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The Nikolaiviertel not only lies in the very heart of Berlin, it is the place where it all began. The first mention of Berlin in documents from 1251 referred to two settlements which are Berlin and Cölln. These are situated opposite each other on the banks of the River Spree. The settlement known as "Berlin" grew up around the market (now Molkenmarkt in the Nikolaiviertel) and the Nikolaikirche, named after Saint Nicholas, patron saint of merchants and fishermen. Destroyed during the War, many of the historic buildings were reconstructed for Berlin's 750th anniversary celebrations in 1987. Many are faithful reconstructions of the original buildings, while others are cheap concrete replicas. The baroque Knoblauchhaus and Ephraimpalais are classic examples of this sort of compromise which is partly old and partly new.
Built upon the order of Hans Georg von Ribbeck, Privy Counsellor, the Ribbeck-Haus is one of the few extant Renaissance-era structures in the city. Standing still since 1624, this building underwent several changes and renovation over the years and now houses the Zentrum für Berlin-Studien and Central and Regional Library Berlin.
Museum Island is located on the northern half of a historically-significant island in the Spree River that runs through Berlin. The island takes its name from the five Berlin State Museums that reside in the area - the Altes Museum, the Bode Museum, the Alte Nationalgalerie, the Neues Museum, and the Pergamon Museum. Museum Island was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2010. The island's first museum was erected in 1797, and the whole area was designated specifically for art and science by King Frederick William IV of Prussia in 1841.
The Rotes Rathaus or "Red City Hall" is how Berliners refer to their town hall. Seat of the Mayor and the Senate since reunification in 1990, the building was also home to East Berlin's local government in the GDR era, although the name actually stems from the reddish color of its walls rather than from the political leanings of the leaders. Built in the 1860s by H. F. Waesemann, the design reflects a strong Tuscan influence. Two years after building was completed, Germany was unified by Kaiser Wilhelm I. Consequently, Berlin became the capital of Germany and its new city hall, the supreme administrative building.
An intense debate has been going on for years as to whether the Royal Palace should be reconstructed, and now it finally will be. There are plans to make a hotel out of the Palace, with shops and a business center. Built in 1451, the magnificent palace was the residence of the Prussian royal family for centuries. Badly damaged during the War, the East German administration demolished the building in the 1950s, not because the structural damage was irreparable, but because the palace was a much-maligned symbol of 'imperialism'. The space created was used for the East German equivalent of Red Square, known as Schloßplatz, which is dominated by the Palast der Republik, the closest thing the East Germans had to a parliament. The only part of the palace which survived demolition is the famous portal from which Karl Liebknecht proclaimed a Free Socialist Republic in 1918. The portal was moved a few hundred metres and integrated into the Staastsratsgebäude. Otherwise, visitors can see the foundations, recently unearthed by archaeologists, but they are a poor reminder of what once was.
Everybody in Berlin agreed that this building was an eyesore. Apart from looking awful, it was an asbestos hazard and stood empty until the city council finally decided to demolish it. The process is still going on but the future of the building is uncertain. Some want to rebuild the Berliner Schloß, the magnificent royal palace which was pulled down to make place for the present monstrosity. Others want to preserve it as a memorial to the former "Democratic Republic" of East Germany. Built in 1976 to house the Volkskammer, the East German parliament which did little more than rubber stamp decisions made by the Politburo, the Palast der Republik also contained exclusive restaurants, bars and clubs for party apparatchiks.
Berlin's grandest boulevard stretches east to west for just over a mile between Schlossplatz and the Brandenburg Gate. Originally conceived as a simple riding path between Berliner Schloss palace and the royal hunting ground in Tiergarten, Unter den Linden was transformed into a splendid regal boulevard by the 18th-century Prussian kings. Named after the linden trees which line its median, the road contains many of Berlin's landmark buildings like the Brandenburg Gate, Zeughaus, Kronprinzenpalast, State Opera House and Humboldt University. The Statue of Frederick the Great also sits here; one of Rauch's masterpieces, it depicts the king riding on his favorite horse, Condè, wearing his coronation robes, three-cornered hat, riding boots and holding a stick. Amazingly, the statue took nearly 70 years, 40 artists, and 100 designs to determine the final plan.
The original Jungfernbrücke—built in 1798—used to be Berlin's oldest bridge, but worries about safety meant that the Dutch-style drawbridge has had to be completely reconstructed. Spanning over an arm of the Spree to the new foreign ministry building, the new bridge is an exact replica of the original—the only difference being that the present bridge does not open up. But that doesn't matter, because no ships have passed along this part of the canal for decades!