Since Neolithic times, humans have settled in the area we now know as Berlin. While the city expanded, some of these ancient settlements that predate its creation have remained. Look closely and you can spot old village centres in big-city Berlin: oases of history dotted with church steeples, tranquil ponds and gabled houses.
It wasn’t until 1920, with the creation of Greater Berlin, that many of these villages were incorporated into the urban juggernaut. A century later, Berlin’s village roots remain there to be discovered, from Marzahn to Neukölln, Marienfelde to Pankow.
In the midst of dreary prefabs and framed by the noisy Landsberger Allee and Allee der Kosmonauten, you’ll find this tranquil gem. Like most villages to the northeast of Berlin, Marzahn was founded as an Angerdorf – a village built around a village green – around 1230. Since the 13th century there’s always been a village church here – the present one dates back to 1869.
The other beautiful building on the green – the former village school – houses the Marzahn-Hellersdorf Museum. Directly behind it lies the historic Marzahner Krug guesthouse and, just around the corner, the people of Marzahn can boast one more thing: the Bockwindmühle Marzahn, a fully functional windmill.
Right next to the beautiful Gutspark Marienfelde, a public-designated green space since 1936, it’s easy to spot the old village green of Marienfelde with its grandiose 800-year-old village church, one of the oldest in the region.
Next to it are the village pond and a war memorial – a familiar sight in the villages of Brandenburg. The green is framed by traditional low buildings and a manor house from 1832. Rather excitingly, the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment is also located here.
Rixdorf Bohemian Village
Perhaps the most unusual old village centre in Berlin lies right in the middle of loud, multicultural Neukölln, not far from Karl-Marx-Straße. Until 1912, Neukölln was named Rixdorf, and the village centre was located around today’s Richardplatz. Even now, this serene area exudes a certain grandeur – compete with still-operational village forge (first documented in 1624) at the heart of the cobbled square.
A selection of hip cafés dot the area, and the Gustav Schöne haulage company with its gleaming hackney carriages is worth a visit when open – it’s been there since 1894.
The former cul-de-sac village of Tegel first appeared around 800 years ago. Although nothing remains from that time – the beautiful village church appeared in 1911 – there’s evidence of three other, older places of worship on this site. At the centre of Alt-Tegel is Otto-Dibelius-Platz, named after the famous theologian.
Many of the buildings here date from the 19th century, such as the Lehnschulzenhof Ziekow built in 1839. Today, the village’s proximity to Tegeler See and the stroll-friendly Greenwichpromenade make it a great starting point for forest walks or a boat trip to Oranienburg, Wannsee or central Berlin.
Farmers, shepherds and fishermen settled in Schmargendorf some time around the 14th century. Today the district belongs to Wilmersdorf and is known for its power station, whose three chimneys can easily be seen from the Autobahn. Venture a little further into the heart of the district, to Alt-Schmargendorf itself, and you’ll find one of the oldest churches in the city.
The village church of Schmargendorf dates back to the 13th century – and also happens to be one of Berlin’s smallest churches at a diminutive 60 square metres. The old cemetery, with its crumbling headstones, is also a reminder of Schmargendorf’s long history.
The old settlement of Heinersdorf is located just north of Prenzlauer Berg. It first crops up in historical documents with the mention of Heilig-Geist-Hospital (Hospital of the Holy Ghost) in 1319, and was eventually incorporated into Greater Berlin in 1920. Today, in addition to the centuries-old fieldstone church, numerous historical buildings – the old fire station from 1750, a horse dealer’s house from 1780 – keep the village charm alive.
The former village centre of Mariendorf is still clearly visible on the city map as a narrow linear settlement. Today, the B96 federal highway runs directly past the 13th-century village church. The bustling main street is home to the Tempelhof Museum and the nearby Volkspark Mariendorf, with its peaceful Blümelteich pond.
The old village church, an adjacent pond and the nearby Schloss Britz, with its grand estate and rose garden, form a respectable ensemble on Fulhamer Allee between Britzer Damm and Alt-Britz. The church lies somewhat outside the old village centre, close to Museum Neukölln.
The first mention of this quaint village dates back to 1237, and it’s worth combining a visit here with a trip to nearby Britzer Garten to take in some spectacular spring planting.
Rosenthal in Pankow
The former district of Rosenthal is found in the northeastern part of Pankow. This municipality has only belonged to Berlin since 1920, with the settlement first referenced in 14th-century documents under the name Rosendalle. Rosenthal, which was laid out as another Angerdorf, is today a designated cultural monument.
The ensemble of buildings includes the village church, a parish hall, a manor house with stables and farm workers’ barracks.
Among the many beautiful Berlin parks, the Alte Park in Tempelhof is a special one. Less well known than the parks in Kreuzberg, Friedrichshain or Tiergarten, it remains a small oasis of peace and one of the most beautiful spots in the district.
The history of the park goes back to the 19th century. In the middle of the grounds is the Klarensee lake, right next to – you guessed it – the old village church, which gives the area a bucolic feel despite being slap-bang in the heart of the city. The park is particularly popular with joggers.
Along with Biesdorf and Mahlsdorf, Kaulsdorf forms the largest unbroken area of detached and semi-detached housing in Germany. The district belongs to Hellersdorf-Marzahn – an area known for its huge prefabricated housing estates with a long history that dates back far beyond Alt-Marzahn.
Kaulsdorf was founded before 1200, and archaeological finds indicate a Slavic settlement area and a village church that was built around 1250. In addition to several churches, the village centre also includes the former manor house on Brodauer Straße. Those exploring the area should make a detour to the Kaulsdorfer Seen landscape conservation area for some soothing natural vistas.
People probably already lived on the peninsula between the Spree and Rummelsburger Bucht back in the Stone Age. And for good reason: it’s pretty damn beautiful. Today the Friedrichshain district impresses with its tranquillity, and it’s here you’ll find the lovely village church of Stralau with its gently leaning steeple dating back to the 15th century. You can stroll around the large cemetery and the adjacent Wendenpark not far from the shore. A little further west is a handy Karl Marx memorial.