The Nicolaiviertal is a bit of an oddity. At first glance it is a tranquil back-water, a lingering remnant of medieval Berlin that seems somehow to have escaped the various traumatic events that have scarred the rest of the city so indelibly. But appearances are deceptive. The Allied bombers wrought their destruction here as much as elsewhere in the city and after the war the buildings lay pretty much in ruins. Whereas elsewhere, especially in the East, the city was rebuilt largely to a more modern design, here the authorities took the decision to try to recreate Altberlin, with its winding alley-ways and historic houses. In 1987 the whole quarter was restored in a peculiar mixture of reconstructed houses and concrete emulations of these (see photo for an example of the latter). The effect is somewhat bizarre, and while it is a pleasant area to wander through it all feels a little Disney-esque. Nevertheless it is worth a visit for the interesting, if touristy, shops (I loved the one that sold all things related to angels) and some good traditional restaurants (see my Restaurant tip on Zum Paddenwirt), also to see what claims to be the oldest building in the city, the Nicolaikirche (see my next tip).
This is where Berlin began around the church of St. Nikolai.
You can walk around this peaceful area of historical Berlin and shop in the many boutiques or have a bite to eat and a drink in one of the many pubs of restaurants. Here you will also find Berlins oldest pubs!
When you explore the Nikolai area then I would visit the Hanf Museum.
You will learn a lot about the history of Hanf, and in the cafeteria you can taste some Hanf tea.
You might even think about starting a career as Hanf farmer!
Este barrio que parece medieval al lado del río Spree , con una de las iglesias más antiguas de Berlín , con sus calles adoquinadas ... fue construido en los años 80 por la RDA para celebrar el 75 Aniversario de Berlín
De cualquier manera es un sitio muy agradable para pasear , comprar algún recuerdo y salir del bullicio de Berlín
It seems a medieval quarter next to the river Spree, with one of the oldest churches in Berlin, with its cobbled streets ... but it was built in the 80s by the GDR to celebrate the 75th anniversary of Berlin
Either way is a very pleasant place to stroll, shop , get a souvenir and scape from the bustle of Berlin
To call the Nikolaiviertel (Nikolai Quarter) the Old City of Berlin would be presumptuous. This is just a very small neighborhood, which was the site of Berlin's beginnings dating to the 13th century. What you see today is mostly reconstructed.
The location of this early settlement of Berlin was on the river Spree, at a shallow point where it could be crossed. Today the Nikolaiviertel lies between the Spree and the modern Alexanderplatz with its TV tower.
In the center of Nikolaiviertel stands the Nikolai Church, on the site where Berlin's oldest church was built in the 1230s in the romanesque style.
"Ephraim Palais", one of the most well known buildings in the Nikolaiviertel, was the palace of King Friedrich the 2nd's finance minister. It got demolished in 1936, and its reconstruction during the Cold War era was a unique story: parts of the original facade were stored in West Berlin, and the West Berlin authorities gave them to the DDR for use in the re-building of the palace.
Today the Nikolaiviertel boasts 5 museums (the cannabis museum is one of them), 22 restaurants (mainly traditional German cuisine) and over 50 shops. It's a change of style and pace from modern Berlin which surrounds it, and a nice place to spend an evening.
Having got off the cruise on the river and seen this quarter from the waterside, we decided to return on foot to have supper there.And it was a wonderful choice.The quarter is very quaint and picturesque and has many attractive bars and restaurants.
We had a Chinese meal in one place,I think it was called China garden but I am not sure.it was above the street and you could look down and watch the passers by.
Across the street was another one with some Jazz musicians playing outside.It is pleasant just to walk around the windy streets and look at the pretty houses and coffee bars, and soak up the atmosphere. There is the Nikolai church with a statue of a Bear outside,(which was being restored) and the statue of St George killing the dragon.
At the Spree end of Propststraße (in Nikolaiviertel) you find a spectacular bronze statue. It depicts St. George fighting against the dragon. It was created by the artist August Kiss in 1853.
The statue has been relocated twice until it found its actual site on the banks of the river Spree. Originally it sat in the courtyard of Berlin’s City Castle that does not exist anymore. In 1951 when the GDR regime ordered the demolition of the castle’s remains St. George found a new home in Volkspark Friedrichshain until it was transported to the banks of the Spree.
From its current location you have a great view towards Museumsinsel with the Spree bridges and especially to Berliner Dom.
Somehow you do not get around newer bears wherever you go in Berlin. I fell in love with the huge toy bears of the shop Teddy’s in Nikolaiviertel as I have a slightly childish character, and if you have had a look at my homepage you know that I own a travel bear named Kimi. They were hanging around in front of Nikolaikirche, and I joined them for a little chat about Kimi ;-) They were hugely amused and asked if they could visit Kimi in New Zealand. I would happily have said Yes but as each one of them would have needed his own seat in the airplane I could not afford to make promises. If you would want to sponsor the project please contact me… LOL
The other bears that are for sale in good souvenir shops are the so-called Buddy Bears, created by international artists in a huge charity action for tolerance. The shop Die Puppenstube next to Teddy’s had a great selection – but I did not buy any as my husband found them horrible, and I would not want him to live with an unloved item – as he already has to bear (bear – haha!) quite a lot of toy animals ;-)
Of course, there has to be a bear somewhere in the historic centre of Berlin. And you will not be disappointed. To the right of the main entrance of Nikolaikirche you find a bear statue made of stone, the poor bear seemingly sitting behind bars – but you could see it in a positive way, as the bars are the support of a pavillion, and from his elevated position the bear (who holds a coat of arms) has a good view over the quarter. If you have a closer look you see that this bear ensemble is not just a scupture but a fountain called Bärenbrunnen, which means nothing else than Bear Fountain.
The bear is even a small bear, and that is what the name Berlin means: little bear, from the old German words Ber-lin, which would now be spelled as: Bärlein, “lein” being a suffix that gives the word a diminishing sense, identical with the German ending –chen, like in: Mädchen.
From every corner of Nikolaiviertel you have interesting views. I enjoyed to be in such a quiet old part of the city and spotting the landmarks of the newer Berlin over the roofs of the old buildings.
The most obvious ones are the TV Tower on Alexanderplatz and the red brick tower of Berlin’s (Red) Town Hall on the other side of the street. And from the banks of the Spree you have breathtaking views over the river towards Berliner Dom. This side of Nikolaiviertel offers the only really open view.
If you come from the Red Town Hall or Molkenmarkt, the terraced houses enclose the quarter like a city wall, and you walk into the old core through a kind of city gate. This gives Nikolaiviertel a unique atmosphere. The noise of the city and the streets is blocked off by this ring of terraced houses. The quarter is an own little world.
You get information about Nikolaikirche, and also some rather superficial information about Nikolaiviertel in travel guides. But this is just for getting a glimpse into the incredibly interesting history of this beautiful quarter. So it would really make sense to join a guided tour, the guides will have to tell fascinating stories of Berlin’s birthplace, of its destruction and resurrection.
Tours last about 1 hour and cost 8 Euro pp (as 2007).
Phone (030) 247 232 78 for more information.
You can already find a lot of information on a really good website of a community group, called:
Aktionsgemeinschaft Nikolaiviertel e.V.
Phone (030) 247 460 10
Fax (030) 247 460 130
On this website you find a list of all museums, shops and restaurants in Nikolaiviertel and lots more, including a fabulous map. The actual events are not up to date but this, I think, does not matter as this has no influence on the history.
(Click here for Part 1)
A lot of nice cafés and restaurants are relaxing places far from the hustle and bustle of the city. If I remember right the Wirtshaus zum Nussbaum (well, the name-giving nut tree has disappeared…) is the oldest one. You can also browse through some very nice shops, with the unique Puppenstube (Doll’s House) where you find an incredible lot of historic and new dolls, teddy bears, and, of course, Berlin bears, including a huge selection of glazed china bears, very creatively painted by various artists. They are called Buddy Bears. They can stand on their feet and hands and have become very fashionable since some years.
I also loved the huuuuuuge and very old stuffed toy bears sitting opposite the neighbouring shop named – surprise, surprise - Teddy’s on their chairs, in front of Nikolaikirche.
But back to more serious subjects ;-) The reconstructed houses from the 17th, 18th and 19th century were originally located at other sites, for example the Ephraim-Palais on Mühlendamm which is a significant Baroque palace from 1766. Also the Gerichtslaube (Court Pavillion) in Poststraße is a copy. The already mentioned restaurant, Gasthof zum Nussbaum, was reconstructed true to the original which was built in 1507. At the church square you find a house from the 17th century in which the writer Gotthold Ephraim Lessing lived. The Knoblauchhaus (Garlic House; Garlic being a common German family name) in Poststraße is the quarter’s oldest residential house.
The Zille-Museum in Nikolaiviertel is dedicated to the legendary Berlin artist/cartoonist Heinrich Zille who lived from 1858 to 1929. He was dubbed “Raffael der Hinterhöfe” (Raffael of the Backyards) and surely most popular artist ever, an incredibly humourous critic of society. If you want to know something about Berlin’s spirit and the people’s special kind of humour, this is a great place to go.
Open Tue – Sun 11am – 6pm, Apr – Oct until 7pm
Entry fee 4 Euro