Welcome back to the third part of this article series, where I’ll be taking you on a virtual tour of Berlin’s 12 Bezirke and introducing you to each district’s history, reputation and attractions. Today’s article will take us to the former East German district of Lichtenberg – perhaps not so well-known among tourists, but certainly not to be overlooked.
Much of Lichtenberg’s history is grounded in Germany’s division and the establishment of the GDR. During this period, the borough was the location of the Stasi headquarters, East Germany’s state security service. The complex, which was also once the main office of the Soviet Military Administration in Berlin, now houses the Stasi Museum.
Stasi Museum, Berlin. Photo: Stasi-Museum via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0
In the 1970s, large pre-fabricated high-rise housing, or Plattenbau, was constructed in the east of the Lichtenberg borough. This area was eventually separated off and became the new borough of Marzahn. According to Visit Berlin, it was this “style of apartment block that not only came to characterise Lichtenberg, but [also] many new developments in the GDR.”
Yet, Lichtenberg’s history extends far beyond the GDR. The late nineteenth century saw the district experience an industrial boom, which then triggered a building boom through the construction of housing for workers and their families. The area was consequently dubbed the “Straße der Arbeit” (street of work).
Lichtenberg is divided into 10 localities, including Friedrichsfelde, Karlshorst and Neu/Alt- Hohenschönhausen (absorbed into the district in the 2001 administrative reform). In the 2016 elections for the parliament of the borough, the Left party took the most seats, followed by the SPD, so the area is certainly liberal.
The district’s charm and atmosphere can best be described as follows: “Lichtenberg is an up-and-coming borough, with young families moving to the area around the Rummelsberger Bucht bay and creatives living the dream in charming old industrial buildings. The residents in this former working-class district are hearty and down-to-earth – real Berlin characters” (Visit Berlin). In this sense, Lichtenberg is its own unique interpretation of Berlin, far removed from the TV Tower and Berghain nightclub but still embracing the city’s cultural and historical aspects.
Lichtenberg has developed into the focal point of Asian culture in the city and is unofficially recognised as the Chinatown of Berlin. A shining example of this is the Dong Xuan Centre around Herzbergstraße, a development quarter with multiple Asian businesses, shops, food producers, residential areas and cultural offers.
The Karlshorst neighbourhood is partly to thank for the Bezirk’s popularity with families. The area is considered one of the most attractive residential areas in the east of Berlin, seen through the stunning villas that line its cobblestone streets.
Things to do:
As already mentioned, Lichtenberg is closely associated with the GDR, and this extends to its attractions. The borough is the location of the German-Russian Museum, which was the historical site of the unconditional surrender of the German armed forces or Wehrmacht on 8th May 1945.
The Berlin-Hohenschönhausen Memorial, opened in 1994 at the site of the main political prison of the Stasi, documents the political persecution that went on in East Germany, although the destruction of evidence after the fall of the Berlin Wall means that knowledge about the prison’s history and functions is somewhat speculative.
The Theater an der Parkaue is a significant contributor to Berlin’s vibrant cultural scene, operating as one of the biggest theatres for children and young people in Germany. With three stages and 600 seats, the theatre is open to school classes, families and interested visitors.
Distanced from the urban hustle and bustle of Berlin’s centre, Lichtenberg’s Obersee and Orankesee lakes are popular spots among locals. Especially in the summer, Berliners will flock to the lakes to swim, relax and visit the area’s beer gardens with a breath-taking lakeside view.
And that was your brief introduction to the district of Lichtenberg! Our next stop will be Marzahn-Hellersdorf…