A friend told me the first time I came here, that every summer you spend in Berlin, will be better than the last. You have survived the long winter, now the sunshine is warm and you want to make the most of it.The city parks are indeed plentiful, and inside their lush greenery is where you will find the locals hanging out, enjoying the sunshine and working on their tans.
Many of them have a café, some have Ping Pong tables, a flea market or a lake. And of course, this being Germany, there is often an important site redolent with history to be found close by. So here’s my list of the top places to be, things to do, in Berlin this summer.
Things to Do in Berlin: Visit a Park
Gorlitzer Park in Kruezberg is across the road from one of the places I stayed on my first trip to Berlin, watching the puffballs float through the air, making my through the chattering Turkish family picnics and groups of young kids hanging out, doing capoiera, or playing ball games. This area was heavily bombed during World War II; an enormous crater is left in the park, showing where the railway underpass ran, as a reminder of the desecration and violence of war. The twisted metal from the railway underneath is formed into an abstract monument, jutting up into the sky. Edelweiss Cafe is opposite the faux roman ruins – an expensive edifice that is crumbling and in genuine decay now, as the sandstone absorbs the water that freezes and then cracks, making them into an all the more authentic, although expensive folly. The café has lush banquette seating, a nice relaxed vibe and upstairs hosts parties, concerts and literary events, in summer the chairs outside are perfect for observing the passing parade.
The Mauer Park hosts one of the best flea markets in town every Sunday, and the wandering musicians and buskers will keep you entertained after you have sifted through the incredibly range of second hand treasures and junk. During the recent Berlinale Film Festival, the crowd suddenly swelled with the upmarket well-dressed international film-set, making a change from the usual mixed array of hipsters, artists, and stalwart locals. The scout hall tucked away in the middle of market is an island of calm, at least until the play area becomes overrun by small children. Until then, get yourself a coffee or beer from the outside bar, and lean back in your deckchair and relax on the sand in the sun, with the generic euro-dance music making it a kind of after-party every Sunday.
This is of course along where the Berlin wall ran, creating a limbo zone on either side, and it has been regenerated over the past 20 years into the lively district it is today. Further down Bernauer Strasse towards Nordbahnhof, a short section of the wall still stands, opposite the new museum and a fascinating open-air exhibition about the history of the street, centering around the construction and eventual destruction of the wall.
Next, lose yourself in the rambling Volkspark Friedrichshain park, which has play areas for all ages – from children to fitness freaks – plus wonderful wooden swings, a lake, elephant statues and some lovely paths winding through hills and monuments. Café SchÃ¶nbrunn is closest to the Am Friedrichshain street entrance, near the corner of Hans Otto Strasse, overlooking the lake and a gorgeous patch of emerald lawn, it has a cosy minimalist interior and outdoor terrace to enjoy the sun and warm evenings.
Nola’s Am Weinberg Swedish Restaurant and Cocktail Lounge is at the top of the hill in the Volkspark am Weinberg, named after the former vineyards located on the site, between Veternanenstrasse and Kastanienallee. They have a decadent if slightly pricey menu, including a variety of fondues, and there is a special lunch deal of 3 courses for around 8 euro. The view and ambiance make the prices worthwhile, looking over the grassy hill and across the city, and the benches along the terrace are perfect for late afternoon drinks, while the sun disappears behind the trees.
Eve and Adam’s 100% organic salad and smoothie bar (at Rosa Luxemburg Strasse 24-26) will keep your energy flowing with vitality and freshness, perfect summer taste after that walking in the park. All of the containers are biodegradable, and the design is simple and refreshingly open.
Things to Do in Berlin: Mitte Revisited
Now that I’ve lived here for 3 months I’ve found that there is plenty of joy to be found in Mitte, from the Ballhouse to the bathhouse. Schwarzwaldstuben, on the corner of Linienstrasse and Tucholskystrasse, is a fabulous place to while away a decadent afternoon, with robust German dishes and decent coffee. A friend and I tucked ourselves into the couch one afternoon, as we couldn’t head back out onto the streets until the hurricane passed, so spent a lush few hours drinking sekt.
You might want to get back out into the sunshine, and find your way along the many galleries on these two parallel streets to see what’s happening in the commercial art world these days. The scene is definitely hot, hyped and popping, with careers and fortunes being made all over town.
The Ballhaus Mitte, on Auguststrasse, is a fantastic reminder of bygone days, with a minimal entrance fee, old-style charm, live music, and even dance classes a few nights a week.
Stadtbad Mitte has an amazing Russian-style bathhouse and sauna on the third floor, although make sure you follow all the rules during your visit, or the ladies will berate you and fetch the manager to get you back on the program. The dry sauna has an intermediate room with stone benches, and a larger wooden area that gets very hot, and the damp room is satisfyingly steamy. The plunge pool will refresh you in between, if you can dip more than a toe in it, and the relaxing room has a lush array of rocking chairs that tilt back for the full therapeutic effect.
Things to Do in Berlin: Expose Yourself to Art
|Artnews Projects, Berlin|
The art galleries have blossomed into another cluster along Brunnenstrasse, where if you time your visit to coincide with all their openings, can provide a colourful evening’s entertainment. Artnews Projects has consistently the best shows I’ve seen on this strip, where the New York to Berlin art crowd are making a splash, and I often finish up at Curators without Borders for the best parties, or the after-party at Kim and Zurmobel out the back of Brunnenstrasse 10.
Alternatively make your way out along Invalidenstrasse to Heidestrasse, where a different batch of the art crowd has set up camp, with Tape, AA, Haunch of Venison, and more galleries, Pecha Kucha nights and art scene parties
Program Gallery hosted me for three months, and has an open approach and diverse range of art events and exhibitions, everything from installation to the weekend symposium on sound art and architecture, and most recently a workshop in which the gallery was taken over by a group of fantastically bohemian and very dedicated French artists, who created a river of blood and roasted a pig as part of their work. The gallery also hosts a monthly reading group, and is home to many architects and designers working in the open plan space. Drop by and say hi.
Things to Do in Berlin: Film & Theatre
The tiny cinema opposite Babel at K77 has a great program of art house films, next door is Dock 11 Dance studio for experimental dance, music, literature and film fans. If you really can’t stand being inside, then check out the Freiluftkino open-air cinema. A number of them spring up around the city between May – September, with a great program of new release and classic films.
The Volksbuhne is one of the most innovative and spectacular theatres in town, established in 1914, with a commitment to providing entertaining theatre and an ongoing debate on political and cultural issues. Also hosting live music and ‘expanded theatre’ projects, check out the program for this sumptuous performance venue.
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