A Walking Tour of former East Berlin: Hanging out in Friedrichshain
There are many corners of East Berlin that have undergone significant transitions since the GDR era. On this 4 km self-guided walk through Friedrichshain, you can sample some of this district’s finer and rougher edges, with city highlights for both day and night.
These sights will be more crowded on the weekend, but for good reason: well-priced brunches, weekend-only flea markets and Friday and Saturday nightlife make this an attractive destination for residents and visitors from across Berlin.
Related: Win a trip for 2 to Berlin to celebrate the Fall of the Wall this November!
Start at Ostbahnhof Train Station
Start your tour at Berlin’s Ostbahnhof train station. Over its lifetime this train station has had more name changes than any other in the city—it served as (East) Berlin’s central train station, and was known as “Hauptbahnhof” between 1987 and 1998, when it was renamed “Ostbahnhof”. While the station entrance has undergone major renovation and modernization, erasing most evidence of the periods before under a mall-like facade common to most German train stations, the wide, gritty station hall with numerous platforms and tracks wows with its massive steel and glass construction and eerie quiet.
As with any major train station in the city, it’s easy to grab a quick snack or drink here at one of the many small eateries or from one of the two large supermarkets in the basement. This is also one of the city’s only locations with grocery stores open on Sundays, if you’ve forgotten to stock up in advance.
Swing by the Postbahnhof
To the east of the station lies Postbahnhof am Ostbahnhof. As its name suggests, it was used as a postal sorting and storage facility until the 1990s, at which point mail was transported by trucks and airplanes rather than by train.
It has since become a location for concerts, events, and temporary exhibitions, and houses FritzClub, a nightclub popular with students and younger night owls.
Stroll along the East Side Gallery
Toward the river, you’ll spot your first glimpse of the East Side Gallery, one of Berlin’s longest sections of extant Berlin Wall. This strip owes its existence and popularity to a post-Wall 1989-90 art project that brought together artists from around the world to decorate it in a series of murals, most touching on the historical and social aspects of the Wall’s fall. After years of decay and obfuscation by graffiti, many sections were repainted in 2009.
This borderland area has undergone a tremendous amount of development in the interceding 25 years. This section of the Wall, once obscuring industrial eyesores from the sight of official state visitors traveling the road between Schönefeld airport and Ostbahnhof, now neighbors parks, beach bars, and hotels.
The riverside and East Side Gallery are threatened by development. In 2013 David Hasselhoff made international headlines by appearing alongside Berlin protesters attempting to thwart the removal of sections of the East Side Gallery in the name of long-approved public and private development projects. As you walk eastward, don’t forget to look at the development on the other side of the street as well—everything here has been built since the fall of the Wall, most notably Berlin’s stadium event hall, O2 World.
Take in (but don’t cross) the Oberbaumbrücke
Walking to the end of the Mühlenstr., you’ll reach one of Berlin’s most recognizable landmarks, the Oberbaumbrücke. This double-decker bridge with its two brick towers is a highlight of any Spree boat tour. Visitors may remember it from its appearance in the films “Run Lola Run” or “The Bourne Supremacy.” During German division, U1 subway service into the East was interrupted, and the bridge served as a pedestrian border from West (Kreuzberg) to East (Friedrichshain) Berlin.
Walk up Warschauer Str.
Turn left and walk up Warschauer Str. toward the U- and S-Bahn stations. Directly under the U-Bahn station (and accessed from the rear, or Warschauer Platz, side) is the dance club Matrix. One of Berlin’s largest, Matrix expands over ten “underground” vaults and is open to visitors over 18 years old, seven nights a week from 10 PM.
Across from the U-Bahn station, the gray building you see is the so-called Industriepalast. Built in the early 20th century, the building housed one of the GDR’s most prominent refrigeration and cooling compressor manufacturers. Since renovations in the early 1990s, the landmark-protected building now houses a hotel, a hostel, small shops and eateries, and Monster Ronson’s, one of Berlin’s best karaoke bars.
Cross the bridge over the train tracks (avoid stepping on the punks and their dogs!), pausing to capture an excellent photo of the Alexanderplatz TV tower, another of East Berlin’s icons.
Coffee or beer break at RAW-tempel
At the next intersection, turn right into the Revaler Str. On your right side, you’ll come to the questionable looking entrance of the RAW-tempel. RAW is an acronym for Reichsbahnausbesserungswerkstatt (don’t you love German?), a really long word for a train repair facility—in use here until 1995—which explains both the RAW-tempel’s location as well as its size.
What started (and continues) as a non-profit organization promoting a free space for cultural activities now houses numerous popular clubs and bars, an art gallery, an open-air cinema, a circus school, and a weekend flea market. This expansive creative space definitely warrants a wander or perhaps a coffee/beer break! Come back at another time of day to experience a completely different atmosphere.
Turn left onto Simon-Dach-Strasse
Continue eastward on the Revaler Str., turning left into the Simon-Dach-Str. At this end of the street, you can understand what this residential area felt like before post-Wall development took hold. Starting from the intersection with Kopernikusstr., you’ll discover one of Berlin’s most popular streets for going out, lined on both sides with restaurants and bars offering thousands of outdoor seats.
If you’re looking for something a little quieter, head just a bit further east (literally and figuratively) to Datscha (one of our recommended brunch locales) on the corner of Kopernikusstr. and Gabriel-Max-Str.
Hang out at Boxhagener Platz
Heading northward along the Gabriel-Max-Str. or eastward from the Simon-Dach-Str. along Grünberger Str., you’ll soon hit Boxhagener Platz. A popular neighborhood gathering space, the place comes alive on weekends for its Saturday open-air food market or highly-trafficked Sunday flea market. The square was the focus of a recent German film set in East Berlin in 1968 of the same name.
Walk north to Frankfurter Allee
From here, head northward on the Mainzer Str. until you reach Frankfurter Allee. Mainzer Str. was home to one of Berlin’s most famous post-Wall squats. Houses 2 through 11, 22, and 24 were occupied for seven months before being violently cleared in November 1990. Gentrification remains a central issue in the area. Today, most houses in this street, like those in the surrounding streets, have been renovated, leaving no trace of this alternative history.
Turn left on Frankfurter Allee. During the 1950s, this wide boulevard was renamed “Stalinallee”. Walk toward the Gendarmenmarkt-inspired twin towers marking Frankfurter Tor and the start of the socialist classical developments built by the GDR between here and Alexanderplatz along the Karl-Marx-Allee. The street, with its monumental architectural backdrop, was regularly used for GDR May 1st (Labor) Day parades. It has retained its popularity as a shopping street, albeit with less prestige than in it held the GDR.
Then choose your own adventure!
From here, you’ve got choices! You can:
• head back to the Simon-Dach-Str. or RAW-tempel for some well-earned refreshment.
• head out for a night of techno at the nearby Berghain, one of Berlin’s most legendary clubs, in a former power plant back toward Ostbahnhof (Am Wriezener Bahnhof).
• catch the U5 subway to Alexanderplatz and continue your city sightseeing from there.
Or, catch the M10 tram northbound toward Nordbahnhof:
• getting off after four stops (Paul-Heyse-Str.) to explore Volkspark Friedrichshain.
• getting off after 10 stops (Husemannstr.) to explore the Kollwitzplatz area of Prenzlauer Berg.
• getting off after 14 stops (U8-Bernauer Str.) to explore the Berlin Wall Memorial, walking along Bernauer Str. to Nordbahnhof.