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Canine comrades: The dogs of East Berlin

Sometimes, history is made in unexpected places. To that end, we cast a look back at East Berlin and the dogs of DDR.

Photo: IMAGO / Sven Simon

Many aspects of life in the DDR are misremembered by mainstream history. Alongside shabby buildings and Stasi surveillance, it sometimes feels like the cheerier sides of Ossi life don’t get the attention they deserve. To that end, we’d like to take a moment to focus on the constant companions of the Berliners who lived east of the wall: the dogs of East Berlin.

Those four-legged friends weren’t much interested in politics – unless there was a referendum on walks we’ve not heard about – but they shared in the daily life of East Berlin, walking the streets, running in the parks, peeing on the wall.

Wörther Strasse

Wörther Straße, Prenzlauer Berg, 1990. Photo: IMAGO / Rolf Zöllner

Look at this cute Rough Collie. This picture dates from 1990, so the wall has just come down and her house in Prenzlauer Berg is still looking a bit rough around the edges. The term gentrification was unheard of in the early 1990s. Perhaps they’re headed to Mauerpark for a walk?


Only weirdos take their cats on walks. Someone had to say it. Photo: IMAGO / Rolf Zöllner

This doggo has already made it to Mauerpark and he’s chilling out with his humans. This picture from 1988 was taken by Rolf Zöllner who spent the last years of the GDR photographing life in the city – and he didn’t miss the canines.

Grannies with their doggies

East Berlin, 1985. Photo: IMAGO / Frank Sorge

The tough old ladies of East Berlin spent their days cruising the neighbourhood with their hounds. The so-called ‘rubble women’ or ‘Trümmerfrau’ generation (the women who mobilised to clear the rubble of the bombed out city after the end of World War Two) were still around in the 80s and were not to be messed with.


Walkies, 1988. Photo: IMAGO / Christian Thiel

Bins are always a great place for a good old sniff about – and that’s just as true in 1988 as it is today. Scheunenviertel back then was a run down part of town, without its current range of sleek boutiques and expensive restaurants. But the bins are still rich smelling as ever.

At the Wall

The border strip between the walls near Frohnau, 1990. Photo: IMAGO / Rolf Zöllner

Not all dogs in East Berlin could laze about in parks all day. Some had to report for duty. The dog unit who stood guard at the Wall were meant to stop refugees trying to flee the GDR with fierce barking and sharp teeth. In April 1990 when this photo was taken, this operational order was over, but the GDR still existed for a few months longer, if only formally. That meant that this pooch could take a short break for a scratch.

All change on the highstreet

Weißensee in September, 1990. Photo: IMAGO / Werner Schulze

A sweet doggle waits outside Kaiser’s for his people. In the autumn of 1990 the two German states sealed the reunification deal and everything changed on the streets of the GDR. Street names changed, old monuments were destroyed and the shops that had defined East Berlin were replaced. Konsum, the old GDR supermarket, disappeared almost overnight and was replaced by Western chains such as Kaiser’s. Is this dog contemplating the implications of reunification and hoping that the capitalist dog treats available in Kaiser’s will be just as delicious?

The Central Printing Office

Treats? For me? Photo: IMAGO / Dieter Matthes

An old lady barely manages to restrain her ravenous dog from tearing a package out of a young woman’s hands outside the central printing office on Dresdener Straße 43. What was in the package? We’ll never know…

Guide dogs

All in a day’s work, 1991. Photo: IMAGO / Stana

This pair were photographed in 1991 as part of a report about a visually impaired woman and her faithful guide dog. The streets look pretty slippy so hopefully they made it home without accident.

U-Bahnhof Dimitroffstraße

U-Bahnhof Dimitroffstraße, Prenzlauer Berg, 1986. Photo: IMAGO / Rolf Zöllner

This giant great dane couldn’t have known what was coming. In the 1980s Prenzlauer Berg was a tranquil part of town in need of renovation, where pensioners, workers, punks and students shared the coal-heated tenements. It looks pretty different today, with young families and bio shops on every corner. The dog presence remains a constant however, even though most residents may opt for slightly smaller breeds than this adorable piebald monster.

Guard duty

Guard duty at Ostrkreuz, 1991. Photo: IMAGO / Detlev Konnerth

This fierce muzzled boy is patrolling the spooky, dark, confusing depths of Ostkreuz. Guard dogs were no longer employed at the Wall in 1991, but were now with private security services that took care of security on the S-Bahn.


Gleimstraße, 1988. Photo: IMAGO / Rolf Zöllner

A man and his dog strolling along Gleimstraße, with a firewall in Prenzlauer Berg in the background. It is notably lacking graffiti, something that would have been unimaginable after the fall of the Wall.

On Arkonaplatz

Arkonaplatz in Prenzlauer Berg, 1976. Photo: IMAGO / NBL Bildarchiv

An extra adorable one to round things off, with this stylish little girl pumping water for her dog on Arkonaplatz was taken in 1976. Funnily enough, this photo of Ossi life shows that football fans cheered on teams in the west, what with that “FC Bayern München” graffiti on the wall behind them.

This article was adapted from the German by Poppy Smallwood.