Berlin’s Hidden Gem – Museum Nikolaikirche

One of the delights of visiting a city is finding the hidden gems. They are the sort of places where locals outnumber tourists (or, better still, where you find yourself entirely alone), and where you are provided with an authentic sense of the history, culture and atmosphere without the need for a guide book or a map to tell you of its significance.

It is the moment that every traveller longs for – why, indeed, we keep travelling. That moment where you feel a change. Your breath is taken away, the hairs on your neck raise, and for a moment you can think of nothing else but this one unique experience. Museum Nikolaikirche in Berlin is a place to experience that moment.

The city is a treasure trove of exceptional museums and art galleries, and you can quite easily spend hours in awe of the collections housed in the grand buildings of ‘Museum Island’ or the moving socio-political exhibitions on offer in the equally engaging smaller institutions in and around the city centre.

However, for those travellers looking for something a little different, look no further than the Museum Nikolaikirche (St. Nicholas’ Church). It is a simple building in a quaint square, surrounded by a scattering of independent shops, specialist interest museums, and a few cafes. It is a rare part of Berlin that feels genuinely old; indeed, the church itself is the oldest surviving in the city.

A small, circular booth in the square distributes entry tickets to the church; inside, free audio guides along with generously descriptive wall panels and interactive screens guide visitors through the building’s past, the numerous artefacts belonging to or looked after by the church, and the historical importance of the local area.

What it lacks in size, the museum makes up for in interpretation. Artefacts are presented thoughtfully with contextual information that offers the visitor a real sense of life in the past in this small but important section of the city. The interactives are fascinating, transforming an everyday object into a significant symbol of history, culture and community.

While the museum in itself is a joy to look around, this Autumn 2017 also offers an unmissable work of art – a spatial installation by Chiharu Shiota. Born in Japan and now living and working in Berlin, Shiota’s work focuses on the themes of remembrance, home, fear, birth and death. For this particular piece, she has also looked at the 500 year anniversary of the Reformation, of which St. Nicholas’ Church played an important role.

‘Lost Words’ features a gigantic web of black threads which cover the nave of the church, a small walkway underneath allowing the visitor to pass under and through its both imposing and enchanting patterns. Suspended within are pages from the Bible written in different languages, each seemingly balancing in mid-air, like an explosion on pause or the inside of a writer’s mind.

It is an exceptional piece, and somehow feels right within the calm atmosphere of this holy building. It is both deeply rooted in history while also entirely contemporary. The space feels both energised and stilled, taught strings and balanced pages juxtaposed with rough stone and wooden carved angels. It is the ideal balance of contradictions; it is a perfect reflection of Berlin itself.

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Chiharu Shiota’s installation in St. Nicholas’ Church © Stadtmuseum Berlin | Foto: Frizzi Krella

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