The red mile
by Gernot Schaulinski / translation by Rachel Marks
One could say that Frankfurter Allee marks the "center" of the Ring. It may sound like a quartering of the circle, but it's the shopping center that seems to demand it. The "Ring-Center" rises up alongside the station, which cowers in its long shadow. The post-war era left its mark here with what one might call, by the look of it, coughed up cubes. But on the large street reaching east toward Frankfurt/Oder, it is clear that earlier decades also tended more toward dumping than dabbling.
An alley leads from the station's western exit between the train viaduct and the tall wall of the mall; pedestrians squeeze their way through to the avenue. Only one very short section of the street reveals its pre-war roots; you hardly notice the few older houses among the now retro Plattenbauten. Some one hundred meters toward the center of town, the thoroughfare widens to become a pompous Socialist boulevard, which changes its guise to Karl-Marx-Allee where it meets Frankfurter Tor. Originally the street led from the outward edge of Berlin's baroque expansion to the distant Colonie Friedrichsfelde. The conduit served Prussia in the eighteenth century as a military road - as it did the Soviets in 1945. Here was one of the Russian advance's primary offensive positions to access the control center of the Third Reich. To nip any possible resistance in the bud, the Red Army's mobile artillery shot all the way down the street, house for house. Frankfurter Allee saw some of the capital's worst destruction.
"The way to Stalin is straight ahead, the way the friends came. In the shiny new windows shall never reflect fire! Say, how should we thank Stalin? We'll give the street his name." (Gradaus zu Stalin führt der Weg, auf dem die Freunde kamen. / Nie soll'n sich in den Fenstern, / in den neuen, blanken, / die Feuer spiegeln! / Sagt, wie soll man Stalin danken? / Wir gaben dieser Straße seinen Namen) Lyricist Kurt Barthel (KuBa) strived to honor the German-Soviet friendship with this devoted hymn in 1949. East Berlin's reconstruction program put major emphasis on Frankfurter Allee, which, renamed Stalinallee, was to announce with its resplendent buildings the glorious future of Socialism. The workers, on the other hand, weren't having much of it and demonstrated on June 16, 1953 for higher wages in this lifetime. The act of protest, one founded in the traditions of the socialist worker's movement, was to initiate the people's revolt, which gripped the entire Republic the following day.
It is for such a successful mobilization of the people that the participants in the annual Liebknecht-Luxemburg demonstrations pine when they sling their slogans at the bored onlookers at the windows above: "Citizen, don't just gawk, come down and walk!" (Bürger lasst das Glotzen sein, kommt herunter, reiht euch ein!) Starting at Frankfurter Tor, young activists and diehards of every shade of red still march down the street, which was renamed after Stalin's death, to the Socialist memorial in the central cemetery Friedrichsfelde in Lichtenberg. The riot police often find cover behind the Ringbahn's viaduct in order to pounce into the demonstration parade when Maoist Kurds raise forbidden posters to the heavens.
Here the Ringbahn marks an urban boundary; Plattenbau quarters dominate the image of the street as its stretches to the east. Neighbors keep an eye on one another in the standardized apartment building rows - for some a professional pastime back in the day. Short distances to work made this area popular with thousands of Stasi workers. The neighborhood between Ruschestraße, Normannenstraße, and Magdalenenstraße was essentially a small town of the "shield and sword of the party," from where the surveillance of the citizenry was organized. Erich Mielke's offices, kept in their original form, can today be visited at the research and memorial center. Here, there's no trace of Ostalgie - a pop culture nostalgia for East Berlin - to be found. On Frankfurter Allee, it's hard not to see red.