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East and West

A few hundred metres from Emily and Guido's apartment is Frankfurter Allee that turns into Karl Marx Allee at Frankfurter Tor (left hand side in the Google Earth image above). If you stand in the centre margin of this road and look towards the centre of town the Fernsehturm (television tower) is in the centre of your view.

 

Karl Marx Allee near Frankfurter Tor - historical photograph:  Märkisches Museum

 

On either side are matching grand buildings - all post-war.

These owe their existence first to the War and then to the Communists. To the south of  Frankfurter Allee are two major rail junctions and from here low level British  bombers could unload all the way into the centre at Alexanderplatz by flying along Große Frankfurter Straße. 

 

Alexanderplatz 1945 and 2015 (setting up for Oktoberfest)
The S-Bahn on the left in the 1945 photo runs between the darker grey building and the TV tower
This was East Berlin. The historical photographs are in the Märkisches Museum

 

They needed to keep low and south of  Frankfurter Allee to avoid anti-aircraft fire from the Friedrichshain Flak Tower, more of that later.

Whereas high level bombing known as carpet bombing was more indiscriminate low level bombing concentrated damage along this corridor leaving a great swathe of destruction, an ideal site for a grand soviet style reconstruction project: Stalin Allee.  And so it happened.  Women were put to work clearing the rubble.  Plans and models were made and in due course construction began on what had become a component in the propaganda war between East and West. 

 

The grand soviet-style reconstruction project: Stalin Allee - Märkisches Museum

 

 

 Who could clean-up fastest and best became a points scoring exercise.  Soon Stalin Allee rose from the most devastated area in the City.  It was like the rebuilding of Warsaw, a great communist achievement. 

On the other (south) side of Frankfurter Allee from Emily are a series of high rise apartments of the kind often disparaged in the West when talking of the East. The West decried the architecture while the East heralded new apartments with lifts and modern bathrooms and kitchens. 

It sounds odd to Australians, and to all of us now, but in much of Europe a bathroom was a novelty and the height of luxury before the War.  When we looked at buying a house in London in the mid 1970's it was still possible to get a special grant to install a bathroom as immediately after the war only the middle and upper classes had such luxuries.  One day I was riding my bike to work and passed a group of kids in Battersea and heard one say: "Oh no, its bath night!".   'Oh no! It's true,' I thought.  When I was a 'pommy' kid in growing up in Australia a favourite joke of other kids was: "Where do you hide your wallet from and Englishman?  Under the soap!  Ha Ha."   As for hot water in the kitchen - haven't you heard of a kettle?

So these projects were indeed making things better for working class Berliners.

The Russian occupation in what was called the Soviet (sowjetischer) Sector was famously fraught with a power-play between the Germans and Russians.  There is a current Spielberg movie Bridge of Spies that highlights the tension when a DDR (Duecher Democratic Republic - East German) official points furiously at the lack of progress on cleaning up the Soviet Sector compared to progress in the British, French and American sectors.  The movie is bleak, contrasting the worst of Berlin with an upper-middle-class commuter suburb of  New York - no sight of the South Bronx from the commuter train - and the script does not treat the DDR man or his clown-like boss at all well.

In due course Stalin fell from grace.  So Stalingrad became Volgograd and Stalin Allee became Karl Marx Allee.  But the DDR competition with the West was still in full swing when the Fernsehturm (television tower) was built between 1965 and 1969. It's still the tallest structure in Germany. 

 

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