/ostalgie charm of the buildings, it gave me the feeling of being in one of those overly designed modern office buildings. You know, the ones with huge atriums and no people.
I remember recognizing the street a year or so later when I was watching “Das Leben Den Anderen”. When the guy is walking along the graffitied ex-soviet street with his mail cart in the last few minutes of the film. That street is so unmistakably Karl-Marx Allee.
In 2007, when apartment-hunting in Berlin, I happened upon an ad for a good sized place in Friedrichshain. I went to check it out, and was surprised to find it was actually in one of these wedding cake buildings. Entering into the building, I found the hall and staircases were very much as I expected them: spacious, functional with 60s soviet design, and devoid of human life. A bit like an empty old high school or a dated administrative building. The apartment was well laid out but quite spartan. It was all interesting but I could not imagine living in such sterile space. So I passed.
But more recently I have become strangely fond of the street. It holds itself somehow very still, as though stuck in another era. It has a stunning dilapidation about it, these once grand buildings having their facades peeled back by time. It is, if anything, an experience.
Some tips: The best way to see Karl-Marx Allee is definitely by bike. Bike paths run along almost the whole stretch, from Alexanderplatz until Frankfurter Allee S-bahn. You can probably do that ride in about 15 minutes. By bike you can see all the architecture, the little quirks and remnants and the beautiful disrepair, quickly. If you feel like stopping somewhere for a meal/snack/coffee, I can recommend a few worthwhile spots: Cafe Moskau, Cafe Sybille, & Cafe Tasso. You could also check out Kino International for a movie or CSA & Bar Babette for cocktails.