In 1968, an East German “feel good” musical entitled, Heisser Sommer (Hot Summer) was released. Touted as the “The East German Grease” for its 2001 video release, it was in reality a far cry from the John Travolta and Olivia Newton John classic, though the concept was essentially the same: people making the most of the summer months. Hanging out, drinking beer, having fun.
While our current European summers might be patchy compared to the ‘good old days’, it makes it all the more essential to make the most of every sunny day we get. So without further ado, here’s our round-up of some of the best summer activities in the city – and do feel free to leave your own recommendations in the comments…
Beaches & Outdoor Pools
An EasyJet flight can deliver you to Mallorca in a couple of hours, but let’s face it: it’s hours of stress all told. Luckily, Berlin has plenty of perfectly pleasant beaches, most of which are just an S-Bahn ride away. The best-known is Strandbad Wannsee, the oldest and largest Lido in Europe, famed for lovely long beach, which is studded with strandkorbs wicker loungers and backed with rows of classic German snack stalls selling sausages, ice cream and burgers.
It can all get very crowded though, especially at weekends, in which case the lesser-known lakeside options come into their own, such as Müggelsee, Liepnitzsee, Schlachtensee and the secluded Strandbad Grünau. Don’t feel like making the trek? Then try one of the city’s urban beaches: Strandbar Mitte, Afro-Caribbean beach bar YAAM and Friebad Plotzensee are all central, as are dozens of outdoor pools, like the Badeschiff, Sommerbad Kreuzberg, and Kinderbad Monbijou).
Beer Gardens & Al Fresco Dining
We have no scientific proof to support the claim, but there definitely seems to be something about sitting outside al fresco that makes a cold frothy pint of beer taste just that much better. For many, summer equals beer garden season and Berlin has plenty of charming options for both drinking beer and dining outdoors.
The most famous is Pberg’s Prater Garden, though the Tiergarten boasts two options in the shape of the picturesque Schleusenkrug and the lakeside Cafe am Neuen See, where you can also rent a boat and row yourself around for an hour. Down in Kreuzberg, Viktoria Park’s Golgatha Beer garden has a great rooftop bar and patio, while Friedrichshain’s Jägerklause will appeal to rock & roll fans and families alike. In Mitte, the terrace at Clärchen’s Ballhaus offers the chance to sip beers and nibble on pizza before swinging the night away in the historic dance hall.
Parks & Castle Gardens
Although monarchy has been abolished in Germany, you can still feel like royalty strolling through the immaculate castle gardens at Schloss Charlottenburg or the iconic leveled terraces at Sansoucci in Potsdam. Schloss Schönhausen in Pankow is also worth a visit for its lavish interior and expansive public park.
Other city parks might not come with castles, but they do have their own stately elements: Volkspark Friedrichshain has Ludwig Hoffmann’s fairy tale Märchenbrunnen, while Kreuzberg’s Viktoriapark has a cascading waterfall, Schinkel’s National monument for the Liberation Wars and some of the best views of any park in the city.
Treptower Park has Soviet memorials galore, and at the vast Tempelhofer Park, you can cycle or run for hours on end, make use of the former airport runway or join in any number of special weekend events and activities. The city’s largest park, the Tiergarten, is also a wonderful place for random strolling.
For more floral delights, check out the ever-impressive Botanical Garden, which has its own tropical greenhouses, the seasonal blooms of the Britzer Garden in Neukölln, or enjoy a stroll through the various botanical sections of Marzahn’s Gardens of the World. A visit to the Prussian-era Pfaueninsel is also a wonderful way to spend an afternoon or day.
Boating & Sailing
Although Berlin is a landlocked city, it’s criss-crossed throughout by rivers and canals – not to mention the multitude of lakes just outside of town. Although not as popular here as in some other European and North American countries, water sports are starting to make a real splash (har har) in Germany with several nearby water ski clubs and even wake boarding and Barfusswasserski (barefoot waterskiing) parks (though most lake sports in Berlin are done using a cable system rather than with a boat).
For something a little more relaxed, there are also several companies which provide paddle boat, canoe, and kayak rental offering a fun alternative to sightseeing on foot around the city’s historic center, not to mention the option of renting barges, houseboats, tour boats, sail boats and motor boats. We can certainly recommend a spot of canoeing in Gosen.
Berlin has a long tradition of farmers’ markets, ranging from the bi-weekly Maybachufer Turkish Market, where you can find everything from fresh baked bread to organic cheese and greek olives, to the more upmarket Kollwitzplatz market, which runs on Saturdays (and a smaller versions on Thursdays) and carries a wide range of local artisan products.
Down in Kreuzberg, the market at Chamissoplatz near Viktoria Park sells organic produce, while the community-run urban garden project Prinzessinnengarten - which has a cafe – is further east on Moritzplatz. Two other central markets of note are the Saturday food market at Friedrichshain’s Boxhagener Platz, and Schöneberg’s wonderful Winterfeldtplatz Market.
While you won’t find fruit or vegetables for sale at Preussenpark, during summer weekends, you will find a delicious Thai food market run by Berlin’s expat Asian community.
As with food markets, as with Flohmärkte: every district has one, though of course some are better than others. The most famous is the Mauerpark Sunday Flea Market, which draws a great and buzzy crowd every Sunday and has a plethora of food and drink stalls, as well as an associated afternoon karaoke session (in good weather), which takes place at the park’s ‘bear-pit’ amphitheatre. The nearby Trödelmarkt Arkonaplatz, which specialises mostly in furniture, is smaller and often better quality.
Friedrichshain’s Boxhagener Platz also has a fairly traditional Saturday flea market, though in recent years trendier markets have become popular: Nowkoelln, Kater Holzig, RAW, and Sing Blackbird in Neukölln host their own semi-regular events. Check respective websites for upcoming dates.
Bike Rides & Walking Tours
Berlin is a great city for biking, it is (for the most part) flat as a pancake with ample bike lanes running along most of the main roads.
Several companies like Finding Berlin lead great guided bike tours around the city, which are a great way to see many of the major sites, meet plenty of locals and get some sort of idea of how the city was divided before the wall came down. They also rent out bikes, though if you’re feeling the pinch budget-wise, try community-project BikeSurfBerlin, where you can hire some wheels for free.
Looking for a slower paced stroll? Our very own cultural-historical walking tours explore the city’s neighbourhoods; Brendan Nash runs a fabulous Christopher Isherwood walking tour in Schöneberg; and Hidden Path runs an alternative Kreuzberg street art tour which show visitors through the graffiti and murals of the former SO36 area.
You can also lead your own walk around the city’s alluring architecture, get up close and personal with specific streets like Wedding’s Osloerstrasse, West Berlin’s Heerstrasse or Xberg’s Reichenbergerstrasse, or completely indulge your inner flaneur by picking up a copy of this local magazine, whose first issue was dedicated purely to exploring Kantstrasse.
Outdoor Art & Memorials
Berlin might be known for its world class art museums, but what often goes overlooked is the generous amount of sculpture and outdoor art available for public viewing around the city. Famous street artists like the Italian muralist BLU and Belgian painter R.O.A. have large scale paintings in Kreuzberg like Shackled by Time and Take off that Mask on Cuvrystrasse, and you can also discover dozens of smaller works from famous street artists like Banksy.
On a more somber note, Berlin is also home to dozens of statues and memorials as a constant reminder that this city did not always enjoy the peace it has today. Predominately devoted to the victims of the second world war and the Soviet occupation, some of the most visited sites include the massive Soviet War Memorial in Treptower Park, the painted freedom murals at the East Side Gallery, and of course the haunting dark cubes at the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. Some lesser known memorials and places of remembrance include the Pink Triangle devoted to gay victims of the Nazi party by Nollendorfplatz and Der Verlassene Raum (The Deserted Room) on Koppenplatz. Also well-worth checking out is the impressive minimal iron structure, “Berlin Junction” by the infamous Richard Serra just outside of the Berlin Philharmonie which has become an unofficial memorial to the victims of the Nazi “Aktion T4” program.
Exploring Berlin’s abandoned sites has become a movement all of its own. The city’s turbulent history has left a lot of fascinating ruins, some of which lie on the peripheries, while others are hidden right in the center.
Some of the more well-known abandoned complexes like the former Nazi training camp turned spy tower at Teufelsberg and the eerie, over-grown amusement park at Spreewaldpark have become guarded against would be trespassers in recent years (although both are still accessible with official guided tours), and Berlin’s former Olympic Village is now only accessible via tours.
However, many others like the delightfully creepy Beelitz Sanatorium and the old Soviet army camps of Panzer Kaserne and Krampnitz are still largely undisturbed, though of course you must enter at your own peril.
Playgrounds & Outdoor Climbing
As well as myriad parks and gardens, Berlin has dozens of fun and challenging climbing walls and playgrounds across the city for both young and old, amateurs and experts. Some of our personal favourites include the climbing wall at the Cassiopeia recreational complex (which also includes a skate park and outdoor beer garden) and the challenging but incredibly entertaining ropes course at Kletterwald (Climbing Forest) in Wuhlheide. The city also hosts some fun and unusual playgrounds, such as the Mountmitte giant recycled jungle gym and a rubber playground at Winterfelderplatz.
Hiking/Cycling Trails & Day Trips
Although you would have to travel several hours to get to the nearest rocky terrain (the Sächsische Schweiz on the German-Czech border south of Dresden is probably the closest) what Berlin lacks in Alpine hiking it makes up for with historical trails and lake-side excursions. The 66-Lake-Trail, which officially starts and ends in Potsdam, surrounds Berlin and takes hikers through a landscape dotted with run-down industrial estates, forests, and lakeside areas like Grünewald (where you can also explore the excellent Haus Am Waldsee), Weissensee, and Tegel (home to an abandoned Boeing 707).
Walking or cycling the route of the former Berlin Wall reveals many pleasant and interesting surprises, as of course does striking out randomly in virtually any direction from the city center; cycle to the Spreewald and you might even come across refurbished royal train stations.
Want to see how the city looks in summer? Check out some of our readers’ photo here.