The area on the north-east side of the Spree around Nikolaiviertel and Spandauer Str was the oldest part of Berlin. I say was because the events of the Second World War virtually wiped the whole area off the face of the map. Very little remained intact, and although the Nikolaiviertel district was put back together in a way that only the communist authorities could have thought looked good, the wasteland that was once known as Marienviertel, has been left more or less as an open concrete space between the river and the TV Tower.
Marienviertel is no longer known by that name, but literally speaking it means St. Mary’s Quarter, which pays homage to Marienkirche or St. Mary’s Church.
The church was the only building to be re-constructed in the quarter after the bombing and is worth visiting if only for its historical connection. The original church was built in the 13th century and now stands isolated on the edge of an unnamed square and adjacent to Karl-Liebknecht Str.
Built in the North German brick Gothic style, it has a 19th century Neo-Gothic tower and spire which makes it more appealing to me as I’m not an avid fan of the large brick-built designs of this part of the world.
The interior has an airy feel to it with some interesting 18th cent Baroque features including the Altar and Pulpit. There are also several tombs and marble sculptures of famous local people, some of which came here from other churches that were destroyed in the war. In the hall of the tower is a large 15th cent faded wall painting called the Dance of Death which shouldn’t be missed as it’s probably the most important feature remaining from the early church.
In the large square between the church and the Rotes Rathaus (City Hall) is the impressive Neptune Fountain. It was designed in 1891 by Reinhold Begasand for the Schlossplatz where it remained until the City Palace was demolished in 1951. Eventually, after being restored it was re-located here in 1969.
The four women who surround Neptune represent Prussia’s four main rivers at the time the fountain was made – the Elbe, Rhine, Vistula, and Oder. The Oder now forms the boundary between Germany and Poland and the Vistula is Poland’s longest and largest river.
This whole area was under the jurisdiction of the DDR until the fall of the Berlin Wall and there’s no better reminder of this than the Marx-Engels Forum on the other side of Spandauer Str from the fountain.
The forum with a sculpture that includes statues of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels was opened in 1986, but four years later the Wall came down and many people wanted the whole lot removed. Others argued that it had artistic and historical significance and Marx and Engels are still here attracting a sprinkling of tourists.
Since 2010 an extension of the U5 U-Bahn line and new station at the Rathaus has seen the area turned into a massive construction site. Completion is expected in 2020 and there have been suggestions that when it’s finished that Marienviertel should be re-built. Whether it would be along the lines of Nikolaiviertel or not, or whether it ever gets re-built at all remains to be seen.