Plaster crumbles off building facades and when the street car rumbles by, the ground shakes a bit. At first sight, Berlin's Alte Schoenhauser Street looks like an ordinary residential street. But this is where the city's young fashion scene pulsates in row after row of designer shops.
The area near the Hackesche Hoefe in the Mitte district has become so well-known in the fashion world that it has boosted Berlin's reputation as one of Europe's most important fashion centers to a position on par with Paris, Milan and London.
Tourists who explore the area just north of downtown Berlin will find that they can both admire the newest styles and buy them.
Reunification marked revival
"Berlin's fashion scene has a very long tradition. It was already enigmatic and glamorous at the beginning of the 20th century," said fashion journalist and book author Nadine Barth. But this culture was destroyed by World War II, and Berlin, as a divided city, did not rebound from the blow. That finally changed in 1989.
"The fall of the Berlin Wall strengthened the city's arts community and reproduced the modern, sizzling, creative fashion scene," said Barth.
Michael Michalsky -- one of the big new names in German fashion -- moved to Berlin a few years ago. Michalsky has his own stores featuring his own collection and his name is associated with many top brands.
"Right now there's no city more interesting than Berlin," said Michalsky. "Berlin is not only the heart of new Europe, but also an indicator of new social trends, which is important for the fashion world."
Art schools have responded to the trend
That's a fact also recognized by Berlin's schools, which in recent years have founded numerous fashion study programs. Vivienne Westwood taught for a long time at Berlin University of the Arts and students at the fashion school ESMOD profit from the city's international networks spanning the world of fashion. This school attracts young designers who stay in Berlin after finishing their education.
One of the best examples of this is Sisi Wasabi, a label with a mix of casual street clothes and elements borrowed from traditional German costumes. Berlin is not just a place to work for Zerlina von dem Bussche, owner of the Sisi Wasabi label.
"Berlin is a city that is tremendously inspiring through incessant change," said von dem Bussche.
Berlin draws fashion industry names
This boom in creativity has led even names that really count in the fashion industry to stalk the city. Events like Berlin Fashion Week attract thousands of people who work in the fashion industry. As a result Berlin is not just a place where fashion is created, but also a place where it is vigorously bought and sold.
Tourists have taken notice. They don't have to search long because the large renowned stores have discovered new Berlin fashion also. Galeries Lafayette, in the Friedrich Street, is the ritzy offshoot of the same-named Parisian department store and has set aside a corner for young designers.
Visitors to the upper floors find Berlinomat where the latest styles in belts, bags, shirts and evening wear by various designers are available amid black lacquered walls. But the biggest fashion discovery is the area around the Hackesche Hoefe. While many tourists simply stroll in awe through the courtyard shopping area, fashion conscious visitors find clothes like no other here.
"The area is a fashion Bermuda Triangle," said Barth, comparing the mysterious geographical region in the Atlantic Ocean to the shape formed by Alte Schoenhauser, Mulack and Rosenthaler streets form on the city map.
The Hackesche Hoefe makes for an ideal starting point for a fashion tour of the area. Just behind the cinema is a store called Berlinerklamotten that offers more than just a single designer's line. In fact about 140 fashion designers are represented on the ground floor of the factory-like building.
Every table and every rack has a different notion of fashion. There are shiny sack purses reminiscent of the kind seen in children's books, T-shirts with filigree motifs of the city, casual woolen jackets and colorfully-patterned overshirts.
Prices can be described as halfway toward moderate: About 40 euros ($52) will buy you an unusual top and a unique pair of trousers cost around 120 euros.
Anyone in the mood for a more extensive shopping spree should walk down Neue Schoenhauser Street to where it turns into Alte Schoenhauser Street. Wander past the dozens of stores there and then turn left onto Mulack Street. There's also one young designer store after another here. In Bless, for example, the collections are numbered like art objects, in Van Reimersdahl there are prints and LaLa Berlin has knitted hats, scarves and hand warmers. At some point, turn left onto Rosenthaler Street and go south toward the city center to complete the triangle.