Berlin - Around Town : Central Berlin: Around Alexanderplatz (part 1)

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The area around Alexanderplatz is one of the oldest parts of the city; it was here that the twin towns of Cölln and Berlin merged to become one town in the 13th century. Berlin’s oldest coherent quarter, the 18th-century Nikolaiviertel and its medieval Nikolaikirche, the city’s oldest church, lie in the shadow of the TV tower, the pride of the “capital” of former East Germany. On the occasion of Berlin’s 750th anniversary, in 1987, the East German government had the Nikolaiviertel restored. Very few of the original buildings are preserved, however; most houses were rebuilt from scratch. Only a few paces away from the alleyways of Nikolaiviertel extends Alexanderplatz, referred to by locals simply as “Alex”. Before World War II, Alex defined the heartbeat of the city; after the ravages of war, it seemed vast and a little forlorn. Although the giant square is now livelier again, especially in summer, a chilly easterly wind still blows between the houses. The vibrancy of the square, as described by Alfred Döblin in his novel Berlin Alexanderplatz, is only slowly returning to the area. Much building and reconstruction work is planned for Alex in the coming years.


Ephraim Palais and Märkisches Museum:

Top 10 Sights
  1. Alexanderplatz

    The vast, largely desolate square in the centre of East Berlin, called “Alex” by Berliners, was one of the most vibrant places in Berlin before World War II – and no doubt it will be again some day. Alfred Döblin beautifully captured the rhythm of the city in his world-famous novel Berlin Alexanderplatz. Not much remains today of the once frenzied atmosphere, although there is plenty of hustle and bustle around the Galleria Kaufhof department store.

    Originally, Alex was a cattle and wool market. Not many of the prewar buildings survived – only Berolinahaus and Alexanderhaus, next to the historic S-Bahn station Alexanderplatz, remain, both dating back to 1929. The square was almost completely laid to waste in World War II, and most of the surrounding soulless tower blocks were built in the 1960s. There are now plans to build skyscrapers on Alexanderplatz.

    • Mitte

    Weltzeituhr (world time clock) on “Alex”

  2. Berliner Rathaus

    Berlin’s proud town hall is the office of the Governing Mayor and is the political centre of power in Greater Berlin. The Rathaus was built in 1861–9, according to plans by Hermann Friedrich Waesemann on the site of an older town hall. It was designed to demonstrate the power and the glory of Berlin, and the architect took his inspiration for the new governmental building from Italian Renaissance palazzi.

    The building is also known as the “Red Town Hall” – not a reminder of its Socialist past, but a reference to the red bricks from Brandenburg province from which it is built .

    • Rathausstr. 15

    • 9am–6pm Mon–Fri

    • 030 90 26 0

    Berliner Rathaus
  3. Berliner Fernsehturm

    The 368-m (1,207-ft) high TV tower is the tallest building in Berlin, affording views of up to 40 km (25 miles) in good weather. There is a viewing platform at 203 m (666 ft). The Tele-Café above rotates once around its own axis every 30 minutes. The tower, visible from afar, was erected in 1965–9 by the East German government to signify the triumph of East Berlin, their “capital”.

    • Panoramastr. 1a

    • Mar–Oct: 9am–midnight, Nov–Feb: 10am–midnight

    • 030 242 33 33

    • Admission charge

  4. Nikolaiviertel

    Around the medieval Nikolaikirche, the small Nikolaiviertel with its narrow nooks and crannies, Old Berlin restaurants and souvenir shops is one of the most charming parts of the city. The area extending between the banks of the Spree River and Mühlendamm was razed to the ground in World War II. The East German authorities restored it after the war – unfortunately not always successfully: some houses were covered in prefabricated façades.

    Knoblauchhaus was one of few to escape destruction. Dating from 1835, it was the former home of the Knoblauch family (Neue Synagoge was designed by architect Eduard Knoblauch). Today it houses a museum depicting everyday life in Berlin, and includes a fully furnished apartment in the Biedermeier style.

    • Mitte, Knoblauchhaus: Poststr. 23

    • 10am–6pm Tue, Thu–Sun, 10am–8pm Wed

    • 030 240 02 01 71

    • Admission charge

    A street in Nikolaiviertel
  5. Marienkirche

    Originally built in 1270, Marienkirche was extensively remodelled in the 15th century. Thanks to its Baroque church tower, designed by Carl Gotthard Langhans in 1790, it is one of Berlin’s loveliest churches. Inside, the alabaster pulpit by Andreas Schlüter (1703) and the main altar (1762) are particularly worth seeing. The 15th-century Gothic font and a 22-m (72-ft) long fresco, Der Totentanz (The Dance of Death) from 1485 are its two oldest treasures. The church was a thorn in the side for the East German government because the cross on its tower is reflected in the TV tower.

    • Karl-Liebknecht-Str. 8

    • Apr–Oct: 10am–9pm daily; Nov–Mar: 10am–6pm daily

    • 030 242 44 67

    Font in Marienkirche
  6. Marx-Engels-Forum

    Shortly after German reunification in 1989, the motto “Next time it will all be different” was scrawled onto this monument to Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, the fathers of Socialism. The bronze statues, created by Ludwig Engelhart in 1986, adorn the square.

    Marx and Engels
  7. Märkisches Museum

    Berlin’s municipal museum displays architectural treasures such as doorways and the head of one of the horses from the top of the Brandenburg Gate, plus various items relating to theatre and music in Berlin.

    • Am Köllnischen Park 5

    • 10am–6pm Tue–Sun, noon–8pm Wed

    • 030 30 86 215

    • Admission charge

    Märkisches Museum
  8. Ephraim-Palais

    The curved Baroque palace, built in 1766 for the wealthy merchant Nathan Veitel Heinrich Ephraim, was once regarded as the city’s most beautiful spot. Rebuilt after the old palace was demolished, it is now a museum with exhibitions on Berlin art history.

    • Poststr. 16

    • 10am–6pm Tue & Thu–Sun, noon–8pm Wed

    • 030 24 00 21 21

    • Admission charge

  9. Neptune Fountain

    The green Neo-Baroque fountain, dating from 1895, depicts the sea god Neptune. He is surrounded by four female figures, symbolizing Germany’s Rhine, Weichsel, Oder and Elb Rivers.

    • Am Rathaus

    Neptune Fountain
  10. Karl-Marx-Allee and Frankfurter Allee

    This road, lined by Soviet-style buildings, was built as a showpiece for Socialism in 1949–55. Known then as “Stalinallee”, it provided ultra-modern apartments.

    • Mitte/Friedrichshain

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