The heart of the city centre: Spandauer Vorstadt

Morning shot of Oranienburger Straße with view of the new synagogue and the TV tower in the light of the rising sun

30 years ago, this district of the old town was listed as a site of interest. Now Spandauer Vorstadt is a modern hotspot for people from all over the world

Happy Birthday! The special occasion was slightly overlooked during the turmoil of recent months. But this was a big date in Berlin’s history: 30 years ago in 1991, the entire Spandauer Vorstadt was listed as a site of interest. The milestone sparked deep changes that are still continuing. 

The centre of Berlin was transformed by the fall of the Wall: old buildings were repaired, gaps were filled and new buildings were constructed. All this was possible because the historical core now enjoyed protected status as an urban monument, enabling the whole district to be refurbished and preserved. Many of the reconstructed buildings are great examples of how to treat original built fabric. Listing Spandauer Vorstadt meant that the Hackesche Höfe could be refurbished too. Today, historical roots and contemporary culture blend here in an inimitable fashion. 

Unique and contradictory 

Spandauer Vorstadt, the neighbourhood between Friedrichstrasse, Torstrasse and Alexanderplatz, is more than 300 years old. Its unique character derives from its many contradictions. Of all the suburbs that once clustered around the royal residence in the centre of the city, this is the biggest with the highest density of historical structure and built fabric. Besides, the vibrant local culture that thrived here during GDR days can still be felt in many places. And finally, the area has become a hotspot unmatched for its bustle and popularity. This old-town district, which has been almost fully preserved, has a population of just under 9,000, but whoever has a home here has certainly accomplished something: today’s Spandauer Vorstadt is a trendy place to live.

Studios and art projects

The structure of the district, with the pattern of streets that had evolved historically, was already being preserved in the GDR. Admittedly, the façades were crumbling and many old buildings, including two-storey houses from the 17th century, were suffering from neglect. In 1989 the government in East Berlin was planning to adopt a rehabilitation plan. As the regime fell, artists were exploring the neighbourhood with its rich history. They occupied vacant backyard factories and turned them into studios or art projects. 

There was soon a real run on Spandauer Vorstadt: the fame of the Tacheles art community on Oranienburger Strasse spread across the world and art galleries sprang up along Auguststrasse. It was those studios and the creativity of local residents that turned Spandauer Vorstadt into a major hub of the capital’s fashion scene. And the squatters became entrepreneurs ...