The Leipziger Straße Complex

One of the more dominant features of Berlin’s central skyline is a row of apartment towers running along the southern side of Leipziger Straße. The apartment towers, along with buildings running on the northern side of the street, were built as an ensemble by the DDR between 1969 and 1982 and are referred to as the Leipziger Straße Complex.

The apartment towers on Leipziger Straße. The buildings are on the south side of the street, which runs east-west. Photo credit: creative commons.

Leipziger Straße was at the time, and remains today, an important and busy thoroughfare through downtown Berlin. DDR urban planners decided that they would create a new urban neighborhood that reflected socialist - rather than capitalist - values. The project would feature mixed-use facilities and more modern (socialist) architecture.

Construction was begun in 1969 with the demolition of all the remaining pre-war buildings in the neighborhood. Over the next 13 years, a series of apartment towers were built on both the north and south sides of Leipziger Straße. The towers on the south side of the street are all much taller than those on the north side, but most of the buildings were made with space on the bottom two floors for stores, resaurants, and cultural centers.

A photo from government archives in 1979. You can see how the apartment towers had space for stores and other commercial facilities in the bottom two floors. Photo credit: creative commons.

Due to the close proximity to the wall and the anti-communist Axel Springer newspaper headquarters just on the other side, some people think that the towers were meant as architectural propaganda, the idea being “see all the nice things that socialism can build?” However, there’s no strong evidence that this was the case.

Nonetheless, the Leipziger Straße Complex clearly was important for DDR authorities: they put it on a stamp in 1979.

The buildings even made it onto a stamp. FDJ stands for Freie Deutsche Jugend, Free German Youth, the communist youth organization in the DDR. Photo credit: creative commons.

The apartment towers immediately became a very desirable place to live, both for DDR citizens and for foreigners. In particular western diplomats and journalists often rented flats in the apartment towers due to their proximity to the DDR’s governmental and press agencies. This meant, of course, that the apartments were heavily watched by the East German secret police, the Stasi.

An archival image of what appears to be the buildings on the north side of Leipziger Straße. The entire complex was supposed to reflect the socialist ideal of planned living/shopping/relaxing space. Photo credit: creative commons.

After reunification in 1990, the buildings were gradually renovated and updated. Some of the towers, particularly those on the northern side of Leipziger Straße, received completely new (and in my opinion, ugly) facades.

Interestingly, the apartment towers themselves have remained highly desirable. There aren’t that many tall apartment buildings in Berlin, let alone so close to the city center. The apartments have become yet another symbol of Berlin’s continuing struggle with gentrification and the overall lack of suitable housing.