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.
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.