The boulevard was named Stalinallee between 1949 and 1961 (previously Große Frankfurter Straße), and was a flagship building project of East Germany's reconstruction programme after World War II. It was designed by the architects Hermann Henselmann, Hartmann, Hopp, Leucht, Paulick and Souradny to contain spacious and luxurious apartments for plain workers, as well as shops, restaurants, cafés, a tourist hotel and an enormous cinema (the International).
The avenue, which is 89m wide and nearly 2km long, is lined with monumental eight-storey buildings designed in the so-called wedding-cake style, the socialist classicism of the Soviet Union. At each end are dual towers at Frankfurter Tor and Strausberger Platz designed by Hermann Henselmann. The buildings differ in the revetments of the facades which contain often equally, traditional Berlin motifs by Karl Friedrich Schinkel. Most of the buildings are covered by architectural ceramics. Landmarks of the Karl-Marx-Allee are the two domed towers on Frankfurter Tor.
On June 17, 1953 the Stalinallee became the focus of a worker uprising which endangered the young state's existence. Builders and construction workers demonstrated against the communist government, leading to a national uprising. The rebellion was quashed with Soviet tanks and troops, resulting in the loss of at least 125 lives.
Later the street was used for East Germany's annual May Day parade, featuring thousands of soldiers along with tanks and other military vehicles to showcase the power and the glory of the communist government.
The boulevard later found favour with postmodernists, with Philip Johnson describing it as 'true city planning on the grand scale', while Aldo Rossi called it 'Europe's last great street.' Since German reunification most of the buildings, including the two towers, have been restored.