The St. Nicholas quarter, tucked between the southwest facade of the Rathaus and the Spree river, is the oldest part of Berlin and was the heart of the frontier settlement of the early 13th century. It certainly looks old with its narrow cobblestone streets and gabled medieval-style houses. But don’t let appearances fool you. It’s all brand new, as artificial as a movie set.
Some two decades ago the little four-block neighbourhood was still a wasteland, with only the gutted shell of the Nikolaikirche (St. Nicholas’ Church) – Berlin’s oldest church, still standing. To prepare for the city’s 750th anniversary, East German officialdom launched a crash program to create something ‘historic,” with modern methods. The “ancient” houses here were built with prefabricated concrete slabs, then covered with cement and stucco, upon which craftsmen and artisans were free to indulge themselves with oriel windows, bartizans. Gothic arches, loggias, gargoyles, front stoops, helix ornaments, and the like.
The new “old” buildings added colour and atmosphere to a city short on both. Moreover, the reconstruction and restoration of the church of St. Nicholas represent a remarkable achievement. It is now a division of the Märkisches Museum of Berlin history.
Even more remarkable was the recreation of the Ephraim Palais, at the aimer of Poststrasse and Mühlendamm. This richly ornamented Baroque mansion was built in 1765 for Veitel Heine Ephraim, a Jewish banker and financial adviser to the royal court. In 1935. during the Nazi era, the elegant townhouse was razed, supposedly to provide space for the widening of the Mühlendamm.
Somewhat mysteriously, hundreds of its decorative elements were stored in various depots and warehouses, most in what became West Berlin. When East German authorities decided to rebuild the mansion, West Berlin provided some 2,000 sections of the house, which were melded with new pieces of stone masonry and stuccowork crafted on the basis of old photographs and illustrations of the structure.
Today the Ephraim Palais is also a division of the Märkisches Museum, housing 17th- through 19th- century portraits and busts by a variety of artists.
Completed in 1987, the Nikolaiviertel quickly became East Berlin’s favourite residential and shopping district. Most of the new-old buildings are actually apartment houses, and speciality stores line the narrow cobblestone streets.
There are numerous cafes, restaurants, and taverns to choose from, including Zur Rippe at Poststrasse 17, which specializes in traditional Berlin dishes such as pea soup and sauerbraten. Another interesting place is the Restaurant & Café Ephraim’s at Spreeufer 1, known for its Berlin cuisine and its Wilhelminian style furnishings, library room and home-baked pastry.
In addition, you should also visit at least one of the following:
Alt-Berliner Weißbierstube (Rathausstraße 21)
Traditional restaurant serving German cuisine and Berlin specialities.
Alt-Berliner Wirtshaus (Poststrasse 4-5)
The bright, wooden hut-style restaurant serves creative potato dishes with and without meat.
Brauhaus Georgbraeu (Spreeufer 4)
Serving hearty German cuisine, fish and vegetarian dishes in quiet rooms and in the beer garden on the banks of the Spree.
Mutter Hoppe (Rathausstraße 21)
Serving pea soup, goose legs and bratwurst in a rustic decor with old sewing machines and lots of vintage advertising signs.
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