Like most European cities, Berlin has a historical center. And I don’t mean that newish stuff around Unter den Linden, I’m talking about the medieval village of today’s Nikolaiviertel. I am sure that any tourist can tell more about it than most Berliners, but how many people know about the quiet and shady atmosphere that sets after nightfall?

Well, every story about Nikolaiviertel should start honestly right from the beginning: Its the historical site, where once in the early 13th century Berlin, and on the other site of the river its twin town Cölln (that’s where your Neukölln comes from), were founded. City expansion, electors, emperors, the building boom in the second half of the 19th century, World War II and the GDR’s building projects reshaped Nikolaiviertel multiple times. These eight hundred years didn’t leave much of the medieval village, in fact even the eponymous Nikolaikirche was rebuild several times.

Nikolaiviertel at night

If there’s anything Berlin is good at, then it’s that we steadily rebuild and reinvent our city. See, there are probably more construction sites than workers to build there, and if we were not so mad on tearing everything down and putting something new there, we had never accomplished to credit ourselves to have more bridges than Venice or London. The reasons why Nikolaiviertel had undergone so many changes are same for the rest of the city. Berlin’s history demanded various big building projects; Nikolaiviertel is one of the somewhat preserved places where all these centuries of reshaping are clearly visible.

For my part, I find this mix of architecture exciting, yet it’s nice to see one the few spots in this city where the medieval times are still sensible (though entirely different, Düppel is another one). This is probably the reason why so many tourist groups rush through Nikolaiviertel during daytime. Barely a Berliner comes to this astonishingly isolated area that lies only minutes away from Alexanderplatz and Unter den Linden. However, on a stroll after nightfall, one can be sure to not meet anyone in the dimly gas-lantern lit cobblestone streets, rather to have them for oneself. It’s still a bit chilly outside, but a night at Nikolaiviertel is rewarding. See for yourself.

PS: I imagine that having access to a historic city centre isn’t quite as exciting for most Europeans. However, it always thrills me to know that Berlin still has something left after the many destructive years in its history.

Nikolaiviertel at night
Nikolaiviertel at night
Nikolaiviertel at night
Nikolaiviertel at night
Nikolaiviertel at night
Nikolaiviertel at night
Nikolaiviertel at night
Nikolaiviertel at night
Nikolaiviertel at night
Nikolaiviertel at night
Nikolaiviertel at night

Posted by:Matthias

Born and raised in Berlin, Matthias' true love lies in this city. It's a deep relationship: passionate about all the charming parts and in affectionate acceptance of what lies beyond the much lauded spots. Whenever he's not strolling through Kreuzberg or Marzahn, he plunges into art, often writing about it at Castor & Pollux.

3 thoughts on “ Nikolaiviertel ”

  1. nice photographs.

    I thought that this area was mostly a ‘fake’ DDR construction to coincide with the 750? Anniversary of Berlin. The argument being see we are the real Berlin, we have the historic centre (even if that center is basically fake).

  2. Most of the buildings present today were built way later after medieval times. The plattenbau built in GDR make up the biggest part of it, however, everything was erected on the same groundplan. The resulting cityscape is surely not so medieval anymore, but I like how Berlin’s urge to rebuild everything over and over due to crises of every kind, shaped even such historical areas and somehow managed to leave something distinct with not much funding. It is certainly not all right to lead tourists through Nikolaiviertel and not tell about these things, but I for one, like this part about Berlin’s architectural history. Those newer buildings might be not so nice to look at – and that’s a reason why I didn’t take any photos of them –, but there’s still something, but few traces from older times.

  3. I love this history too. It’s not just the plattenbau that are DDR, I think most (all?) of the houses are post-war DDR reconstructions (though I could be wrong).

    The Ghosts of Berlin: Confronting German History in the Urban Landscape by Brian Ladd (1997) has an interesting discussion of this.

Comments are closed.