Where It All Be­gan

Solveig Steinhardt ex­plored the pretty al­leys of Niko­laivier­tel, where Berlin was born.

Where Berlin - - SIGHTSEEING -

Known as Berlin's au­then­tic "old town," the river­side tan­gle of char­ac­ter­ful cob­bled al­leys sur­round­ing the Niko­laikirche dates back to the 12th cen­tury, when Berlin and its twin town of Cölln (now Mu­seum Is­land) were first built. The Niko­laivier­tel, as the district is called, was al­ways the city's old­est res­i­den­tial neigh­bor­hood, and be­fore WWII it was lined with inns, shops, and small busi­nesses. But af­ter war bomb­ings de­stroyed most of its build­ings, the area lay in ru­ins un­til 1987, when, to cel­e­brate Berlin's 750th birth­day, the city of East Berlin de­cided to use his­toric mod­els to build repli­cas of the old build­ings and to re­sus­ci­tate the neigh­bor­hood's old style and scale.

To­day, the small streets ex­ude the Ger­man fla­vor of a by­gone era, and a walk through the al­leys is a great way to un­der­stand the mood and at­mos­phere of old Berlin. Upon closer in­spec­tion, how­ever, you will find the oc­ca­sional GDR de­tail, such as con­crete dec­o­ra­tions where stuc­cos once were, or pe­cu­liar Plat­ten­bau blocks, to re­mind us that not ev­ery­thing we see is orig­i­nal, and adding to the area's his­toric sig­nif­i­cance. Niko­laivier­tel is filled with small an­tique and artists' shops, in­clud­ing the marvelous Käthe Kruse doll man­u­fac­tory (Prop­st­str. 4), and tra­di­tional Ger­man Kneipen such as Brauhaus Ge­org­bräu (www.brauhaus -georg­braeu.de), serv­ing de­li­cious pork knuck­les and sauer­kraut in a cel­lar-like lo­cale. To learn more about the area, visit the

Niko­laikirche, host­ing a per­ma­nent ex­hi­bi­tion on the his­tory of the church and its sur­round­ings. The nearby Ephraim Palais (www.en.stadt­mu­seum.de), now also a mu­seum, pro­vides a marvelous ex­am­ple of 18th-cen­tury palace ar­chi­tec­ture in Berlin and hosts reg­u­lar art ex­hi­bi­tions, while the

Knoblauch-Haus (www.en.stadt­mu­seum.de) gives vis­i­tors a glimpse into the life of a rich 19th-cen­tury fam­ily, ex­plor­ing Bie­der­meier cul­ture and so­cial life through faith­fully re­con­structed rooms, fur­ni­ture, doc­u­ments, and paint­ings.

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