Wednesday, May 03, 2006
Speaking of the Palast...
...what do you suppose this venerable building is? It stands, forlorn, at the corner of Torstr. and Prenzlauer Allee, and has been empty the entire time I've been in Berlin. I have never seen any sign of human life around it, and graffiti and handbills which are attached to it vanish very quickly. The area around the front doors is strewn with garbage, which seems never to be taken away, and all of the windows are sealed tightly.
The only clue is two metal plaques, vaguely visible here, attached to two of the pillars. They commemorate Otto Grotewohl and Wilhelm Pieck, both of whom, it says on the inscriptions, worked here until 1964 and 1960, respectively.
Grotewohl was the chairman of the SED, the ruling party of East Germany, and was its prime minister from 1949 to 1964, when he died. Pieck was the former chairman of the Communist Party of Germany, a great friend of Stalin's, and president of East Germany until his death in 1960. He was, in many ways, a hero, but his sucking up to Stalin tarnished him in the eyes of many leftists, and his son, who was also an East German politician, was an out-and-out toady, and is detested by many today.
Not so coincdentally, Torstr. was known up to about ten years ago as Wilhelm-Pieck-Str., and changed a couple of weeks after I moved into the apartment I currently live in. At this building, the street changes its name to Mollstr.
So it's pretty clear what this building was. Or, rather, sort of clear. The Palast der Republik, currently being dismantled about a mile from my house, wasn't built until 1973-6, but I assume this building served the same function. Still, neither the vintage 1965 map I rescued from the garbage at my first apartment, nor the aged Falkplan map I still use indicates that this building is even there, although each identifies other notable structures.
Berlin club-goers of some few years back may know this building because behind it, in a building that's now been renovated and is standing empty in hopes of chic businesses renting capacious units there, was a club called Cookie's. I'm told this is because the host was someone named Cookie, but it's appropriate because there were at the time still signs which identified the hulk as the Stadtbäckerei, or city baker. Yup: in a communist society, things like the baking of bread were centralized, and this was the factory which ground out the fabled Ostschrippen, the small white bread rolls which were the staple of a half-million Berlin breakfasts, and which, after the city was reunified, were in great demand by residents of this side of town, who felt the Schrippen they were now buying were dry and tasteless. (I have had Ostschrippen, and found them mushy and almost raw in the middle, not a pleasant sensation).
The symbolism of the provider of government and the provider of bread standing back-to-back is almost overwhelming, I have to say, and I think about it every time I start up the hill to visit the folks I know up there. (It's fruitless to attempt this with public transportation, because it takes longer than it does to walk). For some reason, unlike the Palast, it's still standing, mute and anonymous. But to this day, not a word is whispered, not a clue is offered, as to the identity of this hulk, dirty and empty, on the corner of Torstr. (formerly Wilhelm-Pieck-Str.) and Prenzlauer Allee.
Why, you'd think Berlin was afraid of its history, wouldn't you..?