On the Border of East and West
Along the Spree river from Mitte, Friedrichshain is another former East Berlin district that has become a hub for visitors who want to explore both the city’s compelling past and inspiring present. Known for its classic Soviet-inspired architecture on Karl-Marx- Allee, or its famous Sunday market on Boxhagener Platz – part of a vibrant, upcoming neighbourhood jammed with bars and restaurants – Friedrichhain’s landmark is the turreted Oberbaum Bridge that crosses Berlin’s major river.
The bridge was a major checkpoint that divided East and West Berlin in the Wall years, while today it’s a popular thoroughfare where amplified rock bands, performers and musicians serenade the human ebb and flow taking in the view over Berlin. Nearby is the storied East Side Gallery, a long stretch of the former Berlin Wall that has been a fresco upon which artists from around the world came to express ideas of freedom as the Iron Curtain fell. The paintings – including 1990’s Fraternal Kiss (above) by Russian Dmitri Vrubel, a doomed final embrace between Russian and GDR leaders – symbolise the ongoing struggle for an open and tolerant city.
Among the plentiful accommodation options in the area is the Michelberger Hotel on Warschauer Strasse. A century-old industrial building has been transformed into stylish accommodation for travellers on small or more expansive budgets, while the Hotel boasts one of the best lounge bars east of the Spree, a homey, high-design hang-out that includes a courtyard/beer garden where events and concerts happen year-round.
Karl-Marx-Allee in Friedrichshain was the ChampsÉlysées of East Germany and its grand apartment buildings once called “workers’ palaces” are equally impressive today. Stretching for two kilometres from Alexanderplatz in the city centre to Frankfurter Tor, the Soviet-designed boulevard contains some of Berlin’s best modernist architecture, including the Kino International cinema and Cafe Moskau.
This is where a workers’ uprising started in 1953 but was soon put down with the help of the Red Army. But these days another revolution is happening in the back streets to east of Warschauer Strasse, an area thick with bars, clubs and restaurants since the Wall fell almost 30 years ago.