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Cold War cool

Berlin's communist-era buildings make a comeback

Berlin's Kino International movie house is home to one of the city's few remaining big screens and a coating of kitschy decor  

BERLIN, Germany (CNN) -- The oppressive East German regime is but a memory, but the old, often unappreciated buildings that sprouted during its heyday are enjoying a renaissance in the German capital.

Ten years after East and West Germany unified, old communist landmarks in Berlin are being preserved. Some are even trendy.

One structure getting renewed notice is the Karl-Marx-Allee, a sprawling piece of Soviet-style architecture built back in the 1950s and '60s. Now it's a protected historic landmark.

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It was called the Stalinallee until the Soviet dictator died and fell out of favor. Fourteen housing blocks have been restored, costing about $65 million to make the ceramic tile building shine as they did during socialism's glory days.

"People said it's a socialist, a communist architecture," said Joerg Haspel of the Berlin Landmarks Office. "Politically and morally it isn't worthy of being a historical landmark. It's aesthetically old-fashioned."

But preservationists won out against the wrecking ball.

Also protected, and awaiting a buyer, is the Sputnik-era Moscow Restaurant, which was a popular hangout well before the Berlin Wall fell.

Ossie cool

At night, the once-dour East Berlin becomes the city's hot spot. One thriving memento to the Cold War space race is the Kosmos Cinema, now converted into a modern multiplex. Another movie house, the Kino International, is a retro, socialist-style theater with one of the city's few remaining big screens. The highlight of the main hall are chandeliers that are either pretty or pretty kitschy; it's all a matter of taste.

Or it could be both, said Kino manager Kaarsten Goerlitz, "because I think you can separate the two perceptions here. ... I think some kinds of kitschy can be pretty."

Kaffee Burger is another meeting place for fans of kitsch, as well as nostalgic East Berliners -- or Ossies, as they're known here. Its clashing decor, accented by drab wallpaper, hasn't been touched since the wall fell, giving the whole place a kind of Ossie cool.

"I think what people like -- this place is a strange mixture of design from the '30s, '50s, '60s, '70s and '80s," said Bert Papenfuss, co-manager of Kaffee Burger. "The last renovation of this place took place in the late '70s and early '80s, so at least you see a little history."

Other notable sites include the Volksbuehne, a wildly successful playhouse, and the Traenenpalast, or Tear Palace, where families once tearfully parted near the Berlin Wall. Now it's a music club.

The Hackischen Hoefe, once a workers' hovel, is full of cafes, restaurants, galleries and movie houses.

A truly stark example of Ossie cool is WMF, a bar. Now in an old post office, the bar was moved from a famous communist watering hole in the Palace of the Republic.

"After the wall came down, after the big change, nobody was interested in the former GDR design architecture at all, so we just kind of rescued it," WMF manager Gerriet Schultz said.

These days, Germans are appreciating the decor for what it is: classical, whimsical, or a little of both.

Decade of German unity met by division
September 29, 2000
Ex-East Germans nostalgic for communism's simpler life
November 9, 1999
Germans now divided by 'the wall in the head'
November 9, 1999

Berlin Past, Present and Future

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