I was recently interviewed by the magazine ‘Where Berlin’ which is circulated to a number of hotels and available to pick up at Tegel and Schönefeld airports. The article appears in the September issue. You can read the interview by following opened this pdf file:
MY BERLIN Penny Croucher
Or you can flip through an online copy of the magazine by following this link
The ‘Exberliner’, the hip monthly magazine for the English-speaking community in Berlin (currently estimated at 50,000), has been going since 2002. Apart from cultural listings, reviews, journalistic articles, opinion columns and a large classified section, there is a regular feature called, ‘My Perfect Berlin Weekend’, where an artist, musician or writer lists their favourite Berlin haunts from Friday to Sunday night. It always makes interesting reading and has led me to think of what my own choices might me. So, here’s a plan for this Easter weekend – given that the weather is going to be cool and cloudy. I have stretched it to Easter Monday, as it is a ‘Feiertag’ (Public Holiday). Just click on the names in bold for links to further information.
20.00 Konzert zum Karfreitag (Good Friday Concert) at the Konzerthaus on Gendarmenmarkt. Hector Berlioz, ‘Grande Messe des Morts’.
21.45 Dinner at Grill Royal overlooking the River Spree on Friedrichstrasse. It’s not cheap, but hard to beat this place for both food and location. And it’s got to be fish on Good Friday.
Cool fish at the Grill Royal
11:00 Brunch at Sowohl als Auch or Anna Blume in Prenzlauer Berg. Both places are perfect.
12:30 Browse through Saturday’s Wochenmarkt am Kollwitzplatz and the surrounding small shops.
14:00 A wander through the spacious galleries of the Gemäldegalerie at the Kulturforum, with its fabulous collection of paintings from 13th to 18th Century. The special exhibition is currently ‘The Charm of the Small; Studies of Nature in Holland’s Golden Age’ (until end of June).
Botticellis in the Gemāldegalerie
16.00 Coffee and cake at Café Einstein Stammhaus in Kurfürstenstrasse. Where else.
19.30 ‘My Fair Lady’ at the Komische Oper. The interior of this opera house on Behrenstrasee, just off Unter den Linden, is exquisite and the productions are usually quite avant-garde and fun. Everything is sung in German,with English sur-titles. No prizes for guessing which My Fair Lady hit these lines come from: ‘Es grünt, so grün, wenn Spaniens Blüten blühen.’
Inside the Komische Oper
23.00 Post-show discussion, cocktail and snack at the Schwarzes Café, Kantstrasse. Always a good late-night atmosphere, slightly mad décor and friendly service.
11:00 Time for some fresh air, even if it’s not so warm. So, breakfast at the Café zum Neuen See in the Tiergarten and a wander around the park. Or maybe even hire a boat on the lake.
Sunny day at the Café zum Neuen See
12:30 Stroll through the Tiergarten to the Trödelmarkt (Flea Market) and search for pretty 1920s glassware which is getting harder to find these days.
14:00 S-Bahn from Tiergarten to Ostbahnhof where there is another Antikmarkt and I might have more luck.
15.30 Walk across to the Radialsystem V, a former pump station on the River Spree, now a meeting place and arts venue. Coffee and cake in the café, hopefully outside on the riverside terrace.
17.00 Chamber music concert in Radialsystem V, featuring works by Oliver Messiaen.
Radialsystem V on the Spree
20.00 Dinner at the Ganymed on Schiffbauerdamm. I can never resist this place, for old times’ sake. Once frequented by Bertolt Brecht, we used to go there often in GDR days when many of the staff apparently worked for the Stasi….
The elegant Ganymed
11.00 A day out at a Berlin cherry blossom festival. There’s a choice between the Britzer Baumblüte in Gutspark Britz or the one in the Gärten der Welt in Marzahn which features interesting insights into Japanese, Korean and Chinese culture.
Cherry blossom time in Marzahn
19.45 or 20.30 An evening at the cinema, at either the UCI Cinema or the Lichtblick Kino, to see ‘The Young Karl Marx’, a film I missed at the Berlinale in February and which had good reviews. The Guardian review, by Peter Bradshaw, gave the film four out of five stars and stated ‘It shouldn’t work, but it does, due to the intelligence of the acting and the stamina and concentration of the writing and directing.‘ ‘Handsome, well-acted and sincerely-intentioned’, said BBC Culture. It’s not due for international release until June. Karl Marx studied at the Humboldt Universität in Berlin.
With its vast tracts of forests and parks, Berlin has always been a green metropolis. Now the city centre has a growing number of urban oases created out of wasteland (‘Brachland’) left behind by wartime destruction or the dismantling of the Berlin Wall. One of the latest triumphs is the Park am Gleisdreieck (‘Park on the Railway Triangle’). It is a wonderful example of how a wilderness of overgrown and disused railway tracks and yards can be transformed into a beautiful and vibrant recreational space.
Panorama view of the park
This large park in Kreuzberg and Schöneberg has been created from a former railway junction, which was badly bombed in the Second World War and left as wasteland. It became part of a Reichsbahn enclave belonging to the GDR and remained untouched for decades. Left to its own natural devices, it developed a rich diversity of vegetation. A citizens’ group was formed with the aim of ensuring that this refuge for flora and fauna did not fall into the hands of developers, and in the end they were successful. The planning process took the views of local residents into account and the result is a resounding victory for ‘people power’. It was also a multi-cultural venture, with immigrant women helping with planting and gardening. Very Kreuzberg.
An urban oasis
The Rosenduft (‘rose scent’) garden
A railway track running north-south and leading to the Deutsches Technikmuseum still separates the grounds of the Park am Gleisdreieck and a museum train operates along it in the summer months. The 42-acre Ostpark was opened in September 2011 and the 22-acre Westpark on 1st June 2013. In March 2014, the smaller Flaschenhalspark (‘Bottleneck Park’), completed the project, making a trio of parks in the Gleisdreieck. The whole complex stretches from the Landwehr Canal to the Monument Bridge.
The museum train
Each part of the park has a different character. The Westpark features expansive lawns, play zones and beach volleyball courts. The Ostpark boasts a nature discovery area, a skateboard half-pipe, a little maple and oak forest and even an outdoor dance floor. Historic relics such as railway tracks, signals and ramps have been integrated into the landscaping as a permanent reminder of the past use of the land, especially in the Flaschenhalspark. There is always something magical about spotting overgrown, disused railway tracks amongst trees. The imagination starts to run free.
Old tracks among the trees
The Park am Gleisdreieck has something to offer everyone – young and old, walkers and cyclists, joggers and ramblers. I went there recently on a Sunday and was enchanted. Despite being so popular, there are plenty of quiet corners and interesting views. Locals were enjoying picnics and barbecues on the grass and there are a number of kiosks and pavilions with tables in the shade, where you can stop for drinks and snacks.
Beach Volleyball in the Westpark
Picnics and playparks in the Ostpark
The coolest kiosk is ‘Café Eule’
The various park entrances are listed below. The Yorckstrasse entrance is a good place to start if you want a stroll through nature before hitting the more populated areas. Because the original pre-1945 ‘railway triangle’ was formed from the viaducts of overhead rails, the park feels as if it is on a plateau, magically above street life and yet so close to it. There is something wistful and poetic about this urban retreat. The essence of pre-war Berlin still lingers, providing simple outdoor pleasures for city dwellers.
Ostpark U1 U7 Underground Station Möckernbrücke Entrance Tempelhofer Ufer/Ecke Möckernstraße
S1 S2 S25 U7 S-Bahn and Underground Station Yorckstraβe, Bus M19, N7 Entrance Yorckstrasse
Westpark U2 Underground Station Mendelssohn-Bartholdy-Park, Bus M 29 Entrance Schöneberger Ufer
U1 U2 Underground Station Gleisdreieck Entrance Schöneberger Straße
U1 Underground Stations Kurfürstenstraße and Bülowstraße Entrance Kurfürstenstraße
U2 Underground Station Bülowstraße Entrance Bülowstraße
There are so many parks in Berlin. The oldest, largest and most famous is the Tiergarten, stretching two square miles from the Brandenburg Gate to Ernst-Reuter-Platz and providing the green lungs for the city centre. It’s a fabulous park, once a royal hunting ground, now a green paradise packed with tall trees, shrubs, wide lawns and interesting corners. You can find a brief history and description on page 44 of Berlin Unwrapped.
üAerial view of the Tiergarten, featuring the Victory Column
If you have already explored the Tiergarten and would like to discover another central Berlin park with plenty of surprises in store, head for the Fritz-Schloß-Park to the north of the Hauptbahnhof – it’s a revelation. Here you will find quiet forest paths and wide expanses of grass, plenty of recreational facilities, some unusual sport complexes and even a refugee camp for asylum seekers. It’s a truly multi-purpose, multi-cultural park.
Location of Fritz-Schloß-Park
The Fritz-Schloß-Park was originally a Prussian military training ground and in the 1920s part of the site was turned into the ‘Poststadion’, a large sports stadium with additional football pitches, tennis courts and swimming facilities. After the war the land which hadn’t been built on was used as one of the dumps for the rubble from the city’s ruins which was mainly cleared by the women of Berlin. Then in 1955 the whole area was turned into a park and named after Fritz Schloß (1895-1954), the first post-war Mayor of the district of Tiergarten.
A memorial in the park which thanks the ‘Trümmerfrauen (‘rubble women’)
We entered the park from Seydlitzstrasse and walked past a children’s play area and several interesting buildings dedicated to sport, including a large new indoor pool and a long-established indoor rowing training centre complete with water. A little further on, we reached the recently-renovated main sports stadium, now the impressive home ground for several Berlin football clubs including a Turkish team, and also used for American Football matches. We wandered in and watched a group of cheerleaders practising in front of the impressive grandstand. I tried to imagine the scene in 1930 when Germany played England in one of their earliest encounters and then during the 1936 Olympics when the stadium was used for football matches in the presence of Hitler.
The front of the Poststadion and cheerleaders practising on the track
The next surprise was an exclusive health club which we could just see behind the wire fencing and trees. I looked up the details later and found out that the ‘Vabali Spa’ was opened in 2014 at a cost of 20 million euros. It is designed on ‘Asian’ lines and guests are only allowed a bathing robe and a towel as items of clothing.
A private view of the exclusive Vabali Spa
Further on, the park becomes more like a forest, with tall trees providing welcome shade. The path here is part of the 1.1 kilometre exercise trail with stops every fifty metres with equipment to test your fitness. Nothing too strenuous though.
Peaceful wooded paths with fitness training on the side
If you feel like a rest, you can always make your way to the expanses of open grass and enjoy the woodland peace. In winter the grassy slopes are popular for tobogganing.
Plenty of space for just chilling
Another nostalgic sports arena in the park is the Schwarz-Weiß Tennis Club. Here the main clay court is set into a hollow with raised seating on four sides, rather like a mini-amphitheatre.
The perfect setting for a game of tennis
Only a few metres away around the corner in Kruppstrasse, there are outdoor atistic performances in a pretty shabby-chic garden area which opens its doors to visitors on some summer Sundays for readings and concerts.
Open-air culture at the Offener Garten
But perhaps the most interesting discovery in the Fritz-Schloß-Park was an area at the end of Kruppstrasse where tented accommodation has been put up on tennis courts to provide accommodation for some of the Syrian asylum seekers who have been welcomed into the German capital.
A view of the refugee camp from the perimeter fence
In true Berlin style, the 25th Anniversary of the Fall of the Wall was one big people’s party. The balloons of light were the most wonderful way to mark this event; a truly inspirational ‘installation’. Like smooth round angels they floated upwards, as free as the citizens of East Berlin on the night of 9th November 1989. (more…)