Back on track with my Berlin series this week after a few weeks detour to Western Australia! To fit into context you can find my previous Berlin posts here.
Although only a 5 minute walk from our hotel by the River Spree, we’d somehow managed to miss seeing the Nikolaiviertel (Nicholas Quarter) on our previous trip to Berlin in 2013 so we were keen to fit it in on our visit last April.
Situated on the site of the oldest residential part of Berlin, renovations of this ancient area are still ongoing (like much of Berlin!) and so we couldn’t walk the most direct way along the river path. Our detour round the back streets took us past the sort of typical sights you come across in the city centre and helps to give Berlin its quirky character.
We passed through Marx-Engels Forum, a public park on Karl-Liebkneckt Strasse, a hark back to the days of the heroes of the DDR.
We wandered down a street alongside some of the large pink pipes, which we noticed everywhere we went. These intriguing objects are not some sort of modern art installation but, as we had learnt on an earlier walking tour, a necessary by-product of the ubiquitous building work. They are required to pump away the excessive ground water that otherwise would affect foundations. Berlin is apparently built on a swamp!
On a street corner leading into the Nikolaiviertel we saw the imposing red brick facade of the Berlin Rathaus. In front of it stood the signs promoting the building work currently in progress.
The old centre of Berlin originally grew up around the River Spree in the Middle Ages. What is now known as the Nikolaiviertel was situated on an important trade route at the junction of the meeting point of the road and river. The old medieval laneways and buildings were almost completely destroyed by the Allied bombing raids during the Second World War and for many years the quarter lay virtually in ruins. It was only reconstructed between 1981 and 1987 in the lead up to the 750th anniversary of Berlin’s founding. Plans were taken from historical models and the area recreated as accurately as possible. Today it is a thriving locality with its quaint medieval passages and small streets. Cafes and bars line the square leading from the river and there are many more shops and eateries hidden away in the surrounding streets. Naturally it is a popular spot especially for a Sunday stroll and the spring sunshine added to the appeal on the day we were there!
The imposing twin spires of the Nikolaikirche (St Nicholas’ Church) dominate the quarter. The foundation stone was laid early in the 13th century and the church built in the late Romanesque style. Even before its wartime destruction the church had been discontinued (in 1938) as a place of worship and given over to the government. It was subsequently used as a concert hall and an ecclesiastical museum. Rebuilt along with the rest of the neighbourhood in the 1980s, it is now administered by the Stiftung Stadtmuseum Berlin. Along with the Nikolaikirche, the Stadtmuseum also takes care of a couple of other buildings of historical interest in the Nikolaiviertel, the Ephraim-Palais and the Knoblauchhaus.
Walking around and absorbing history can be surprisingly tiring so with thoughts of lunch we turned down one of the quieter streets and came across Toute Sweet a pretty little cafe specialising in Dutch delicacies. Sitting at the tables by the side of the street, we had the place more or less to ourselves and a perfect view back to the impressive twin spires of the Nikolaikirche.
The Nikolaiviertel is well worth checking out. All being well by the time we go again the building works will be complete and it will possible to walk right along the banks of the River Spree to reach this charming old neighbourhood.
Copyright © 2017 Rosemary Thomas Le Chic En Rose. All rights reserved