Demolished treasures from East Germany | Culture| Arts, music and lifestyle reporting from Germany | DW | 31.07.2009
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Culture

Demolished treasures from East Germany

The former East Germany made significant contributions to modern architecture. Today, they would be historical landmarks full of insights into life in the GDR. But many have been lost.

A view through the window of the Palace of the Republic, with the East German emblem

The Palace of the Republic, home to the East German parliament, no longer exists

Germany has a lot to celebrate this year: 60 years since the founding of the Federal Republic of Germany, 20 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall, and 90 years since the founding of the Bauhaus architecture movement in Weimar, to name but a few of the anniversaries.

But while the Bauhaus birthday is commemorated with champagne and special exhibits, few are aware that great architects like former Bauhaus student Selman Selmanagic were responsible for developing architectonic modernity in post-war East Germany. Much of their work was destroyed shortly after German reunification.

Until the mid-1960s, the architecture of the GDR received recognition on the international stage. The buildings provided insights into the lives of the people in East Germany at the time - silent witnesses that would have a lot to say today about life in the "other" Germany, if they were still standing.

World Youth Stadium, archive photo

The World Youth Stadium, designed by architects Reinhard Lingner and Selman Selmanagic, was built in the Mitte district of Berlin. After just 120 days of construction, the grand opening was celebrated on May 20, 1950.

Ironically, rubble from the recently demolished City Palace was used in building the stadium. Plans are underway to reconstruct the City Palace, but the stadium was torn down in the 1990s when Berlin was competing to host the 2000 Olympic Games. Berlin lost the bid, however, and the Games took place in Sydney.

A building for the German intelligence service is currently under construction on the site of the old stadium.

Ahornblatt

The Ahornblatt (Maple Leaf) restaurant on Berlin's Fischerinsel was one of the most experimental buildings in the GDR. Designed by architect Ulrich Muether, it resembled a leaf with six points and is to this day considered one of the most unique buildings in the world.

Despite numerous protests, the building was torn down in 1999 and a hotel and office building were erected in its place.

Kino International

The International Kino on Karl-Marx-Allee in Berlin was one of the largest cinemas in East Germany. As if weightless, the theater itself is perched on a delicate pedestal. Together with the famous Cafe Moskau next door, the pair had cosmopolitan flair. Financed by the state, they were part of the GDR's response to the International Bauhaus exhibition held in West Berlin in 1957.

Hotel Berolina once stood behind the cinema. The building that was constructed in its place now houses the city hall for the Mitte district of Berlin.

Hermsdorf

The shopping center in the rural district of Hermsdorf had a kind of utopian feel to it. Shaped like honeycomb, the clusters of shops and businesses gave the impression of incredible wealth - as if the GDR wanted to prove to the world that socialism allowed for free, democratic communities. After just a few years, even the most attractive city centers turned out to be just hollow concrete.

Though less aesthetic, the pre-fab high-rises in the background were typical of East German architecture. The basic design was altered from building to building, as if to avoid monotony.

ODEUM cinema and Esplenade milk bar

The Odeum movie theater and the Esplanade milk bar are located in the Pankow district of what used to be East Berlin. Clear lines, a light construction, and large window fronts give the building a big-city feeling. It tells the story of post-war suffering and exhibits a certain openness unusual for the communist landscape - and that practically in the shadow of the Berlin Wall. Today, it's hardly recognizable.

Palace of the Republic

Starting in 1976, the Palace of the Republic housed the East German parliament, the Volkskammer, and also served as a public venue for cultural events. In 2003, the German Bundestag approved the demolition of the building - following its asbestos decontamination. 880 petitions against tearing down the Palace of the Republic were submitted to parliament; all of them were rejected. Nevertheless, the basement was preserved and is to be incorporated into the next structure built on the site.

Author: Christoph Richter (kjb)

Editor: Chuck Penfold

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