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Lesser-known East German Towns to Visit
When people think about East Germany, they usually picture East Berlin. The Berlin Wall. The Plattenbauten. The DDR prisons. It was the largest East German city with a population of 1.2 million in 1988.
But Berlin has moved on. Though there are plenty of reminders of the time behind the Wall, the country is never content to stand still. Leipzig and Dresden are also partial examples with lesser-known destinations in East Germany notable for their DDR past, impressive ruins and/or Sorbian population. These 5 East German towns are worth a visit.Continue to 2 of 6 below.
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This 1950s DDR factory town was first named Stalinstadt. Eventually the name was changed to Eisenhüttenstadt ("ironworks city") to reflect its industrial, not political, nature. Located in Brandenburg (the state surrounding Berlin), it lies on the border of Poland.
It was planned as a model workers’ community with plentiful Plattenbau housing and job opportunities in the steel mill. The style was actually quite modern, designed by architect Kurt Walter Leucht.
The city has since seen steady decline. Its population is dwindling and jobs have all but dried up. On the city website, it appears the most exciting thing to happen is a visit from American movie star, Tom Hanks. Here - as in other sites on the list - you will find not a thriving town, but a life-sized museum piece to life in the DDR.Continue to 3 of 6 below.
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With medieval walls, a historic Altstadt (old town) and several museums (dedicated to Senf and Sorbs), Bautzen is worth a stop. Its pretty, but beneath the prettiness is an unpleasant history under the DDR. The city was infamous during that time for its prisons. Bautzen I, nicknamed Gelbes Elend (or "Yellow Misery") was an official prison complex, but Bautzen II was a secret prison used for prisoners of conscience. Bautzen I is still a prison, but Bautzen II has been made into a memorial (much like Berlin-Hohenschönhausen).Continue to 4 of 6 below.
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Originally known as Chemnitz, this was the fourth largest city in East Germany just outside of Dresden. It was left in ruins after World War II and reconstructed in the emerging style of the DDR. Along with the ever present Plattenbauten, they erected a sizeable 7 meter Karl Marx Monument. The bust was promptly nicknamed "Nischel" (a Saxon word for "head") by locals.
By 1990, the Wall had fallen and the city re-emerged under its original name. The typical shopping centers now crowd the Altstadt but much of the DDR architecture still stands, including the statue of Karl Marx.Continue to 5 of 6 below.
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Halle Neustadt (known as HaNeu), established just to the southwest of the larger Halle (Saale), is another fine example of a planned Communist utopia. Towering Plattenbauten along the S-Bahn lines provide easy access to the city center and it has been praised for its urban planning. Unlike many of the generic buildings of other DDR towns, Halle-Neustadt featured artistic details and murals.
However, like so many towns, it has also suffered downsizing and many of its buildings are now graffiti-splattered and partly abandoned.Continue to 6 of 6 below.
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Once a small Sorbian village named Gorelic, today's Görlitz has blossomed, then wilted, then flourished under the spotlight once again. Held at certain times by the Holy Roman Emperor, Kingdom of Poland, and duchy of Bohemia, the town was largely forgotten under DDR rule. This served it well as some of its most beautiful buildings were left perfectly preserved, buildings such as the 1913 Jugendstil Görlitzer Warenhaus (a department store in the city center). It was cast as the interior of the hotel in Wes Anderson's "The Grand Budapest Hotel" which showcased such spectacular features as original chandeliers and stained-glass ceiling.