Walkabout: Heavenly bodies and the body politic
by Julia Cornelius / translation by Rachel Marks
A stroll around Prenzlauer Allee offers a fascinating review of dwelling trends from the Gründerzeit (the building boom before the turn of the twentieth century) to the Berliner Modern period and East German socialism.
From the German empire around 1900 to the final throes of the GDR, it's all within walking distance from Prenzlauer Allee station. Crossing the four-lane Allee from the station, built in 1892, you immediately encounter the futuristic world of the GDR prestige project Ernst-Thälmann-Park, which was inaugurated in 1987 in celebration of the 750th anniversary of (East) Berlin. The ensemble of nature, public art, the silvery dome of the Zeiss Planetarium , and the residential complex behind it are all carefully arranged on the former site of the Berlin IV gas works.
Tucked conspicuously into one large corner of this block is a complex whose brick walls, so steeped in history, seem to whisper to passersby. Today these buildings hold the mundane Bürgeramt of Prenzlauer Berg  but from the turn of the century into the 1930s housed a hospital and hospice house. In 1934 the National Socialist dictatorship established a citizen's center here with numerous offices, among others the health office, which played a brutal role in enforcing the "social genetic selection" of the NS terror regime. After World War II the Soviet secret service NKWD used the site as a detainment and interrogation center , transitioning almost naturally in 1950 into the hands of the GDR's secret police, the Stasi. An publically accessible exhibition  between buildings 3 and 6 has been dedicated to the campus's 120-year history.
Not far around the corner stands the Vivantes Clinic , an erstwhile shelter that could provide for up to 5,000 homeless people each night. What today is an idyllic park was once the site of the barracks. Ella-Kay Straße  borders the back courtyard and offers a wonderful view of Ernst-Thälmann-Park , which shows its most aesthetic side from this perspective.
The building project, constructed 1983-1986 under the direction of architect Erhardt Gißke, was conceived as a "residential park" with some 1,000 apartments for 4,000 residents and one tree per person. A sense of the original GDR atmosphere has been preserved, and that so close to the city center and on the edge of Prenzlauer Berg's most gentrified areas. The parks and Plattenbau buildings are indeed still well received by residents today.
Winding through the park to Greifswalder Straße and past its own Ringbahn station, take Naugarder Straße to Erich-Weinert-Straße, where the Weimar Republic's approach to living awaits visitors with its very different, if somewhat crowded aesthetic. The Wohnstadt Carl Legien , one of the six complexes recently listed as UNESCO world heritage sites, shines in tones of bright yellow and deep green and yet seems relatively empty. The residential complex's functional areas and small storefronts are all empty, and a child playing the street is a rare sight. The post-reunification supermarket chains just a few hundred meters further to the left indirectly explain the sense of emptiness.
Quick jaunts onto Dunckerstraße and Stargarderstraße give you a feel for the residential world at the turn of the century - as well as a sense of the gentrification gripping so many Prenzlauer Berg neighborhoods. Just a few steps into some the sides streets and you'll notice that nearly every house has been pristinely renovated, that organic groceries and offices of self-proclaimed "media specialists" vie for storefront space, and that smartly dressed thirty-somethings seem to have nothing more pressing to do than to enjoy their soup  or their beer in cafés with vintage furniture, like the Wohnzimmerbar . A few more surprises await you upon your return to Prenzlauer Allee station: eka  is a meeting place for artists and creative types, and the exhibition Zimmermeister Bruntzel baut ein Mietshaus , organized by nursing home residents, may sound strange but is worth a look. Revive the senses and the stomach at Alois S. , a relaxed neighborhood restaurant that offers parents direct access to the playground next door, before taking a right to return to the station.
1. Zeiss-Großplanetarium | GDR prestige project and Germany's largest planetarium | Prenzlauer Allee 80 | www.sdtb.de/Das-Planetarium.413.0.html
2. Bürgeramt Prenzlauer Berg | The buildings on Prenzlauer Allee once housed the city hospital and hospice home, those on Fröbelstraße the city homeless shelter| Fröbelstr. 17 | www.berlin.de/ba-pankow/buergerdienste/wopberg.html
3. Haus 3 | A work of art running around the building recalls the torture that took place here after the war under the supervision of the Soviet secret service | Fröbelstr. 17
4. Exhibition "Prenzlauer, Ecke Fröbelstraße" | This open-air exhibition on the grounds of today's citizens' services office documents its NKWD and Stasi pasts | Fröbelstr. 17
5. Vivantes Klinikum Prenzlauer Berg | The erstwhile homeless shelter still has a very pretty hospital garden, which is open to the public. It was here that barracks once stood to house some 5,000 homeless denizens each night | Fröbelstr. 15 | http://www.vivantes.de/pb/
6. Ella-Kay-Straße | This street behind the clinic offers a great view of the Plattenbau ensemble of Ernst-Thälmann-Park, which was built by the GDR government to commemorate the 750th anniversary of Berlin | Ella-Kay-Straße
7. Ernst-Thälmann-Park | A residential park for particularly socialist citizens | Prenzlauer Allee 80
8. Wohnstadt Carl Legien | Then one in a series of Weimar Republic social housing projects, now one of six proudly representing the Berliner Modern in UNESCO's list of world heritage sites | Erich-Weinert-Straße
9. Intersoup | Café, soup bar, and small concert venue. Thai floral decorations, 1950s kidney-shaped side tables, and the light fixtures rescued from Charlottenburg's famous Café Kranzler make for an ideally relaxed atmosphere to sink into a sofa | Schliemannstraße 31 | www.myspace.com/intersoup
10. Wohnzimmer | This classic Prenzlauer Berg bar coined the term that would come to describe an entire gastronomic experience. Despite being listed in every guide book to Berlin, it remains a preferred local watering hole | Lettestraße 6 | www.wohnzimmer-bar.de/
11. eka | Artists, creative types, and just about anybody else love hanging out in this charmingly trashy bar | Dunckerstraße 9 | www.eka-leka.de
12. Ausstellung Dunckerstr. | The exhibit Zimmermeister Bruntzel baut ein Mietshaus, or Master Carpenter Bruntzel Builds an Apartment House, is presided over by a group of nursing home residents and, located in a pre-war building, displays residential life as it would have been in 1900 | Dunckerstraße 77 | http://www.ausstellung-dunckerstrasse.de/