Discover Central Berlin’s Beautiful, Historical Courtyards
This is a guest post by Jorge G who told me about some gorgeous Berlin courtyards a little while ago and kindly agreed to share his insights with the Berlin & Around community. Happy exploring!
Dive Into the Hidden World of Berlin Courtyards
A long time ago, when I was still getting acquainted with central Berlin’s urban landscape, one of the many things that intrigued me was the size of the street blocks. I soon found out that most of Berlin’s blocks are actually “hollow” inside, sporting instead very spacious inner courtyards.
Access to these courtyards is sometimes restricted to residents, but, fortunately for us explorers, other times open to all. And many of these public spaces have very interesting stories to tell.
In a Rush? Save this Post for Later!
This blog post will hopefully trigger your curiosity. Maybe next time you pass an open gate, you won’t simply keep going. Instead, you might accept the invitation to enter and explore. Who knows, you might find a hidden gem or two!
In this article, we will skip the famous Berlin courtyards that appear in every travel guide in favour of 5 insider spots.
Although, if this is your first trip to Berlin, do be sure to visit the beautiful Hackesche Höfe (Rosenthaler Str. 40-41) and its countercultural neighbour Haus Schwarzenberg (Rosenthaler Str. 39). These are full of history and heritage, but a bit too well-known for Berlin & Around readers!
Let’s get started!
Rosenthaler Str. 51 (Mitte)
Located in the part of Mitte kown as Spandauer Vorstadt, the first of our Berlin courtyards is often outshone by its neighbours (Hackescher Höfe and Haus Schwarzenberg). However, when it comes to history and culture, this Berliner Hof truly holds its own.
The tidy courtyard was actually the star of a soviet propaganda film entitled “Rosenthalerstr. 51”. The 17-minute short movie, released in 1977, recounts several scenes in people’s lives as they meet for choir practice in this building.
Today, it is home to an Einstein Cafe and several offices. Although only steps from bustling Rosenthaler Str., you hardly hear the traffic when you’re in the courtyard.
Sophienstr. 18 (Mitte)
Our next stop is only a stone’s throw from Rosenthaler Str. 51. Along the charming Sophienstraße, a beautiful double hallway made with red bricks leads us to another stately hof. This is perhaps the most fascinating of the Berlin courtyards mentioned here.
Indeed, we find ourselves at the entrance of the former Handwerkervereinshaus (House of the Handworkers’ Society).
The edifice was built at the dawn of the 20th century. The courtyard itself served as a stage for several notable political events, including the German Communist Party co-founder Karl Liebknecht’s call to civil revolution in 1918.
The whole complex was later used as a forced labour plant during the Nazi regime, then as a theatre workshop throughout the GDR years.
After the reunification in 1989, Sophienstr. 18 became the headquarters of the Sophiensäle, the first independent theatre. The entire property is now heritage-listed.
Münzstr. 21-23 (Mitte)
Remaining at the heart of the Spandauer Vorstadt for a bit longer, let’s explore another beautiful public courtyard: Münzstr. 21-23. This set of buildings, moments from the TV Tower, is located roughly at the intersection of Münzstraße and Neue Schönhauser Straße.
The property was built during the late 19th century. Here, you’ll find a mix of private apartments, businesses and cafes. A perfectly manicured garden takes centre stage, adding to the sensation of walking through a village square rather than another one of many Berlin courtyards.
Wander through the back passageway to access a smaller inner backyard, perhaps not as awe-inspiring as the main one, but hosting an interesting open-air Cold War exhibit nonetheless. Here, you’ll be able to see spikes once used as tank roadblocks. Originally, they were stationed at the Brandenburg Gate.
Klosterstr. 64 (Mitte)
Let’s now head to the core of “old” Berlin, the part of town founded back in the 13th century (and site of many of the city’s most unique photo spots.)
Two beautiful art-nouveau courtyards await, decorated with green and white bricks. You now find yourself in a space once belonging to the Tietz Brothers’ former head office.
At the turn of the 20th century, the Tietz siblings brought the shopping mall concept to Germany and owned the country’s first large department stores.
Today, the complex hosts the Humboldt University’s psychotherapy center, in addition to other small businesses.
Gerichtstr. 23 (Wedding)
Let’s travel to Wedding to explore one more central Berlin courtyard at Gerichstr. 23.
You’ll first amble through an impressive hallway, the walls of which still bear testimony to the building’s former tenants and their businesses.
Next, you’ll discover a 100-year-old industrial complex hidden in the courtyard and used as a factory during World War II.
In all its crumbling glory, this grungy chic location is now used as a multifunctional events venue called Fabrik 23. This space is so unique that it has even been called one of the world’s 20 most brilliant event locations by Architectural Digest.
Berlin Courtyards: Worth a Second Glance
The courtyards of Berlin represent yet another fascinating aspect of the German capital, intertwining historical happenings and everyday life.
Stepping into any one of them helps us imagine how locals lived and worked over the last couple of centuries. Personally, I cannot wait to discover more Höfe on my walks throughout the city.
If you are fascinated by Berlin courtyards, make sure to check out this article on the Berlin historical sites the guidebooks forgot.