A Medieval Berlin Town, Soviet style

I continued my little trek across the Mitte of Berlin and walked south from the Radio Tower. If the radio tower and world clock, architectural flaws aside, were symbols of the glory of communism than the old town symbolised Soviet German continuity with the past. Located just west of Alexanderplatz (Alexanderplatz was former just outside the city walls of the old town) was the former old town of Berlin, Altstadt Berlin. Much of what remains has now changed, it has come to include the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Museum Island, but what drew my attention was something else – Nikolaiviertel.

Located along the Spree river, Nikolaiviertel gets its name from the Romanesque church that was built in 1230 and still stands, St Nicholas Church the oldest church in Berlin.

The whole place was leveled during World War 2 and was restored to the credit of the Soviet government. Now this building has long ceased to be a place of worship. It’s last religious service was completed in 1938 and since then the church was given up to the government who converted the building into a concert hall as well as a church/ecclesiastical museum.

It might seem strange for a communist puppet state, obsessed with class warfare to rebuilt and old town that existed at a time when classes were hugely segregated. But it does not appear too surprising on hindsight. The DDR may have been desperate to get rid of palaces and the middle/upper classes, so as to engage in their class warfare, but they were also at pains to stress their legitimacy through a link with the pre-War Prussian and German republic – they needed the moral and historical legitimacy especially as their performance legitamacy was increasingly coming under question. So in 1987, at the 750th anniversary of the founding of Berlin the East Berlin government revealed the completion of the historical restoration of this part of the old town. Even from here, the tall radio tower overlooked the old town, a visible reminder especially to the people of the DDR that the authorities were also there.

The recoonstruction was a huge success, since the whole town was restored according to historically accurate depictions and the historians had done an exceptional job to be able to tell the stories of the people who had lived there previously. Things were really well done in this reconstructed, except for one little fact: unlike reconstructions in other places (such as Warsaw) for some reason ubiquitous concrete plattenbau slabs were used in the construction of the outer facade of many buildings, while some like the church itself were reconstructed faithfully.

What this meant was that Nikolaiviertel is the only old European town made up of a portmanteau of architectural styles and is practically unmistakable in appearance from any other old town in Europe…

I mean… where else in Europe will you find a statue of St George and the Dragon facing a 13th century German brick church, and soviet style concrete plattenbeau houses structured in the form of an old medieval German town?



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