I was in Berlin recently and came upon the delightful Café Sibylle in Karl-Marx-Allee in Friedrichshain in the east of the city. The café feels as though it’s come straight from the ‘cold war’ era, complete with original furnishings and a real feeling of ‘old Berlin’. The café nestles at the base of a massive apartment complex which is an example of the intensive rebuilding of Berlin which was necessary after the destruction caused by Allied bombers towards the end of World War II. Before the war, Karl Marx Allee had been a typical Berlin street with a mix of villas, low rise housing, apartment blocks and retail. The whole street was reduced to rubble and, when the Russians took over their section of the city, it was rebuilt both as a wide avenue suitable for parades of tanks and military might but also became home to thousands of homeless families who needed basic accommodation very quickly.
Within Café Sibylle is a fascinating mini-museum which outlines the architecture of the street and the building programme which was initiated in the late 1940s. These huge buildings were constructed largely by an army of women. The finished apartments were well designed, with hot water, fitted bathrooms and kitchens and, for some, they must have been a vast improvement on their former homes. But the place was still very much under the thumb of the DDR and living in such blocks demanded high levels of conformity.
In 1961 there was an uprising and the statue of Stalin outside was pulled down (part of his bronze moustache is on show at the Sibylle). Those demonstrations of restlessness prompted the building of the notorious Berlin Wall which remained in place until 1989.
Today, the Café is a friendly, warm place with a strong sense of history and an intriguing place to stop while exploring the city.
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