STB Contributors share their favourite day trips out of the city…
Bad Saarow: Spa, Lakes & Forest
Bad Saarow is a spa town at the head of the Scharmützelsee lake, and has long been a favourite weekend retreat for Berliners, developing as a tourist resort during the period of rapid industrialisation following the arrival of the railway. To my mind it is the perfect bolthole for anyone who has had their fill of the noise, grime and bustle of the streets and is looking for something completely different, yet within a Friday-night train ride from the city.
The journey from Alexanderplatz takes about an hour, which means you can even head home again on a Monday morning and still make it to work without waking at some ungodly hour. Whilst you are there you can do… well, not that much really. And that’s the beauty of the place, for Bad Saarow is a destination where you can really take your time.
Follow the trails through the woods to find ice age rock formations; take a boat-ride across the lake; stroll past the villas and try and work out which once hosted Soviet generals, Maxim Gorki or the famous German boxer Max Schmeling. Or hit the Therme for some warm mineral bathing…
The last option is perhaps more suited to the colder months, but in the summer the whole of the lake is available for bathing—another reason this sleepy town at the end of the lake is my favourite escape from the city: it doesn’t matter what time of year you arrive, you will be sure to find the stresses and strains of everyday life evaporating within minutes. Paul Scraton
How to get there: Bad Saarow is roughly an hour by train from Berlin Hauptbahnhof. Take the regional express train to Fürstenwalde (Spree), from where you catch the local train to Bad Saarow-Pieskow. For more info visit www.bahn.de.
Briesetal: Along The 66-Lake Trail
The Briesetal offers a nice valley walk between S-Bahn stop Birkenwerder and Wensickendorf, where you can take the Heidekrautbahn (a local line north of Berlin) back to S-Bahnhof Karow. Besides the dark forested river valley and a pleasant cemetery in Birkenwerder there’s really nothing in terms of sights, but I really like the almost primeval character of this part of the 66-lake-hike – especially on rainy days when there are almost no other hikers around.
The track leads you on a boardwalk over a marsh, past swampy lakes almost completely covered with green water lilies and half-submerged tree stumps reaching out their knobbly arms. The trails hugs the Briese river all the way and only towards the end do you emerge among the flat fields of Brandenburg and near the 600-year old church in Wensickendorf, where you can get a beer and a Matjesbrötchen (herring roll) before boarding the train back to Berlin. Marcel Krüger
How to get there: From Berlin Hauptbahnhof you can take the RE3 to Gesundbrunnen, then the S1 to Birkenwerder. The whole trip takes around 45 mins.
Buckow & The Brecht-Weigel Haus
Part of the lovely Märkische Schweiz region, which has been a nature park since 1990, Buckow is well known as a Kneipp Spa town—meaning it follows the philosophy of the Bavarian priest Sebastian Kneipp, a proponent of hydrotherapy and herbalism. With its tiny population of 1,500, it’s also a small and pleasant spot in its own right, with a lovely central marketplace and a cultural highlight in the shape of the Brecht-Weigel House.
Located a twenty-minute walk from the bus stop, the former villa is where German poet and playwright Bertolt Brecht and his Austrian actress wife Helene Weigel lived, worked and entertained guests each summer from 1952. Built in 1910-1911 by the German sculptor Georg Roch, it features a bright five-meter high front room—used as a studio and salon—with Helene Weigel’s collection of German furniture from the eighteenth and nineteenth century. A wall of panelled windows look out onto the garden, a jetty and a shimmering lake.
There’s an elegant old breakfront containing Weigel’s porcelain collection and a bridal chair that heads the low table, while Georg Roch’s sculptures still adorn the house – not only on the inside, but also in the shade of the silver poplar and birch trees in the front garden. The salon was primarily the working space of Helene Weigel, while Brecht withdrew to the simply-furnished garden house to work on his plays and poetry, exhibits of which can be seen there. You can read more about my trip to the Brecht-Weigel Haus here. Rhea Boyden
How to get there: The Brecht-Weigel-Haus is at Bertolt-Brecht-Straße 30, 15377 Buckow (T: 033 433 467, www.brechtweigelhaus.de). To reach it take the Oderlandbahn NE 26 from Berlin Lichtenberg towards Küstrin – Kietz – Kostrzyn (PL) over the Müncheberg (Mark). From there take the Buckower Kleinbahn to Buckow (Märkische Schweiz) and then the Bus 928 towards Strausberg, getting out at Buckow (Märkische Schweiz). The whole trip takes around 90 minutes one way.
Haus am Waldsee: Art, Architecture & Nature
This small, private museum and sculpture garden at the edge of the Grunewald was one of the first museums in West Berlin to open its doors after World War II—as early as January 1946, when much of the city was still in ruins—and the list of artists whose works came through here in the 1940s and 50s reads like a Who’s Who of the great names in London, Paris and Berlin: among them, Karl Schmidt-Rotluff, Pablo Picasso, Oskar Schlemmer, Max Ernst, Ernst-Ludwig Kirchner and Henry Moore.
The villa was built by architect Max Werner in 1922 on a 10,000 square meter stretch of land between the lakes Krumme Lanke and Waldsee. Hermann Knobloch, a Jewish businessman who had made his fortune by producing raincoats, had commissioned Werner to build a villa where he and his large family could retreat from urban life. Werner’s idea was to combine the natural beauty of the woods and lakes in this part of Berlin with the architecture of British country homes.
Like the Liebermann Villa by the Wannsee or the Villa Schöningen on the Havel, the Haus am Waldsee is as much about nature as art and sculpture. The “Shy Fountain,” an installation in the lake by British conceptual artist Simon Faithfull, spurts upward only when nobody is paying attention, and the grassy rushes at the edge of the lake have actually been planted there by Austrian composer Peter Ablinger as a sound installation.
Fans of architecture will adore the concentration of Modernist homes near the Waldsee, which includes homes designed by great Bauhaus architects such as Hermann Muthesius, Walter Gropius and Mies van der Rohe. In fact the museum provides an audio-guide tour by bike through the villa quarter, beginning and ending with the Haus am Waldsee. You can read more about the Haus am Waldsee here. Lily Philipose
How to get there: The Haus am Waldsee is at Argentinische Allee 30, a short walk from U Bahn Krumme Lanke. See their website for details and calendar of events, including concerts, guided tours with the curator and vernissages for children. Normal entrance is 8 Euro, 5 Euro reduced.
Liepnitzsee: Lakes & Bike Rides
Considered to be one of the cleanest and prettiest lakes in Brandenburg, Liepnitzsee was once the preferred spot of GDR luminaries and their families, whose Waldsiedlung (summer house colony) was located nearby.
There’s still something quaintly old-fashioned about the lake, with its manicured lawns, small benches and traditional Imbiss (snack bar) hawking pommes and ice cream. There’s a small pool for younger kids, while grown-ups can swim across to the island in the middle of the lake (Großer Werder). If you can’t be bothered to swim, there’s always “Frieda”, the only engine-powered boat on the lake, or you can rent a boat next to the lido entrance.
It’s also a great place to go by bike thanks to an eight-kilometre asphalt road that circles the lake and passes through pleasantly shaded woods, offering more opportunities for some wild swimming. Paul Sullivan
How to get there: S2 to Bernau or a regional train to Wandlitz, then by bus or by bike to Waldsiedlung Bernau and from here down to the lake across the forest (15 min. on foot – the road is marked).
Ruppiner Land: Huskies & Wolves
Located in the tiny village of Frankendorf, the farmhouse Freizeit mit Huskies is a wonderful place to visit come rain or shine. Run by Elmar and Sabine Kühn, who began offering sled tours on her grandparents’ farm, the couple quit their day jobs to develop a full-time business in 2007, and now offer a comprehensive program of husky hikes on wheeled carts (or sleds in winter), kids’ camps, day tours and longer trips.
Our half-day tour started with a briefing on Siberian huskies some practice with the carts (which resembled Roman chariots), and then a ride through the lovely countrside nearby. Close by is another great reason to visit: the Tierpark Kunsterspring, which was developed organically in the 1960s, when students from the adjacent forestry school rescued an abandoned boar piglet. One animal followed another, and soon the city of Neuruppin had its own animal park in the woods.
The park is now home to various native and local animals. You can watch river otters being fed, and check out the petting zoo. Deeper into the woods of the park are raccoons, deer, wolves and, housed in underground chambers with Plexiglas ceilings, badgers. You can read more about the experience here. Leslie Kuo
Pfauneninsel: Peacocks & Palaces
Whether you are with your parents, your kids, on a romantic first date or a group of friends, the Pfaueninsel (Peacock Island) makes for a dreamy and do-able day trip from Berlin. The very idea of an adventuring on an island, complete with an idosyncratic castle and free-roaming peacocks stirs up all kinds of fairytalesque nostalgia – and the reality is almost as good as the fantasy.
Pack a book, some tasty treats and a cooler bag of your favourite drop and brace yourself for some serious downtime coupled with a healthy helping of whimsy. A desginated UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is no surprise to learn that Pfaueninsel has a colourful past. Today it is one of Berlin’s prime designated nature reserves, a perfect place to stroll hand in hand with a loved one or enjoy some wildlife spotting; along with peacocks, you can hear a whole range of exotic bird song, frogs and if you’re lucky in the summer months you can even spot some water buffalo.
Stay for golden hour—the sunsets are spectacular—and there is a pretty beer garden (with restaurant) as soon as you disembark from the ferry, where you can enjoy a beverage whilst you wait for the (hourly) bus back to Wannsee. Oh and do the un-Berlin thing and leave both the bike and the dogs at home—they are strictly verboten. Fiona Laughton
How to get there: Take the S7 towards Potsdam. Get off at Wannsee and transfer to Bus 218 which terminates at the Pfaueninsel. The ferry crossing takes a couple of minutes and costs two euros. For more information on the Pfaueninsel click here.
Potsdam: Palaces & Gardens
Well known for its impressive baroque and rococo palaces, parks and gardens, Potsdam is a former Prussian playground that also played an important role during the WW2 and was at the forefront of the city’s division during the Cold War. My favourite way to explore the city is by bike, since it’s easier to get beneath the skin of the place.
During my last visit I explored the Holländische Viertel and found an old, almost destroyed area right next to two beautifully restored buildings, which showed me there are still some interesting things to be found despite it being a very touristy place. After some cycling around, I like to take a rest in my favourite garden in the Park Sanssouci area—the small one behind the Schloss Charlottenhof, which you can reach via a little canal near the Römanische Bäde.
Also nearby is the Brandenburg Tower, constructed to commemorate the Seven Years’ War, and my favourite church in the city, the Friedenskirche, whose Romanesque architectural style is unexpected in this Baroque-heavy area, and reminds me of the small churches in the north of Catalonia. Don’t forget to visit the cloister: it’s simply wonderful. Raquel Olivas
Sachsenhausen: Heartbreak & History
While some might regard it as sinister tourism—and it certainly won’t be on every person’s list of sites to see in Berlin—Sachsenhausen is equally as important as the Berlin Wall or TV Tower. Designed as a kind of prototype for other concentration camps, it was one of the first to be built by the Nazis and has all the major features of such institutions: a semi circular roll call area, prisoner barracks, an infirmary, remains of the gas chambers and other execution blocks. The infirmary, whose tiled tables witnessed all kinds of inhumane experiments, is just one of the places that sends chills through the body.
As well as an execution trench used for Russian POWs, there is also a Soviet Liberation Memorial; a reminder that the Soviets used the camp for years afterwards for their own purposes. The reason it’s important? It left me with the palpable feeling that the events we read about in the history textbooks are nowhere near as removed from today as we might think—or like. James Driscoll
How to get there: The camp address is Straße der Nationen 22, D-16515 Oranienburg (Tel. +49-03301-200-0, www.stiftung-bg.de). To reach it take the S1 to Oranienburg station from Friedrichstraße station. Trains leave every 20 minutes and the journey takes around 45 minutes.
Templin: Spas, Lakes & Churches
Perhaps best-known as chancellor Angie Merkel’s hometown (she was born in Hamburg, but moved shortly after so that her father could become pastor of the local church), Templin first appeared on my own personal radar as the location of very good, very expansive, and reasonably priced Natur Therme or natural thermal baths.
The spring waters that boil up from underneath Templin come from a distance of 1,650 meters below the surface and have a salt content of 15%. Just a short walk out of the town center (or even a shorter walk from one of Templin’s train stations), a squat and not at all attractive building hides wonders inside: indoor and outdoor bathing pools of different temperatures, a number of saunas from the comfortably warm to the nearly scalding, steam rooms and relaxation areas.
In warmer months, the area is still wonderful to visit thanks to a charming old town centre, which is surrounded by complete city wall adorned with three impressive, brick and stone city gates. The Marktplatz, or central square, is ringed by Fachwerkhäuser (half-timbered houses) and there’s a beautiful Baroque-style Alte Rathaus or Old Town Hall, though it’s sadly no longer in use. A weekly outdoor market takes over the square on Tuesdays and Fridays; a great place to get a roast chicken or a beer (even in the morning), and test how far your knowledge of German will help you decipher the local dialect.
Templin is also surrounded by various shimmering lakes (Templiner See and Fährsee are the two biggest) and soaring forests, but since I usually come by car, I can take advantage of a local secret: the tiny village of Alt Placht. Little more than a cluster of single-story, half-timbered houses on a single street, with colorful shutters and garden elves out front, this Dorf holds a secret: the so-called “Kirchlein im Grünen” or “little church in the green.”
This tiny church is more like a one-room chapel and looks like something out of a fairytale, its moss-covered roof gently caressed by hundred-year-old linden trees. Like many other buildings of note, it stood in partial ruins up until the Wende, and was rescued by a team of dedicated preservationists—including Horst Kasner, Angela Merkel’s father. Giulia Pines
How to get there: Various RE and RB trains leave Berlin Hauptbahnhof for Templin Markt and Templin HBF and take around 90 minutes with one change. Visit www.bahn.com for more info,