Berlin was once the most industrialised city in Europe, and street side buildings were just a front for warrens of workshops and living quarters behind them. Within the interior courtyards, ground floor factory workers and apartment dwellers on the four to six floors above often only had a shaft to look into, or at best, a view into the courtyard and the square patch of sky above them. Living areas were crowded and squalid, with rarely a cross breeze or a direct ray of sunlight. And how quaint, quiet, and pleasant these courtyards are today. They’re special to Berlin, and yet not so obvious to find.
Several old carriage entrances in Mitte lead to a handful of cafés, art galleries, craft stores and clothing boutiques. A prominent collection of courtyards is the Hackescher Höfe complex, with one entrance at Rosenthaler Straße 40-41 and another on Sophienstraße. The bars, restaurants, theaters and shops within are in courtyards numbered I to VIII. The warehouses here were fancy stuff in 1907, the white ceramic tiles and blue mosaics an example of industrial art nouveau architecture. After the Wall fell, this was one of the first restoration projects in eastern Berlin and judging by the huge number of visitors the investment has paid off.
Two smaller courtyards lead off narrow Sophienstraße. Enter the Sophiensäle at 17-18 and you’ll see the redbrick courtyard where the craftsmen’s association was based in 1849. On the same street at number 21-22 are the Sophie-Gips-Höfe, built of yellow and red brick.
Oranienburger Straße starts at the Hackescher Höfe and leads to the Heckmann-Höfe, which date to the mid-1800s and have several fun shops, a nice little square, plus McBride’s restaurant and a bar. The entrance is just past the Neue Synagoge (if you’re on Augustraße, enter at number 9). Sweet scents emanate from the Berliner Bonbonmacherei, which makes its own candies. Second-hand cocktail- and ballgowns from the fifties through eighties are arranged by color at Sterling Gold.