A walking tour around some of the squats of Friedrichshain, a trip to the Museum of Youth Resistance against the Nazis and the Communists, taking in the impressive Stalinist architecture of the Karl-Marx-Allee and the notorious police station near the film set of the The Lives of Others on Marchlewskistrasse. Consider doing this tour in the evening if you want to try the food, beer and punk bands playing in the social centres in the old squats!
Walking distance: 4km/2.5 Miles; 90 mins, plus time to visit museum.
Start: Samariterstrasse U-Bahn Station (U5); End: Weberwiese U-Bahn Station (U5) or Warschauer Strasse S and U-Bahn Station (U1).
Accessibility: The tour is along pavement which is often uneven and without dropped kerbs. The entrance to the Museum of Youth Resistance has two steps of approx 20cm, although there is a ramp available (ring the door bell).
Warning – this text contains spoilers!
Download the GPX Track for this tour.
Get the underground (U5) to Samariterstrasse and leave at the Mainzer Strasse exit.
The Mainzer Strasse is best known for the lengthy and violent eviction of thirteen squats immediately after re-unification in November 1990. Although nothing remains now to remind us that this was once the centre of the squatting scene, the street played a key role in the post re-unification political history of Berlin.
Before the squatters moved in, the street had been abandoned by the GDR government – it was scheduled for demolition and replacement by pre-fabricated concrete flats – and most residents had already moved out. Windows, doors and fittings had been stripped by locals desperate to repair their own homes.
Friedrichshain was home to most of the squats opened and occupied by people from West Berlin, as was the Mainzer Strasse, although squatters from both sides of the Wall took part in resisting the eviction, as did many members of the Berlin Senate and prominent figures from the 1989 revolution.
The coalition ruling Berlin (the Senate) fell apart as a result of the eviction, and both squatters and politicians agreed that they had no appetite for further violent evictions. As a result of this no further evictions took place for a while, and squatters in Berlin were encouraged to formalise their arrangements, with the result that most squats in the east of the city were legalised.
The Umbruch Bildarchiv has photographs of the eviction, as well as a description of events (in German) on their website.
Just round the corner from the Mainzer Strasse is Scharnweberstrasse where there were also several squats. Two squats were legalised in the 1990s, and continue to host regular parties and provide food. Although a (ex-)squat, Vetomat (Scharnweberstr. 35) is a good example of the type of social project that almost all of the squats have continued over the last 25 years. Vetomat holds events most evenings, often with cheap meals (including a regular Saturday buffet brunch – see their website for dates).
As an optional extra you could visit another good example of the social function of squats at Jessnerstrasse 41. In a legalised squat, next to the Supamolly bar (which holds regular concerts) is the Schenkladen, an impressively well organised free shop where you can bring along unwanted clothes, books and bric-a-brac, and take away anything you find useful. The Schenkladen also holds regular events, concerts and cafés.
Walk back up the Mainzer Strasse, and cross the Frankfurter Allee, heading up the hill on Samaritersraße (diagonally opposite, a little to the right). Walk 400 m up the hill to the Church of the Samaritan on the right hand side. This is where the Bluesmessen – the Blues Services were first held. They drew thousands of young people from all over the GDR, providing a concert space free of interference from the state (see the post Martin’s Music – Not Fade Away for more on the Blues and the political role this musical genre played in the GDR).
Walk back down the hill, (past two squats on the right hand side – one of which was legalised and is now the Sama Café) and turn right into Rigaerstrasse, The next junction is the Silvio-Maier-strasse, named after a GDR dissident and squatter who was stabbed to death in the Samariter U-Bahn station by neo-nazis in 1992.
Continue along Rigaer Strasse until you get to number 83, on the right hand side: the Fischladen, another social space provided by an ex-squat (now a housing co-op), where Martin eats goulash while his daughter and Annette talk with Karo.
The Fischladen still serves food (Tue to Sun) at 8pm, for a donation of at least €2, as well as very good cake (€1).
Carry on down the Rigaer Strasse, and take the third right, the Liebigstrasse. On the left hand side is another squat – the XB-Liebig, which hosts a social centre and information shop. (In total on the Rigaer Strasse and neighbouring streets there were over 20 squats in 1990 – most were legalised after negotiations, but quite a few were evicted, the most recent one in 2011). UPDATE: This squate has also been evicted and no longer exists.
Museum of Youth Resistance
Go back to the Rigaer Strasse and just a bit further along is the red brick Galilee Church on your left. This is the Museum of Youth Resistance (Tue-Sat, 11am-7pm, free entry) which has exhibitions of resistance to both the National Socialist and Communist governments, along with a library and regular events.
Continue to the end of the Rigaer Strasse, to the Bersarinplatz, named after the first Soviet Commandant of Berlin, Nikolai Bersarin. The main road running to the south and north of the Bersarinplatz was also named after Bersarin (Bersarinstrasse), but was given its old name of Petersburger Strasse in 1995.
Turn to the right, and take the second road, Thaerstrasse (from Bersarinplatz the road is closed to traffic). One of the first buildings on the left is the fictional Thaeri squat where Karo lived. Although it was tempting to use one of the many squats in the area as a basis for Karo’s house I decided to site her squat in a place (as far as I know) where there has never been an occupied building (although a house in the Thaerstrasse was squatted – and evicted – on the 15.12.90 in response to the Mainzer Strasse evictions – Youtube Video).
Opposite Karo’s fictional squat, at Thaerstrasse 16 is a second hand shop which specialises in GDR products, including some rarities. Bizarrely, I’ve never been allowed to buy anything in there: whenever I’ve found some East German gem that I’ve wanted to purchase I’ve been told to put it back since “it’s the last one”.
Go back to the Bersarinplatz and walk down the hill to the junction with Frankfurter Allee: the Frankfurter Tor. This is the start (or end, depending on which way you look at it) of the Stalinallee development, designed and built as an architectural showcase for socialist living in the 1950s. The towers are reminiscent of the dome of the two cathedrals on Platz der Akadamie (now Gendarmenmarkt). Looking down the boulevard, the buildings themselves, built in Stalinist Classicist (Wedding Cake) style, provide a perfect frame for a later icon of German socialist architecture, the Television Tower.
If you are interested in architecture it is worth taking a walk from the Frankfurter Tor down to the S-Bahn station east of here – it is said that this stretch of the Frankfurter Allee has representatives of every building style to be found in East Berlin, from Kaiser-era tenements to socialist pre-fab flats and shops.
Our tour takes us down the Karl-Marx-Allee, which until 1961 was called Stalinallee, past some of the remarkable architecture to be found here. Although we’re not going that far, you may be interested to note that the famous Mayday parades, showing off the undying gratitude of the people and the unyielding military hardware of the socialist state organs of the GDR were held at the other end of this boulevard, near Alexanderplatz. The Stalinallee (as it was still called) served as the point where resentment at the Communist government’s policies crystallised into open opposition. Builders working on the Stalinallee development downed tools and marched on the seat of government. Other workers joined the march, and a national general strike was called for the next day, the 17th June 1953. The uprising was put down with the aid of Soviet tanks, at the cost of over 100 lives.
Walk down the right hand side of the Karl-Marx-Allee to one of the few breaks in the building alignment along the Karl-Marx-Allee: the Kosmos cinema. Built in 1962, the largest cinema in the GDR at the time, and one of the premiere cinemas. With seats for 1001 people, its circular auditorium is still impressive, although sadly it is now only rarely used as a cinema.
From the cinema cross the road at the lights and turn into the ginnell near the chemist. This should lead you through to Lasdehner Strasse. The development around the Stalinallee cut off many of the old streets, and it’s easy to get lost – if this happens to you don’t worry, just enjoy looking at the buildings and gardens and try to walk in a straight line until you find someone to ask the way to the police station(!)
Marchlewskistrasse Police Station
At the end of the Lasdehner Strasse go through another ginnell and continue in the same direction along the Wedekindstrasse. At the next junction you’ll see the Marchlewskistrasse Police Station.
From the police station you can walk either way along the Marchlewskistrasse – to the northwest you will find the U-Bahn Station Weberwiese (U5), or the other way will take you to both the S-Bahn and U-Bahn Stations Warschauer Strasse (U1/U3). While you walk along the road keep your eyes open to see if you recognise the film set of the Stasi drama The Lives of Others.