Eastern Berlin, Berlin
Concierge.com's insider take:
Remnants of the Berlin Wall are few and far between these days, and most locals are happy about that. Nostalgia for the former German Democratic Republic, dubbed "Ostalgie," did linger for several years in the 1990s, and whether people considered it amusing or pathetic, the fact that films like Good Bye Lenin! can now freely comment on it is a sure sign it's over. Some interest remains in collecting iconic East German paraphernalia such as Communist logos, and books like Anna Funder's Stasiland (Granta) have been best-sellers. But however innocent these souvenirs might seem, they'll remind many here of the dark side of the not-so-long-ago Communist police state. Think twice before parading around East Berlin wearing an East German border patrol hat.
One of the final remnants of the Communist state, the Palast der Republik (Schlossplatz), is now an enormous hole in the ground. The destruction of the Palast, the parliamentary chamber of the East German government, was the subject of an odd pitched battle between conservationists and traditionalists, who pointed out that the former Hohenzollern Castle had been dynamited to make room for the Palast. Plans are now afoot to rebuild the Royal Palace and use it as a museum and library.
From Schlossplatz, walk east toward Alexanderplatz, which was rebuilt in a Communist style in the 1960s by Erich Honecker, who hoped the development would symbolize the modernity of the socialist state. In the center of the square, ascend the almost 1,200-foot-high Fernsehturm, or Television Tower, and linger in the revolving restaurant or on the observation deck for panoramic views. Next, go underground: In the Alexanderplatz U-Bahn station, there's M. Koos-Ostprodukte, a shop that stocks kitschy Communist-era products, including cosmetics, wines, and candy (49-30-242-5791).
Heading east away from Alexanderplatz, you'll come to Karl-Marx-Allee. The Communists' answer to the Champs-Élysées, it's a wide, impressive boulevard built entirely in the Stalinist neoclassical style and lined with apartment buildings. In the Café Sibylle, named after East Germany's popular women's magazine, there's an exhibition about the history of the avenue, which was known as Stalinallee until 1961 (72 Karl-Marx-Allee; 49-30-2935-2203). Alternatively, you can peruse the stacks of the Karl Marx Buchhandlung for copies of the Communist Manifesto and more (78 Karl-Marx-Allee; 49-30-293-3370). Turn right at the Frankfurter Tor and walk down Warschauer Strasse until you get to the Spree River. Then turn right onto Mühlenstrasse, where you will find the East Side Gallery, one of the largest remaining segments of the Berlin Wall and now a graffiti-art open-air museum of sorts. Further east, the former headquarters of the Stasi, the East German secret police, has been turned into a museum called the Forschungs-und Gedenkstätte Normannenstrasse (103 Ruschestrasse; 49-30-553-6854; www.stasimuseum.de).