Thursday, January 21, 2010

Soviet-style and now eco-friendly eastern Berlin

BERLIN. When the Berlin Wall came down late 1989 and the gates to freedom opened for millions of East Germans, you could imagine that the Western victors of the Cold War would have been tempted to tear down all those ugly communist-era buildings in the East.
No such thing happened in Berlin, luckily.
Instead authorities in the reunited German capital set out to modernize the vast building stock in former East Berlin. After 20 years of hard work, the result is remarkable.
When the Economist Intelligence Unit and Siemens recently presented results for its new European Green City Index, Berlin was tied in first place with Swedish capital Stockholm in the building (energy efficiency) category.
That is no small achievement, as anybody with experience of the building standards in the former communist countries of Eastern Europe will know. Through extensive retrofitting energy use has been almost halved in some 273,000 buildings in the eastern part of Berlin.
In conserving and modernizing much of the building stock in what was East Berlin, the German capital has added yet another dimension to its attraction as a living museum of modern European history.
Regardless of what you think of the Soviet-era or its monumental architecture that was spread throughout its satellite-states in Eastern Europe, it’s an important part of recent history.
When I visited Berlin for the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Wall last November, I strolled along Karl-Marx-Allee (not even the name has been changed) which was the showcase boulevard of the East German communist state.
The size of this street and buildings alongside it brought back clear memories of the years when I lived and worked in Moscow, during those dramatic years when the Soviet empire fell apart.
If you go to Berlin, you shouldn’t miss this experience.
As you move along the boulevard, look out for Café Sibylle (Karl-Marx-Allee 72). It’s a nice place to enjoy a cup of coffee and a piece of käsekuche (cheesecake) in an atmosphere that has a distinct feel of the old East German days.
The café also has a small exhibition of the history of Karl-Marx-Allee.


The showcase boulevard of what was East Berlin.

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