Soviet heroes on the techno strip
by Julia Cornelius / translation by Max Bach
Stepping out of the Ringbahn at Treptower Park, one would hardly guess the paramount importance of the vicinity – for East German political history as well as the contemporary young Berlin and its "Easyjet-Set." The station's eponym is a public park that was laid out on the banks of the Spree towards the end of the nineteenth century. The park stretches past docks of pleasure boats to the "Insel der Jugend" (Isle of Youth) and the Zennerhaus, an Old Berlin tourist restaurant. The former German Democratic Republic's amusement park "Kulturpark Plänterwald" – after the fall of the wall renamed "Spreepark" before going bankrupt – is a bit further down the Spree. Its current state of public decay furnishes a delightfully eerie backdrop for Sunday strolls.
Walking down Puschkinallee from the station, a few hundred meters further a grey granite victory arch appears – the entrance to the Soviet memorial. Seven thousand Red Army soldiers killed in battle around Berlin have their final resting place in this impressive space, decked out with bronze statues and marble sarcophagi. The memorial was inaugurated on May 8, 1949, only a few months before the creation of the GDR, and consequently became loaded with political significance.
For many who grew up in East Germany, this monumental fossilization of the GDR's founding myth is reminiscent of their school days: visits with red carnations were a mandatory part of the curriculum. On August 31, 1994, the Soviet memorial was used to commemorate official national memories one last time on the occasion of the removal of Russian troops from former East Germany.
Memories, myths and desires of another kind arise north of the Ringbahn station between the Landwehrkanal and Oberbaumbrücke. Not far past the Treptower high-rise complex is the southern tip of the destination for dance floor-enthusiasts. Every weekend thousands fly in to the German capital from all over to pay homage to the legend of Berlin as party capital of the western world. Cheap rents and lax authorities laid the ground for what journalist Tobias Rapp in his book Lost and Sound calls "Techno Berlin": a distinctive kind of clubbing, that represents for many a radical renunciation of nine-to-five drudgery. The sound of this flight from reality, usually lasting 24 hours if not more, is techno. Indiscernible during the day, the home of excess takes its start here.
It is worthwhile even middle-of-the-week in broad daylight to check out the borderland between the vastly different sister-districts Friedrichshain and Kreuzberg. At Schlesisches Tor the shiny yellow raised subway train flies by second floor windows of buildings built during the Gründerzeit (period of rapid industrial growth). Plattenbau (pre-fab housing), dilapidated buildings, fast-food stands, clubs, and stylishly dressed young people perched on 1950s ice cream parlor chairs make up a typical Berlin tableau on the way to the Oberbaumbrücke.
On the Landwehrkanal, take in the romance of the big city and sip coffee while gazing out onto the water; on Schlesische Straße numerous restaurants and fast-food joints offer Turkish, Vietnamese or Viennese specialties; fashion, record and furniture stores also tempt a small shopping tour. Görlitzer Park, with its graffiti and long shabby cascading fountain, is more a site for parties than contemplative strolls. No matter what it may be, a visit here is worthwhile for fine memories, awakening desires and celebrations of the legend of Berlin.