The collective sigh of relief was almost audible. Berlin’s winter has been a ‘cabin fever’ experience. The long, dark and grey days finally giving way to warmer and sunnier ones literally seems to have altered the mood of the city – for the better. People are playing table tennis in the parks at lunchtime (concrete table tennis tables are everywhere); groups of people pack the parks and line the banks of the River Spree drinking beer. It feels like a massive weight has been lifted from the city. Thank Berlin for the spring.
In truth, the winter hasn’t been especially cold, or particularly hard, but it does seem to have gone on and on and on … and on. There are only so many gun-metal grey skies you can endure before going crazy. My home town of Kendal is called The Old Grey Town, but Berlin beats it hands down for life-sapping greyness. Luckily, warmer weather has finally arrived and has even featured the sun. The squares and street tables have been busy. I got sunburned having breakfast outside the other day.
The change of weather has allowed us to pick up the urban ramblings we abandoned sometime in November. Berlin offers a near-endless spectacle of fascinating sights as you stroll. Try hard enough and you can spot anything from the beauty of the Berliner Dom, to a semi-naked photograph of Davifd Hasselhof on a toilet door; a statue of Martin Luther in formerly atheist Alexanderplatz, or a bizarre memorial dedicated to Michael Jackson. Berlin has something for everyone, even if you don’t want it.
Berlin may be known for its public transport, S Bahn and U Bahn services run through the night, but the best way to see this city of 3.5 million people is definitely on foot. Some people might quibble with that and argue the bicycle is best, but cycling doesn’t allow for slow exploration. At first glance, Berlin looks like a vast place that would give even the hardiest of foot soldiers second thoughts, but it’s surprising how much can be seen on a day of purposeful ambling. This is a very walkable city.
Our home turf is around Mitte and Kreuzberg. Both offer street entertainment galore, including some of Berlin’s most famous sights, but we spend a lot of time in Prenzlauer Berg, which is an intriguing mix of gentrification and urban grittiness. It’s also home to my favourite beer garden. A recent walk here got us up close and personal with Fat Herrmann. This 1877 water tower sits in a tranquil park that belies the history of the area: this was the site of the Nazis first concentration camp.
Despite the many weird and wonderful things you can see as you walk through the city, its history is rarely far away. As we made our way around Prenzlauer Berg, we passed through small parks and lovely squares. It’s an attractive area, and one still to retain much pre-war architecture. In Rosa Luxemburg Platz, commemorating the early 20th century revolutionary who was executed in 1919, sits the famous Volksbühne, the Peoples’ Theatre. Giving a hint of the pre-gentrification politics of the area.
If Prenzlauer Berg is on the beaten track, Charlottenburg seems far removed from city life. It’s where we first lived when we moved to Berlin and revisiting recently we came across an extraordinary sight: a skinny, art nouveau Eiffel Tower. This is the Funkturm, a radio tower built in the 1920s which, despite its size, remains off the tourist trail. It’s close to Berlin Messe, where we spent a very happy afternoon at a German wine fair. By the time we got there, we’d walked half way across the city. Luckily the S Bahn runs all night!