Experience a mediaeval atmosphere right in the middle of the high-rise buildings. The Marienkirche is on Alexanderplatz, beside the TV Tower. Don’t miss the Dance of Death fresco.
Next time you’re at Alexanderplatz taking a walk along Karl-Marx-Allee, why not take a detour back to the Middle Ages for a change. The Marienkirche (St. Mary’s Church) is one of the oldest churches in Berlin.
Construction of the church
Shortly after Berlin was granted town privileges in 1230, the building of the Marienkirche began. It was probably built some time after 1250 as a parish church for the newly established town – the exact date is not known. It was first mentioned in chronicles in 1292. Today, the Marienkirche is often associated with the Nikolaikirche, the remnants of the Franziskaner-Klosterkirche and the chapel of the Heilig-Geist-Spital, all of which were built in the earliest stages of Berlin’s urban history.
The architecture of the Marienkirche
On foundations made of fieldstones, the church was built from red bricks in the local Brick Gothic style. It is a long hall church with thee naves. Wide arches and arcades make the comparatively low-ceilinged church look bigger. Cup-shaped compound piers adorn the interior. The spatial architecture is based on that of the churches of the mendicant orders, which were a very popular inspiration for town churches at the time.
Major and minor alterations
Berlin has suffered many fires during its history, and the Church of St. Mary was not spared from them. In the late 14th century it was damaged by fire and rebuilt in a modified form. From the 15th century, the church tower made of Rüdersdorf limestone was repaired and modified. Michael Mathias Smids redesigned it in 1663 in the Baroque style, and a complete Neo-Gothic overhaul was carried out in 1789 by the celebrated master builder Carl Gotthard Langhans. One of his most famous works still stands today at Pariser Platz – the Brandenburg Gate. The imposing pulpit of the protestant church was added in 1703 by Andreas Schlüter.
The Dance of Death
Today, the church’s centrepiece and main attraction, even for non-believers, is the fresco painting entitled Dance of Death. More than 22 metres long and 2 metres high, it is in the tower of the Marienkirche. Various sources date the fresco at around 1484 – the year when a plague epidemic cost many people their lives. The remaining fragments of the fresco, which depicts the dancing dead representing people from all walks of life, is exhibited behind glass. Many other panels, reliefs and inscriptions can be found in the church, which is still used today.
The Marienkirche is the oldest parish church in the city of Berlin that is still in religious use. It is situated beside the TV Tower and among the East German high-rise blocks – don’t miss this fascinating mixture in the middle of Berlin.