Berlin building entryway via Field Office

The past lingers in the entryways and courtyards of Berlin’s unrenovated buildings.

Much has been written to help visitors find the elusive “real” Berlin, the old Berlin, the Berlin that is flickering and fading as a new era starts to take its place. But honestly, it is hard to draw a map to this version of Berlin because things change quickly here. One day you see a crumbling but dignified building and the next day it’s covered in scaffolding only to reemerge months later as an unrecognizable version of its former self.

The encounters I’ve had with the fleeting old Berlin tend to happen unexpectedly, usually on foot. I’ll walk past an open door, catch a glimpse of something interesting, and duck inside. Most of Berlin’s old buildings follow a similar floor plan: a main door opens into an area with mailboxes and a staircase to the front of the building. At the back will be a door to the courtyard where there are access points to the back apartments and sometimes a door to another courtyard.

These spaces are fascinating. Many look like they haven’t been touched in decades, yet they aren’t abandoned and maybe that is what makes them so interesting—somehow everyday use year after year hasn’t rubbed off on them. They feel stuck in another time, but they also have a presence of the people who pass through them each day.

It is a simple how-to, but I would tell any visitor to Berlin to keep an eye out for a combination of an unpainted building + open door. If you spot one, duck inside and have a peek.

It is a simple how-to, but I would tell any visitor to Berlin to keep an eye out for a combination of an unpainted building + open door. If you spot one, duck inside and have a peek. As long as you don’t make a big scene and are respectful, you should be fine for a quick look.

A couple of weeks ago, after five years of admiring a certain old beauty on Danziger Straße, we walked by to find its door open. What we found made me think about other open doors I’ve stolen through over the years and the spaces they led to.

I’ll be sharing a few favorites over the next couple of weeks, so stay tuned!

Today’s building:
Somewhere on Prenzlauer Allee
April 2011

Keep reading this series:

>> Part 2: The Corner of Danziger & Senefelderstraße
A grand old building in Prenzlauer Berg has a foot in the past—but not for long.

>> Part 3: Stargarderstraße
Personal touches in common areas set the old buildings apart from the new.

>> Part 4: Winskietz
The courtyard of a crumbling old building in the Winskietz, Berlin.

Find the series archive, here.