Buildings from before 1850 are rare in Mitte. Two world wars, massive restructuring efforts and the division of the city with the Wall all shook the foundations of the historic city centre.
But some remnants of the time before the Gründerzeit building boom have endured, each offering its own gateway into German history.
Here are 12 of Mitte’s oldest buildings, from churches to museums.
The ruins of Klosterkirche
The early-Gothic brick church and monastery remained in use until the 16th century.
Ruins still count as buildings, don’t they? Either way, the Franziskaner-Klosterkirche definitely deserves a spot on this list, having been built all the way back in the year 1250. The early-Gothic brick church and monastery remained in use until the 16th century.
After the Reformation, however, it became a grammar school where prominent intellectuals taught the children of aristocracy. Both the student body and faculty included some still-familiar names, such as Karl Friedrich Schinkel, Otto von Bismarck and Friedrich Ludwig Jahn.
Over the centuries, the building underwent a number of restorations and other construction efforts, but it wasn’t until the Second World War that it was irreparably destroyed. Now, the ruins are host to cultural events like concerts, theatre performances and exhibits.
- Ruine der Franziskaner-Klosterkirche Klosterstr. 73a, Mitte.
Another church from the 13th century, this example of late-Romantic architecture dates back to the year 1230, making it almost 800 years old. Along with the Molkenmarkt, the Nikolaikirche formed the heart of the mercantile settlement that eventually became the city we know and love today.
The building underwent plenty of changes over the centuries until it was eventually deconsecrated in 1938. Now, it belongs to the Stadtmuseum, the permanent exhibition ‘Vom Stadtgrund bis zur Doppelspitze’ giving an overview of the building’s history.
- Nikolaikirche Nikolaikirchplatz, Mitte.
The fresco of the Dance of Death painted inside is a moving sight
This one is – you guessed it – another church, but it’s no less impressive than the ones before. Built in 1292 and named after the holy virgin Mary, the Margravian Gothic building has survived more than the SED state’s lofty architectural dreams – though nowadays, it’s slightly overshadowed by the TV-tower looming above it.
Still, the fresco of the Dance of Death painted inside is a moving sight, not to mention one of the most important remnants of mediaeval art history in Berlin. It was whitewashed for years before being rediscovered by the Prussian court architect Stüler in 1861.
- Marienkirche Karl-Liebknecht-Str. 8, Mitte.
This mediaeval building was constructed around the year 1300 and has had a myriad of uses over the years, housing the poor, sick and the staff that cared for them as well as functioning as a chapel. Starting in the early 20th century, the chapel was used as an auditorium by the Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität zu Berlin.
By some miracle, the building withstood the Second World War and went on to be used as a canteen in the DDR until reunification, when it was renovated. Now Humboldt University uses it as a banquet hall for special occasions.
- Heilig-Geist-Kapelle Spandauer Str. 1, Mitte.
The Reformation had a big impact on Berlin, as evidenced by the city’s Protestant community being significantly larger than its Catholic one. Even the rise of Prussia to a global power is closely intertwined with Protestantism. The Parochialkirche, being the oldest Protestant church in Berlin, is a testament to the sweeping effects the Reformation had on the city.
Prussian architect Johann Arnold Nering started construction in 1695 by order of Friedrich III., taking stylistic inspiration from Dutch and Italian churches. But the process saw a number of delays, they exceeded their original budget and, at one point, the roof caved in. Ultimately, another architect took over and the church was finally finished in 1703.
But that was hardly the end of the building’s forced redesigns: During the Second World War, the Parochialkirche lost its steeple. Later, the DDR used the church as a warehouse. After reunification the city eventually began restoring the building until, thanks to a sizable donation from the entrepreneur Hans Wall, the steeple was finally rebuilt in 2014.
- Parochialkirche Klosterstr. 67, Mitte.
Another enduring remnant of Prussian history, this neo-Gothic church was built by order of Prince Friedrich Wilhelm by his star architect Karl Friedrich Schinkel in 1830. At the time, it was the first brick construction in the city since the middle ages. Unfortunately, like many of the buildings on this list, it was damaged during the war, leading the church to close for numerous renovations over the years.
- Friedrichswerdersche Kirche Werderscher Markt, Mitte.
Between 1825 and 1830, Karl Friedrich Schinkel also built the Altes Museum, an impressive example of neo-Classical architecture. A project of this magnitude was a revolutionary undertaking, providing the middle class a gateway to art that had previously been shut under lock and key by the aristocracy.
Though the museum was damaged by fire during the war, it was quickly rebuilt. Now it’s a staple of the Museumsinsel.
- Altes Museum Bodestr. 1-3, Mitte, details.
Built just before 1850, the Neues Museum now encompasses the Egyptian Museum, the Museum of Pre-and Early History and the Collection of Classical Antiquities. It, too, was badly damaged during the war and was barely used during the DDR, functioning as a warehouse for the other museums of the Museumsinsel.
Restoration efforts didn’t begin until after reunification, and since 2019 the architectural style of the James-Simon-Gallery (built by renowned architect David Chipperfield) has served as a contemporary counterpoint to the museum’s pre-modern design.
- Neues Museum Bodestr. 1-3, Mitte, details.
Michael Matthias Smids built these electoral stables between 1665 and 1670, but they didn’t earn the ‘Alter’ (or ‘old’) in their title until subsequent stables were built along the boulevard Unter den Linden in later years.
Only the main building remains, however, having been repurposed as the House of Architects in 1986. Now it manages the Central and Regional Library in addition to being home to the Centre for Berlin Studies.
- Alter Marstall Breite Str. 36, Mitte.
The Ribbeck-Haus is the city’s only remaining building from the late-Renaissance
Located right next door to the Alter Marstall, the Ribbeck-Haus is not only the oldest residential building in Berlin, but is also the city’s only remaining building from the late-Renaissance. The eponymous building dates back to 1624, when Chamber Councillor Hans Georg von Ribbeck ordered its construction.
But don’t get it twisted: Thanks to numerous reconstructions over the centuries, the Ribbeck-Haus we see today actually barely resembles its original design. Still, it’s nice to have a spot on this list that doesn’t belong to a church or representative building.
- Ribbeck-Haus Breite Str. 35, Mitte.
Built in 1674 by order of the then-mayor of Cölln, Heinrich Julius Brand, this two-story building boasts a central corridor and a gable roof. It’s also one of the few buildings in the city that dates back to the Baroque movement. The building owes its name to writer Frederick Nicola, who acquired it in 1787.
After the war, it was home to the Central Institute for Monument Protection in the DDR. Since 2011, it’s served a similar purpose as the headquarters of the German Foundation for Monument Protection.
- Nicolaihaus Brüderstr. 13, Mitte.
Built in 1760, this building was owned by the Berlin merchant family Knoblauch for just about 170 years before being bought by the city-state in 1929.
It managed to survive the war unscathed and now belongs to the Berlin Stadtmuseum Foundation, its basement floors housing an exhibition on middle-class home decor in the Biedermeier era and an overview of the Knoblauchs’ family history.
- Knoblauchhaus Poststr. 23, Mitte.
This article has been adapted from the German by Seraina Birdsey.