Yet, daily life was played out here, in the midst of a warren of workshops - with housing above and behind - that together produced a microcosm of the city, with rich and poor, housing and commerce crammed together for better or worse, creating a squalid turn-of-the-century urban culture.
Today, somewhat inevitably, the arty and the trendy are taking over these courtyards, with bars, restaurants, cool shops and art venues dominating many of these courtyards.
The most famous are the Hackesche Hoefe, a series of nine courtyards built between 1905 and 1907 to house businesses, flats and workshops. Restored to their Art Nouveau glory in the 1990s, the courtyards bustle with crowds visiting the cafes, stores, galleries and cultural spaces within.
There is a second entrance to the nine courtyards, the Rosenhoefe, through the building above.
Our preferred entry was through the Rosenhoefe, because of its gorgeous Art Nouveau façade
It was designed in the Jugenstil (or Art Nouveau) style by August Endel
and the detail is gorgeous
Arches lead to the each separate courtyard,
and the shops are real gems - Trippen shoes here,
this courtyard is decorated with ceramic tiles
handmade chocolates sold in this shop,
a ceramics shop in this one
with ceramic sculptures decorating the small garden in the middle
and the Ample Man shop that sells just about everything, each piece decorated by the iconic East Berlin traffic sign.
Haus Schwarzenberg is the unapologetically grungy sidekick of the gentrified Hackesche Hoefe, just a couple of doors away. It has only been minimally refurbished and at least part of its allure is provided by its atmospherically crumbling and graffitied facades around the three courtyards. It harbours a number of cafes, bars, shops and galleries. In addition, there's a trio of small museums relating to Jewish life
Museum Blindenwerkstaat Otto Weidt
The museum occupies the former rooms of a broom and brush factory run by Otto Weidt, whose employees were mostly deaf, blind and Jewish. The factory was considered important to the war effort, so for a long time Weidt was able to protect his workers from deportation to concentration camps. But in the 1940s, as pressure grew, he resorted to producing false papers, bribing the Gestapo and providing food and even hiding places to keep them alive, all at considerable personal risk. One small room, whose doorway was hidden by a cupboard, was the refuge for a family of four until their secret was discovered and they were deported and murdered in Auschwitz.
the Anne Frank Centre.
Anne Frank had no connection with Berlin - the centre, partner to the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, simply chose this site for its location in the middle of Berlin's pre-war Jewish quarter.
The Gedenkstaette Stille Helden (Memorial to the Silent Heroes), also situated in this courtyard, remembers Germans who tried to save Jewish lives by risking their own. Photographs, documents and oral testimonies uncover the stories of those who worked in isolation and lived with a daily fear of discovery to uphold moral values and undermine Nazi racial decrees.
Today, the courtyard is home to bars, restaurants and galleries.
This used to be the headquarters of the old craftsmen's guild. Until the founding of the German Social Democrat Party this had been the main focus of the Berlin workers' movement, and continued to play an important role as a frequent venue for political meetings, including on November 14, 1918, the first public gathering of the Spartakusbund (Spartacus League), the breakaway anti-war faction of the SPD that later evolved into the KPD (Communist Party of Germany).