Slow Travel Berlin Seasonal Guide: Spring

Paul Sullivan & Laura Harker round-up some spring-themed events and activities…

If you are reading this, congratulations. It means you made it through the endurance test that is better known as the Berlin Winter (albeit a fairly mellow one this year) and into the much friendlier season popularly known as Spring.

As the flowers start to bloom, the leaves return to the trees and the mercury creeps slowly but surely north, we’ve rounded up some inspirational ideas for getting outside and enjoying the city…

Park Life 

Tempelhofer Feld in 2013. Image by Paul Sullivan.
Tempelhofer Feld. Image by Paul Sullivan.

What better way to start dealing with the trauma of winter than watching the city’s parks spring back to life? The city has an almost endless array of green spaces to explore – soo many that you can easily spend a whole day park-hopping by bike or public transport.

This being Berlin, parks tend to offer a variety of historical thrills too, from the vast Russian monument at Treptower Park, the various memorials scattered around Volkspark Friedrichshain, or the WW2-era Flak Tower at Humboldthain. At Naturpark Schöneberger Südgelände you can also find remnants of the old railway line (tracks, repair workshops, a water tower) that used to run through the area.

Märchenbrunnen at Volkspark Friedrichshain by Paul sullivan
Märchenbrunnen at Volkspark Friedrichshain by Paul sullivan

Other perks include great views (and exercise) at the top of Viktoria Park, vintage shopping on Sundays at Mauerpark’s flea market, and cycling, roller-blading or kite-surfing along the runway at Tempelhofer Feld. If it’s warm enough, you can even enjoy an al fresco beer or two in the many park-based beer gardens.

Hit The Terraces

Image via
Image via

No sooner have the first rays of springtime sun hit the ground that Berlin’s pavements transform into informal terraces, as street-facing cafes and bars set out their chairs and benches (usually along with blankets and heat-lamps as back-up).

Most street cafes, whether traditional or third-wave, have some kind of ‘pavement presence’ even it’s a couple of chairs or sofas outside, but some offer ‘real’ terraces that are particularly spacious and/or have a great vibe.

Among our personal favourites are Mitte’s Barcomi’s, set in a pretty ivy-covered courtyard; Nola’s am Weinberg, which overlooks Volkspark am Weinberg; and Prenzlauer Berg’s Anna Blume, whose expansive terrace offers great people-watching opportunities (though you’ll have to get there early at weekends to nab a seat).

For a real garden experience, head to West Berlin’s Cafe Wintergarten im Literaturhaus; if in Neukölln, Cafe Rix has a pleasant and atmospheric courtyard; and if you find yourself strolling along the Rummelsburger Ufer (recommended), the chic and modern Hafenküche has an outdoor area with fantastic views across the bay.

The light-filled interior of the Hafenküche by Paul Sullivan.
The light-filled interior of the Hafenküche by Paul Sullivan.

It’s no coincidence that most of these places are great for breakfast, brunch and afternoon drinks – but there are also options balmy spring-time evening restaurant options too, such as Grill Royal, which has high-end steaks and memorable views across the Spree and Bode Museum, and Katz Orange, whose charming, cobbled courtyard terrace comes into its own from springtime onwards.

Biking, Running & Hiking

Walking the Mauerweg image by Paul Sullivan
Walking the Mauerweg image by Paul Sullivan

Spring – not too warm, not too cold – is ideal for walking and cycling, and the city offers limitless opportunities for both. If you’ve read our Walking The City essay, been following STB editor Paul Sullivan’s Walking Every Street In Berlin project or taken one of our neighbourhood tours or themed walks, you’ll know we are huge advocates of walking.

If you’re stuck for ideas you could try our very own Three Peaks Challenge, follow our hike around the Ring Bahn, or take a self-guided architectural tour through the city. A stroll along the Landwehr Canal is always interesting and pleasant, as are exploratory rambles through the gorgeous Grunewald (see here for parts 1 & 2 of our guide). You can also find plenty of shorter trails within Berlin, many of which are also great for running.

Surprisingly scenic – and a must for history buffs – is the Berlin Wall Trail (Mauerweg), which can be walked or cycled in convenient stages, as can the 416km 66-Lakes-Trail, which as the name suggests circles the city via Brandenburg’s lakes.

Berlin-Copenhagen Bike Trail by Paul Sullivan
Berlin-Copenhagen Bike Trail by Paul Sullivan

The city’s flatness makes it great for cycling. As mentioned, there are plenty of parks within biking distance, and while the city’s lakes are not quite warm enough for skinny-dipping (unless you’re hard-core), a ride out to Tegeler See, Wannsee or the Müggelsee will take you through interesting and often pretty scenery. Check our photo essays on rides to Prenzlau (north) and the Spreewald (south) for some visual insights.

For some general sight-seeing, theeasy half-day Alter Fritz route will take you around Potsdam’s historical sites. Or for something more challenging there’s the 334km Havel route or the epic Berlin-Copenhagen trail, all of which can be broken down into shorter stretches.

Day Trips & Family Outings

Botanical Gardens by Dietmut Teijgeman-Hansen
Botanical Gardens by Dietmut Teijgeman-Hansen

If you don’t want to cycle out of the city, you can of course just take the S-Bahn. Either way, there are loads of lovely spots to head to. You can find a list of our contributor favourites (including a visit to see huskies and wolves at Ruppiner Land and the Brecht-Weigel Haus in Buckow), here. Other options include the sprawling Spreewald, or a ferry trip across to lovely Kladow to visit the Neu-Kladow manor house; once home to Bismarck’s mother, it now hosts art exhibitions, concerts and lectures.

The kids will love a visit to the Family Lübars farm, where they can hang out with the animals, grab a lunch at the restaurant or watch kite-surfers glide gently down the adjacent hill. The similarly excellent Brodowin farm (and village) is an equally charming day out with the kids – or for a fuller itinerary whisk them to Dahlem, which has a collection of high class ethnographic museums, the city’s main Botanical Gardens, and an excellent working farm (Domäne Dahlem).

Rainy Day Activities

Image by Robin Oomkes
House of the Wannsee Conference. Image by Robin Oomkes

Of course it’s not quite summer yet, so it’s prudent to have a handy list of museums and galleries for the inevitable cold and/or rainy days. As well as the excellent-but-obvious big hitters, there are also lots of lesser-known museums worth exploring, ranging from Mitte’s Ramones Museum and the ever-quirky Museum der Dinge to the stately Käthe Kollwitz Museum in West Berlin.

History aficionados are similarly spoiled for choice. Aside from popular WW2 sites like the  indoor/outdoor Topography of Terror, there are lesser-visited places like the German-Russian Museum in Karlshorst, the German Resistance Museum and the poignant House of the Wannsee Conference.

Those interested in the GDR could head to the Museumswohnung in Hellersdorf, explore Hohenschönhausen’s former Stasi Prison or…well, click here for a fuller list of our 25 favourite GDR memorials and sites.

Image courtesy of Camera Work Berlin.
Image courtesy of Camera Work Berlin

Contemporary art spaces abound, ranging from mainstream venues like the Hamburger Bahnhof and private collections like those found in the me. Collectors room, the Boros bunker and the Galerie Hoffmann, through to smaller galleries like DAADGalerie, Savvy Contemporary, Eigen + Art/Lab and Galerie Crone. For a really comprehensive list, visit Art Berlin Contemporary.

Like photography? Keep an eye on the Martin Gropius Bau and C/O Berlin, as well as Camera Work (an elegant two-story space hidden off the busy Kantstrasse that shows the likes of Diane Arbus and Irving Penn as well as new photographers) and the Kicken Gallery, which hosts four large exhibitions per year of museum quality.

There’s also the option of spending a lazy day hanging out in one of Berlin’s cosy cafes.

For more bad weather ideas, check out our Winter Survival Guide.

Seasonal Events

cherry blossom

While winter and summer are the biggest event seasons in the city, spring-time more than holds its own with several major art and culture festivals and conferences. Easter usually gets things into gea (check back soon for a link to our 2015 Easter guide) but before that comes Tegel’s annual Spring Fair (27th March -19th April), which features carnival rides and stalls.

Marzahn‘s Gärten der Welt will hold their annual Cherry Blossom Festival on April 12th this year, though the spectacle can be witnessed all over the city thanks to generous reunification gifts from Japan.

International Worker’s Day, known more commonly as Mayday (May 1st), is usually associated in Berlin with pitched battles in Kreuzberg between protesters and the police. But before sunset, the streets around Kreuzberg (especially around Oranienstrasse and Kottbusser Tor) are full of great music, food and vibes for the Mayfest36.

Karneval der Kulturen by Paul sullivan
Karneval der Kulturen

The beginning of May also brings Gallery Weekend (1-3 May) for art lovers, while classical music fans can enjoy a whole month of Mozart at the Komische Oper. At the end of May, heralding summer, is the hedonistic Karneval der Kulturen: several days of global music, food and events culminating in a day-long party that spills into the next morning…and often beyond.