by Campbell Burns-McRuvie
Hidden along Münzstraße, in the busy shopping district of Mitte, is a quiet oasis. Passer-bys often miss the arcade that leads to two courtyards, surrounded by a collection of fashion retailers, a café and residential apartments. The renovated monument listed building at 21 Münzstraße was originally designed by architects Poetsch & Bohnstedt and built between 1891 and 1893. Entering into its first courtyard you feel immediately transported back into another time. The courtyard is surrounded on all sides by refurbished sandstone colored walls. The brickwork surrounding the wide windows, grotesques adorning the balconies and stone paving give the space a traditional feel. In the middle of the courtyard sits a small fountain, surrounded by well-groomed hedges. The walls block out the traffic and noise from the outside streets, giving a sense of calm as the sound of water spurting from the fountain can be heard. The space combines traditional architecture with a modern ambience, as it’s the home to stores from popular fashion companies such as Tommy Hilfiger and Nudie Jeans. This combination between new and old is further apparent in the second courtyard, connected by another arcade, which houses the Nudie Jeans store and repair shop. There, the walls have been left bare and unrenovated, with the industrial windows surrounded by bullet holes. According to the owner of the café, these bullet holes date back to the Second World War.
The entire space emanates a feeling of openness and connectedness, as a plethora of windows and balconies from the residential apartments all look out into the courtyard. This feeling is enhanced by how the retail stores interact with one another and the entire space. The café’ has two doors opening into both courtyards, while its interior also connects it to the neighbouring fashion store, allowing customers to walk into one from the other. On a sunny day, the café’s outdoor seating, consisting of park benches and marble top tables next to the fountain, plays host to an entire community of people, including the local residents and workers.
Despite this feeling of a community, that the space is both residential and commercial also creates a sense of conflict. As a residential area, quietness and seclusion are indeed imporant. This is partly met through the space’s aforementioned ability to drown out outside sound. However, the courtyards are open for the entire public, who are able to wander in, chat and stare into the windows, resulting in an intrusion of the privacy of those living there. On the other hand, the commercial businesses that operate on the ground floors depend on a constant stream of customers to survive. Businesses like the café and the Nudie Jeans fashion store have only been open since January 2015 and thus have had little time to develop an established clientele. The fact that the courtyards are secluded off from the road also reduces the number of customers that enter. This means that these businesses must have to rely largely on word of mouth to increase their customer base. Although this allows the space to maintain a quiet and peaceful ambience, it also makes it difficult for these businesses to compete with other stores and cafés in this popular area of Mitte, where rent is much higher than in other districts of Berlin.
Nevertheless, for those that frequent the shops and café, the tranquillity of the space in such a central location enhances its appeal, making it a highly attractive and enjoyable place to visit. However, the competing functions of the space as both a residential and commercial area makes it extremely difficult for the space to fulfill the interests of one group without impeding upon the interests of the other.