A 5-Year-Old’s Guide to Berlin’s Parks

Paul Sullivan takes his son for a long bike ride and an exploration of the city’s green spaces…

One of the hottest weekends of the year was coming up and I asked my five-year-old boy, Luka, what he’d like to do.

“Park!”

“Okay…which one?”

“All of them!”

I laughed the idea off for a minute, then found myself contemplating it more seriously. It would seem to involve a long bike ride (tick), urban exploration (tick), a happy kid (tick) and – the most important part – the opportunity for multiple picnics (multiple ticks).

There was the small question of the impending 36-degree heatwave of course; but hey, what could be a better antidote against the sun than a well-shaded park?

A quick inspection of Google Maps showed that while covering all of Berlin’s parks in a day would be impossible, an interesting 40km circuit around the city would enable a good mix of favourites and places Luka and I had never been before…so off we went!

We started early at the nearby Ernst-Thälmann-Park, one of our local hangouts and a personal fave of mine both due to its fascinating history and Utopian overtones (it was built in 1987 by the GDR and named after former communist leader Thälmann), and because it has a completely different vibe and ‘clientele’ to the rest of Prenzlauer Berg’s public spots.

I knew Luka was a fan of the Planetarium – but he made a beeline straight for the playground, in particular the mosaic-covered ‘ship’. “The slide is good too,” he noted.

Ernst-Thälmann-Park also has a pond hidden away amongst the foliage at its Eastern edge – the perfect spot for Luka to try out his new fishing net. He didn’t catch anything, but he did allegedly see a frog (I didn’t).

Next we cycled through the Anton-Saefkow-Park, which is also named after a communist and Nazi resistance fighter (there’s a statue of Saefkow on the Greifswalder Strasse side of the park). Ostensibly a collection of hills, trees and open grassy areas with strategically placed benches and a small playground with some rubber-tyre swings and slides, Luka wasn’t enthused. We moved on quickly…

The Volkspark Prenzlauer Berg, located at the very northern periphery of the district, i.e. nowhere near the ‘Prenzlauer Berg’ most people are familiar with, was a different story. Built, like so many of Berlin’s parks, from World War 2-era rubble, the three undulating hills form a natural-looking landscape that encompasses open meadows and grasslands, forested areas and an impressive display of flora and fauna. No sooner had the first butterfly flitted past us than Luka was off the bike, net in hand, hunting for more.

The butterflies proved a little elusive for him unfortunately, but we enjoyed checking out all the different plants and trees (poplars, maples, willows). The orange berries of the Sanddorn trees were particularly striking.

From there it was just a 15-minute ride to the more landscaped delights of Lichtenberg’s Fennpfuhlpark. I’ve always been fond of this park since it also has a very local atmosphere, and a great mix of 60s high rises, abundant foliage, play areas and a fantastic lake.

It was still only 10.30am and we pretty much had the place to ourselves. We found a shaded area by the lake and spread the picnic blankets out. Breakfast time! See that Pretzel? Luka fed most of it to the lake’s inquisitive ducks…

We next cycled south to Treptower Park where Luka could admire the boats and try out his new Air Glider. Once he’d seen it had a catapult option he didn’t even consider throwing it by hand. And to be fair, he had a decent amount of success, despite the almost complete lack of wind. But wait a minute…why were we trying to fly an air glider here. Surely there was a much better park for such antics not so far away…

Koerner Park, Neukölln. Image by Paul Sullivan.

Before we reached Tempelhofer Park, we came across Neukölln’s Körnerpark. It was such a relaxed scene, and the weather was by now so hot, that we decided we would have another picnic. The fountain was a great way to cool off, and the fact the ice cream van turned up at *exactly* the point we’d finished our lunch was a bit too good to be true.

Of course every good picnic should be followed by a post-prandial snooze…

A ride through Neukölln and we arrived at the mighty Tempelhofer Feld. Luka loves this park and has already flown kites, cycled and even helped me referee the Slowlympics here in 2012. But he’d never made an air glider do a Loop-da-Loop down the former runway before, which is what we did…for ages.

Our next destination was the splended Schöneberger Südgelände – but I’d forgotten that it wasn’t so cycle-friendly. In fact bikes aren’t allowed and since we had too much stuff to carry around, we detoured around it – and found ourselves in the adjacent-but-separate Hans-Baluschek-Park. A lovely, long, flat strip of smooth asphalt lined with trees, play areas and the S Bahn tracks, it’s an especially perfect park for cyclists and skaters.

As well as lounge areas (with heavy-duty sun loungers!) there’s a nicely located basketball court too. Luka got a kick out of watching the game, as well as the trains that whizzed by on the other side of the cycle path every few minutes.

Next stop: the pretty Rudolph-Wilde-Park (formerly Schöneberg Stadtpark), which starts at Schöneberg City Hall and runs down to Volkspark Wilmersdorf. We spent a while ambling along the endless pathways, admiring the lakes and stopping for spontaneous games of frisbee as the sun finally started to start its descent.

Right at the end of the park, just as it segues into the Volkspark Wilmersdorf, was a sand-filled playground, complete with convenient restaurant serving pizza (PIZZA!) right next door.

After dinner, we continued through the Volkspark Wilmersdorf, which I’d personally never explored before. It was very pleasant and surprisingly diverse, with Indian and African families playing games on the grass. Especially endearing were the flower-beds that decorate the various sections of the park, some of which also harboured surprises like rhubarb and even vegetables.

By now it was already 7pm and the heat and cycling were starting to take their toll. The sky also turned cloudy, so we decided to head back East through one more park – our twelfth – the mighty Tiergarten

As we cycled through the numerous pathways, I explained to Luka about how the park was built for a former king, so he could hunt. “A real king?” he asked? “Yep,” I said. “Do you want to see the little island he built for his wife, Queen Louise?” Of course he did.  We dismounted from the bike and entered the Luiseninsel, standing for a while to admire the peacefulness and the copy of Erdmann Enke’s statue of her Royal Highness. “She doesn’t look very happy,” noted Luka, and he had a point. He yawned, and cuddled against my leg. Then we cycled home – completely exhausted, but full of fresh air and nature, and happier than any king or queen.

(And here’s our map, should you feel like taking on the challenge yourself…)

 

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