Greifswalder Straße, Collage © Björn Paulissen


Where communist leader Ernst Thälmann meets the Third Reich

by Gernot Schaulinski / translation by Rachel Marks

The train once stopped at "Weißensee" station, after 1946 passengers exited at "Greifswalder Straße," and in the mid 1980s the station was called "Ernst-Thälmann-Park" until in 1993 it got its previous name back. The tin signs show no traces of these changes; if only the platform could speak. From here, your gaze quickly drifts to the large, brown, pre-fab boxes in the southwest. The six pairs of tracks from the nearby freight yard create a long trench separating the travelers from the monumental building blocks in the distance.

An open courtyard opposite the other side of the platform affords a more intimate glimpse into the lives of those in the area. Each balcony has its own style; the spectrum ranges from the practical laundry line to the airy second living room, complete with quaint living room suite.

Greifswalder Straße is one of Berlin's radial throughways leading from the historical center into the surrounding then countryside to the north and east. At the head of its outwardly route it passes Volkspark Friedrichshain, one of many green spaces in the public park system: just behind the Märchenbrunnen, the fairytale fountain, an lush oasis opens up, seemingly a universe away from the bustle of the city. The road, however, continues through into Prenzlauer Berg with its idyllic turn-of-the-century streets, little independent shops, and dwellers from the "creative class." The Ringbahn's bridge is visible in the distance, and we return to the base of the station.

Only a few minutes' walk away are two urban quarters of architectural-historical significance. South of the station, between Greifswalder Straße and Kniprodestraße, stands one of the Third Reich's largest housing developments: the "Green City". Furnished with sparse, old German decorative elements and topped with a hipped roof, the buildings were to be "an expression of a proper architectural disposition." The apartments' furnishings, however, remained far behind the standards of the Weimar Republic. The building's last section burned down in the spring of 1945, and from then on the place became known as the "dead city" in common parlance until the Socialists took on its completion five years later.

On the other side of Greifswalder Straße, a bronze Ernst Thälmann coolly looks across at the National Socialist buildings. The large sculpture, crafted by the hands of the Soviets, is part of an extensive ensemble from the 1980s.

A gasworks, active from 1874 through 1981, was originally on the site, providing gas to the city's lanterns. After the last remaining building was torn down in 1984, the GDR regime used the land for one of its largest – and also its last – prize projects: the most modern apartments, shopping facilities, sports and culture centers, a planetarium, and a park with an artificial pond. Ernst-Thälmann-Park became the new face of the regime's ideal world. The complex was inaugurated in 1986 in celebration of the one-hundredth birthday of its eponym, the leader of the Communist Party of Germany (KPD) during the Weimar Republic who was murdered at the Buchenwald concentration camp in 1944. The statue of him with fist held high in greeting stood on the access road used by the Socialist Unity Party of Germany's (SED) prominent politicians driving into town each morning down Greifswalder Straße from their domiciles in Wandlitz. (Did Honecker return the greeting, we wonder?) Today, the monument has been conquered by graffiti – the fight against the neighborhood's dedicated retiree cleaning brigade seems to be a decisive victory. The relics of the past are continuously painted over with new layers, just like the station signs at the Ringbahn's Greifswalder Straße station.

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