Difference between East and West Berlin

How to spot the difference between East and West Berlin

Plattenbau Lichtenberg

As you already know Berlin has been a divided city for a long time.

After the end of World War 2 and with the rising tension between the East and West (Russia and USA) Berlin was divided in 2 sectors East and West.

After the formation of the former German Democratic Republic (Deutsche Demokratische Republik short DDR in German) and West Germany (Bundesrepublik Deutschland short BRD in German) people in Berlin lived very different lives depending on which side of the Berlin wall they lived.

With the construction of the Berlin wall in 1961 the division of the city was visible in the everyday lifes of all Berliners.

As the wall only came down in 1989 there are almost 30 years of division running through this city and the aftermaths of this division are still noticeable.

So without further ado let’s see how you can still spot the difference between the former Eastern part of Berlin and the former Western part.

Ampelmann

Probably every tourist will encounter some sort of interaction with the world famous Ampelmann within a few minutes after arriving.

This famous icon has been used in the Eastern part of Berlin and is a sure giveaway if you are in the East or in the West.

The Eastern Berlin Ampelmann has been transformed to some kind of contemporary art symbol and there are Ampelmann shops and products all over the place.

Western Berlin however uses the more boring normal Ampelmann that has been the same in the rest of Western Germany.

Tram vs Bus

Another almost sure giveaway that you are in an area of former Eastern Berlin are if you see a tram on the streets.

You heard right, the famous yellow trams that connect Berlin nowadays have been a thing of the East as well.

However, slowly but surely there are more and more tram tracks in former Western parts of Berlin such as around Berlin Hauptbahnhof and Moabit.

On the other hand, if you are sitting in one of the many BVG double decker buses you are most likely in the former Western part of Berlin.

The downside of buses of course is that these buses are almost always stuck in traffic and never on time.

On the other hand the tram, especially around Prenzlauer Berg and Friedrichshain, has mostly dedicated tram tracks that allow quick transport through town.

Street Lights

This once sure giveaway of if you are in Eastern or Western Berlin is slowly becoming less relevant as old street lights both in the East and West are replaced by the same type of street lights.

However, there are pictures from the ISS that clearly show a distinct orange/yellow glow in the former Eastern parts of Berlin at night.

So if you are walking through Berlin at night try to pay attention to the different light settings and if you are able to tell if you are in the Eastern or Western part.

Panel buildings – Plattenbauten

All of you already have seen those gigantic panel buildings housing hundreds of inhabitants in one single building.

Nowadays you might wonder who wants to live there with a lack of privacy.

But don’t get fooled, when the former GDR was still up and running those panel buildings (Plattenbau or Platte) have been in high demand.

All panel buildings did come with running water, central heating, private instead of shared bathrooms and most of the times even with a balcony.

You need to understand that back then e.g. Prenzlauer Berg has been a very run down neighbourhood with old buildings that had shared bathrooms, coal heating and sometimes not even electricity.

So moving into one of the brand new Plattenbauten was the dream of every former Eastern German family.

House numbers system

This one is a bit tricky and less obvious as there have been so many different rules but here is the general outline.

In the former Western parts of Berlin the numbers start with 1 and 2 on opposite sides of the street and continue upwards from there.

So one side of the road had even numbers while the other side had uneven numbers.

In the East they mostly started with one and then continued counting up until the end of the road and then continued down again on the opposite side.

Now this system creates one really severe problem. Imagine the street has been built and all numbers are assigned.

Now 2 years later the street needs to be extended and naturally you can’t continue with the numbers now as the last number assigned is at the other end of the road.

Your only option now is to rename the street and start again with new numbers.

This is the reason why you see so many times a crossroad and on the other side of the street there is a completely new street name.

In this case the former Western number system was way better and this has also been adopted later in the East.

Ethnicity mix

Western Germany had a program in the 60s and 70s that invited so called Gastarbeiter (guest workers) from mainly Turkey and Italy to Germany.

This was due to the shortage of manpower and this system was also in place in Berlin.

So many of those guest workers settled in areas such as Wedding, Kreuzberg or Neukölln.

This is why in these areas the population is mainly made up of Turkish and Arabic families.

Now that you know all the important signs to spot the difference between the former East nd West it is time to get some brilliant food.