Paul Sullivan, Kirsten Hall, Laura Harker and Diana Hubbell round-up the best outdoor spots and summer activities in Berlin…
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. To facilitate this quest, here’s our round-up of some of the best summer activities in the city – as ever, feel free to leave your own recommendations in the comments below…
Beaches, Lakes & 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, which is famed for its lovely long beach, strandkörbe (wicker loungers) and classic seaside atmosphere – complete with rows of classic German snack stalls selling sausages, ice cream and beer.
There are several great urban beaches and pools right in the city centre too, from the famous Badeschiff, an iconic swimming-pool-in-the-Spree that attracts sunbathers and partygoers alike throughout the warmer months, through to Strandbar Mitte, Afro-Caribbean beach bar YAAM and Haubentaucher, a sizeable pool that opened this year in the RAW-Gelände complex. For a fuller list of outdoor pools, including the famous Sommerbad Kreuzberg, check out our post here.
If the city feels too crowded, just head out to one of the city’s myriad lakes, which encircle the entire city. Particular favourites include Müggelsee, Liepnitzsee, Schlachtensee and the secluded Strandbad Grünau, but there are literally dozens to choose from. Wild swimming fans should check out Jessica J. Lee’s #52lakes project and her regularly updated article.
Beer Gardens & Breezy Cafes
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.
Go traditional with wagon wheel-sized pretzels and onion-studded Obatzda at Prater Garten or trendy with vegan goodies at Berghain’s new next-door neighbour Wilder Hase. 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, and Viktoria Park‘s Golgatha Beer garden has a great rooftop bar and patio. For a fuller list of our favourite beer gardens, click here.
Biergarten aren’t the only al fresco options of course. For the culturally inclined, Cafe Wintergarten im Literaturhaus is a lovely, sun-drenched spot for brunch just slightly removed from the chaos of Ku’damm. The attached literary salon hosts visiting authors and an array of events, and the Käthe Kollwitz museum is right next door.
In Kreuzberg, Osteria No. 1 has been serving authentic Italian in a gorgeously atmospheric courtyard for nearly four decades. If you’re wondering why the parmigiana tastes so good, it might have to do with the fact that there is an actual nonna in the kitchen making it. Nearby on pretty Bergmanstraße is Café Strauss, whose house-roasted coffee and generous slabs of Kuchen are secondary to the establishment’s primary lure: it’s location inside a cemetery.
For something a little more, ahem, lively, both Neukölln’s Café Rix and Mitte’s Clärchens Ballhaus offer tree-shaded outdoor terraces as well as great history. Both once served as gilded arenas for the grand balls of their eras; the former fell into disrepair after its glory days in the late 19th century, but was reopened in 1990, while the latter still hosts all manner of dancing classes both in its tinsel-spangled ground floor and in the regal time-warp Spiegelsaal on the first floor.
Pretty Parks & Urban 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 levelled 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 Viktoria Park 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.
If you’re feeling more active or green-fingered, you can join the city’s aspiring horticulturalists, whose work can be found all over the city, from rooftops and balconies to community gardens. Allmende-Kontor, a 250-bed mini-field situated within Tempelhofer Feld, is one of the prettiest places to spend a meditative afternoon pulling up weeds and planting seeds in between admiring the makeshift art sculptures and relaxing on the grass or deckchairs. The community also has plans to establish the city’s first seed bank in an effort to help preserve biodiversity.
Prinzessinnengarten was a wasteland for more than five decades before the non-profit organization Nomadisch Grün turned it into a verdant oasis in 2009. Today, the site hosts organic produce, as well as a seasonal café that spotlights produce from local, sustainable growers. Similarly, the former nightlife icons behind the Holzmarkt complex have made a point of giving back to their community; Mörchenpark, part of the multi-purpose complex on the Spree, gives urbanites plenty of opportunities to get their hands dirty.
Unlike these others, Bauer Mette is a fully functioning farm that has been in the same family for six generations. Rather than surrender to the encroaching development, the farm has become something of an education centre. In summer, stop by to pick your own strawberries or buy some of the produce before local restaurants snap it up.
Rooftop Bars & Open Air Clubs
Berlin looks fine at ground level, but it takes on an entirely different allure when viewed from on high. An array of elevated watering holes allows guests to take in the view for any price range. At the upper end of the spectrum, hotel bars such as those atop the Amano and the sumptuous Hotel de Rome offer a more refined ambiance. The latter serves all the classics — hugos, Aperol spritzes and the requisite G&T made with Monkey 47 — along with summery sippers like the Bebel Bellini, a girly concoction made with vanilla and passionfruit. The former’s Dachterrasse makes for an easy sundowner stop for the Mitte crowd.
Equally stylish is Solar, where a glass elevator whisks patrons 17 storeys up the side of an apartment building. The restaurant does credible fusion cuisine, but the main draw here is the panorama through the lounge’s massive windows. If you can stomach the lines, the much-hyped Monkey Bar on top of City West’s 25hours Hotel Bikini Berlin provides the perfect perch from which to survey both the primates of the adjacent zoo and their shopping equivalents at the nearby Bikini Mall.
For a buzzier scene head to the House of Weekend, the roof terrace connected to the Weekend club. Views from here look right onto the Fernsehturm, and you can often score BBQ food as well as well-mixed drinks. Hidden away on top of the otherwise charmless Neukölln Arcaden, Klunkerkranich may be lower on frills but its shabby-chic aesthetic, lush community garden, comfy couches, cheap drinks and stella views across the city lure in the punters – especially around sunset.
Also tucked away on top of a mall, Deck5 caters to city-kids suffering from Fernweh for somewhere with palm trees. Putting a Strandbar on the seventh floor of the Schönhauser Allee Arkaden might seem odd but somehow it works. The unabashedly kitsch decorations, complete with giant Buddha statue, and younger crowd keep it fun. Order a mojito, wriggle your toes in the sand, and you can pretend you’re off in Southeast Asia. For a list of open-air clubs around the city, click here.
Cycling, Kayaking, Sailing, Walking
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 is also 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. Jumping on your bike is also a great way to get to know the surrounding countryside, whether its the gorgeous greenery of the Spreewald or interesting cities like Prenzlau. If you’re feeling really ambitious you can even cycle all the way from Berlin to Copenhagen on a dedicated trail – just one of the many routes included in our cycling guide here.
By far the best way to explore the city though is on foot, since the slower pace allows one to really appreciate the details of the city. You can choose a theme for your walk – architecture, for example – or opt to get up close and personal with specific streets. Wedding’s Osloerstrasse, Kreuzberg’s Reichenbergerstrasse, Prenzlauer Berg’s Köpenhagener Strasse, or West Berlin’s Kantstrasse, for example.
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). You can also walk – or cycle – the entire 160km length of the former Berlin Wall (Mauerweg).
Street Food & Farmers’ Markets
By now, food trucks have gone from a faddish novelty to a foodie fixture. And while some might argue that the scene is approaching saturation, it’s hard to quibble when the quality is this high. Bite Club, the roving seasonal street food festival often found near the S.S. Hoppetosse, dishes up everything from Jolesch’s brittle, buttery schnitzel sandwiches to Heißer Hobel’s made-to-order Käsespätzle.
The event’s more conventional stalls sport an entirely unconventional array of eats, including seafood paella, Korean-fried chicken spiked with maple syrup, Jamaican jerk chicken, and Mogg & Melzer’s house-cured pastrami. For dessert? Zwei Dicke Bären’s ice cream sandwiches come in flavours like chocolate with mint Eis.
Bite Club wins points for its block-party vibe, but it’s hardly the only game in town. Markthalle Neun, which launched the trend with its ongoing Streetfood Thursdays, upped the ante last year with The Breakfast Market. An eclectic ode to the most important meal of the day, the market serves brunch until 6 p.m. every third Sunday of the month. Edible options span the globe and include everything from the classic eggs Benedict to gut-busting pulled pork sandwiches from Big Stuff Smoked BBQ and congee from Mr. Susan.
Prenzlauer Berg has its own recent addition to the pack, courtesy of Kulturbrauerei’s Street Food auf Achse, a weekly Sunday market where hipster snack on Indian vada pav and wild game burgers. Over in graffiti-bedecked Revaler Straße, Neue Heimat, which burst onto the scene last year, continues to add new attractions to its repertoire. Swing by Thursday, Friday or Saturday night for live jazz, DJs and munchies, or on Sunday afternoons for the Village Market. The space is constantly evolving, with new events joining the roster all the time.
For something more traditional, the city’s farmers’ markets can be a wonderful way to sunny morning or afternoon. 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, there is something for everyone.
While you won’t find fruit or vegetables for sale at Wilmersdorf’s Preussenpark, during summer weekends you will find a delicious Thai food market run by Berlin’s expat Asian community. For a full list of farmers’ and flea markets, click here.
Outdoor Art & Abandoned Sites
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. The work of local street artists like El Bocho and Alias decorate the city alongside discover dozens of smaller works from international names like Banksy and Alice Pasquini. You can find a history of the street art scene here.
As well as street art, the city has a dizzying amount of public art – some, like the colourful Bierpinsel, quite well-known, but others hidden away, such as “Steht und fällt” (“Stands and Falls”) by acclaimed British sculptor Antony Gormley, which is located in a flooded courtyard of the Jakob Kaiser Building. You can find out more about these and other examples of public art in our fuller round-up here.
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 Spreepark 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.