Where It All Began
Solveig Steinhardt explored the pretty alleys of Nikolaiviertel, where Berlin was born.
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.