Berlin’s Green Heart

Berlin’s Green Heart

The Tiergarten is a splendid park. Spread before the Brandenburg Gate, for Berliners it has long been synonymous with both pleasure and leisure. Its name, literally meaning ‘Animal Garden’, derives from its original 16th Century role as a hunting ground for the Elector of Brandenburg. In the 1740s, Frederick the Great, who did not appreciate the hunt as much as his royal antecedents, instructed his architect, Knobelsdorff, to turn the area into a baroque style public park. There were even ‘salons’ where people could meet and discuss, and tents selling refreshments.

Walking through the Tiergarten today

A century later, landscape designer Lenné drew up new plans for the park, modelling it on the English garden style with wide grass lawns and clusters of trees. He included many more footpaths and bridleways and featured small lakes with islands and streams crossed by bridges. By the end of the 19th Century, a host of nationalistic memorials had been constructed in the Tiergarten, especially on the Siegesallee (‘Victory Avenue’) and the Prachtboulevard (‘Magnificence Boulevard’). The park became covered in statues commemorating famous Prussian royals, as well as German cultural greats.

Beethoven Mozart Haydn Memorial

Statue of Queen Louise of Prussia

The original ‘Prachtallee’

When the Nazi Party came to power, Hitler and Speer planned the complete renovation of Berlin to become the Welthauptstadt Germania (World Capital Germania) and had grand visions for the Tiergarten. The road running through the middle of it (formerly Charlottenburger Chaussee, now Straβe des 17. Juni) was widened to form the east-west axis into the capital and the Siegessäule (Victory Column) was moved to the Grosser Stern (Great Star), the central point of the park, from its original site in front of the Reichstag.

Aerial view of Tiergarten, with the Victory Column at its centre

Then came the Second World War when Allied bombing caused terrible devastation to the Tiergarten. In its aftermath many of its surviving trees were felled for firewood and the empty ground was used for growing vegetables because of food shortages.

The devastated Tiergarten

In 1945, the Tiergarten was initially under the direct control of the British Occupying Forces, but four years later in 1949, when the two cities of East and West Berlin were officially established, the reforestation of the Tiergarten was started by the authorities in West Berlin. 250,000 young trees were flown in from West Germany and the Tiergarten was gradually transformed turned into a park landscape once more. There were fewer statues and formal features with the accent being on rest and relaxation for West Berliners, marooned from their homeland by the Berlin Wall.

Relaxing in the Tiergarten

Since re-unification, all Berliners have access to the Tiergarten and it has truly become the green heart of their city again, providing 520 acres of parkland perfect for walking, jogging, cycling, horseriding and boating. In summer the grass areas are popular for picnics, barbecues and sunbathing and in winter it is sometimes possible to ice-skate on the small lakes. There are two excellent eating establishments as well; the ‘Café am Neuen See’ was featured in my Berlin Unwrapped guidebook and remains a huge favourite.

By the lake at the Café am Neuen See

However, less well-known is the wonderful ‘Teehaus im Englischen Garten’ an enchanting reed-thatched ‘teahouse’ hidden away in the north-west corner of the Tiergarten. As its name suggests, it’s located in the ‘English Garden’ and even serves a typical English afternoon tea. The beer garden seats up to 500 people and has a wide menu of light meals, including German specialities. Sunday breakfast is popular all year round and I went there recently on a summer evening for dinner. We started with a cocktail outside on the terrace, then moved into the elegant interior, looking out on to the pretty gardens at dusk. It was a magical setting and a very good meal.

The Teehaus im Englischen Garten

Inside the Teehaus

Map showing location of the Teehaus in the Tiergarten

Saturday NoonSong

Saturday NoonSong

Berlin loves Saturday lunchtime – there’s a sense that the weekend starts here. It wasn’t so long ago that the German school week didn’t finish until Saturday lunchtime and the shops closed for the weekend soon after midday. Some traditions haven’t changed though, and many Berliners still head for their local market to do the weekend shopping, then find a good café for lunch. They might even call into the church on the market square for musical and spiritual refreshment.

Karl-August-Platz Market in Charlottenburg with Trinitatis Church

A notable example is the Kirche am Hohenzollernplatz (Church on Hohenzollern Square) where a choral concert and church service called ‘NoonSong’ takes place every Saturday at noon. ‘NoonSong’ is a play on the name of the Anglican service of Evensong, and its aim is to offer peaceful respite from busy city life.

NoonSong Brochure

Outside the church is a hive of activity around the stalls of the local street market but inside you can escape into ‘thirty minutes of heaven’ provided by the beautiful a cappella singing from centuries of sacred music by the professional vocal ensemble ‘sirventes berlin’. There are organ voluntaries as well and the congregation joins in with the two hymns. Every seat was taken when I went there recently, so it’s worth arriving early.

Kirche am Hohenzollernplatz

The stark 1930s Brick Expressionist church building contributes to the rarefied atmosphere and on a sunny day, the light streams in through the high, stained glass windows turning the whole experience into something quite ethereal.

After feeding the soul at NoonSong, it was time for Saturday lunch and there is no shortage of restaurants and cafés near Hohenzollernplatz. I can highly recommend Tian Fu on Uhlandstrasse, only a two-minute walk from the church and Hohenzollernplatz Underground Station. This very well-reviewed restaurant serves spicy Sichuan-style food and is a favourite with the Berlin Chinese community.

On my last visit, we started with Tian Fu’s excellent Dim Sum, then chose various dishes of lamb, duck and calamari which were all delicious. Despite being very busy, the service was efficient and friendly. I loved the décor too – a Chinese twist to Berlin urban retro charm. A great place to start our multi-cultural Berlin weekend. 

Café Hopping

Café Hopping

Meeting up with friends and hanging out in a genial café is what Berlin is all about. Here are four suggestions for breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and supper – all of them unique in their own way. Using the swift service of the Berlin S-Bahn, I covered all four places in one day; it was the perfect antidote for a rainy winter Monday.

Aerial View of S-Bahn

First stop was breakfast at Die Stulle, a well-established café just off Savigny Platz in Charlottenburg. Its name is the Berlin word for a simple sandwich and this place has a natural, friendly ambience, with eclectic wooden furniture and sofas. The brunch menu is inventive and includes lots of healthy options. Most dishes are served with eggs – cooked to perfection any way you choose. I opted for an omelette with pumpkin and tried hard to resist the amazing selection of breads. The coffee was spot on and the waitress couldn’t have been more helpful. Be sure to make a booking if you go for breakfast or lunch at the weekend.

Die Stulle

From Die Stulle, I whizzed off to Mitte by S-Bahn from Savigny Platz to Hackescher Markt. It’s about a ten-minute walk to Joachimstrasse, where the impeccably minimalist Chipperfield Kantine is hidden from the street in the courtyard of the Berlin office building of famous British architect, David Chipperfield. This canteen – a complete misnomer since the food is anything but institutional – provides a small daily menu with three interesting main dishes. You can’t book in advance so it’s best to arrive quite early as Chipperfield employees and other local office workers love this place. It’s a real insider tip. No alcohol served here, but the atmosphere was buzzing.

Chipperfield Kantine

After for a spot of shopping at the Kaufhof department store on nearby Alexanderplatz, I took the S-Bahn back to Charlottenburg. The next assignment was for coffee and cake at Frau Behrens Torten on Adenauerplatz – a far cry from my ultra-modern lunch venue. This café is strictly for traditionalists, complete with chandeliers, marble tables, velvet-covered chairs and nostalgic pictures. The pianist at the grand piano was playing a selection of music from the 1920s and 1930s and with candles lit on all the tables, we were transported back in time.

Frau Behrens Torten

My final appointment was at Seaside on beautiful Gendarmenmarkt, just off Unter den Linden in the heart of Berlin. The nearest S-Bahn station is Friedrichstraβe. This fashionable restaurant, with its maritime design and dark blue walls can rightly claim to have “Nordic charm and Californian cool”, despite being so far from the coast. For a lover of fish and seafood, it was a great end to a gourmet day. Guests can select their own fresh fish from the counter and decide how they would like it served or choose from the à la carte menu. There are interesting side dishes and sauces, and the chips and desserts are irresistible. If you are also tempted by the extensive wine list, an evening at the Seaside becomes a genuinely exclusive experience.

The Seaside
Berlin’s ‘Jewish Switzerland’

Berlin’s ‘Jewish Switzerland’

The story of Jewish Berlin will be forever tragically linked to the Holocaust. Nothing can change this statement, but today’s Berliners are still making efforts to ensure that the fate of their persecuted predecessors will never be forgotten. Recently, I discovered another neighbourhood initiative to keep alive the memory of their Jewish community in Berlin before the war: Café Haberland above the U-Bahn Station Bayerischer Platz in the borough of Schöneberg. 

Café Haberland above the U-Bahn station

This café-museum opened in 2014 and is named after father and son, Salomon and Georg Haberland, founders of the local district called ‘Das Bayerische Viertel’ (The Bavarian Quarter), where many of the streets are named after towns in Bayern (Bavaria). A central point for Jewish intellectual life in pre-Nazi Berlin, it is also referred to as ‘Jewish Switzerland’ because of the many influential Jews who came to live there, including Albert Einstein, Hannah Arendt and Walter Benjamin.

Einstein at home in Berlin

The well-known Berlin coffee-house chain ‘Café Einstein’ now runs the gastronomic side of Café Haberland and local volunteers man the museum side of things. I enjoyed a good breakfast there, then read through some of the documentation about the history of the Bayerisches Viertel and what happened to its Jewish inhabitants during the Nazi period. I watched film material and listened to interviews at the video and audio stations. The literature and reports are available in English as well as German and make an emotional impact with their very personal stories. The stated aim of the exhibition, to build a bridge between the past and the present, succeeds perfectly.

Volunteers with the Mayor of Schöneberg

Inside the café-museum

You can also get a feel for the neighbourhood by looking around the wall displays in the entrance hall of the Bayerischer Platz U-Bahn station. They feature large photographs and information boards tracing the origins of the Bayerisches Viertel and give brief details of some of the illustrious Germans who lived there. Carl Zuckmayer, author of ‘Der Hauptmann von Köpenick’ is pictured below.

Pictures at the underground exhibition

Outside the station, the main square of Bayerischer Platz was originally landscaped in 1908, comprising a green area, benches, a fountain and promenades. It soon became the central meeting place for the area, surrounded by prestigious shops, cafés, medical practices and banks. It is still a pleasant open space, reflecting the calm atmosphere of this residential district where the buildings are set back from the street with pretty gardens and wide pavements.

Bayersicher Platz – then and now

Having remained a village since the 13th century, Schöneberg boomed at the end of the 19th century when Berlin’s population exploded and villagers sold off their agricultural land to developers. The most prominent developer was Georg Haberland, son of textile manufacturer Salomon Haberland. The Bayerisches Viertel, which he built between 1900 and 1914, was an area of quiet residential streets, lined with grand buildings containing large apartments decorated with stucco work and marble.  One is called Haberlandstraße, where Albert Einstein lived at number 5 from 1917 until 1932.  The Nazis, who hated wealthy Jews like Haberland, changed the street’s name in 1938, although it was eventually restored in 1996.

Information board outside the site of Einstein’s home

Before the war, Schöneberg attracted the wealthy middle and upper classes, such as lawyers, doctors, businessmen and intellectuals, many of them Jewish. In 1933, when Hitler came to power, there were over 16,000 Jews in the Bayerisches Viertel. The Nazis soon began their persecution of the Jews and their rights were cruelly eroded. At the end of February 1943, the roundups, arrests and deportations started and by June that year, the whole borough of Schöneberg was declared “free of Jews’. In the allied bombing that followed, 75% of the buildings in the Bayerisches Viertel were destroyed.

Haberland Strasse in 1925

The ‘Orte des Erinnerns’ (Places of Remembrance), a memorial concept in the Bayersiches Viertel, makes a powerful statement. It’s a network of eighty signs hanging from street lamps inscribed with the laws introduced by the Nazis to discriminate against the Jewish population; some strategically located to link them to present-day reality. For example, a sign in front of a playground states, “Aryan and non-Aryan children are forbidden to play together”. The eighty scattered signs are gathered together on three large billboards at Rathaus Schöneberg Town Hall, Bayerischer Platz and in front of the Münchener Straβe Gymnasium (Grammar School). Each billboard shows pre- and post-war maps of the area, one from1933 and the other from 1993. For an English translation of the signs follow this link.  They defy belief. The sign below, depicting a loaf of bread on one side, states that “Jews are only allowed to buy food between 4pm and 5pm”.

After walking around the Bayerisches Viertel, you might want to return to Café Haberland for a restorative cup of tea or coffee. Finding and reading the signs is a sobering experience. In warmer weather you can sit outside on the balcony and once a month there are ‘Jazz on the Roof’ evenings. It’s a great meeting place with an eclectic modern feel combined with echoes of a past era. Follow this link to the Café’s website to find full details of opening times and events.

Breakfast at Café Haberland

Dream Garden Café

Dream Garden Café

It’s been a long hot summer in Berlin and cafés with shaded terraces and gardens are in high demand. A great location for fine al fresco food and drink is the Königliche Gartenakademie (Royal Garden Academy) in Dahlem, just a five-minute walk from the Berlin Botanischer Garten. The café there is a unique place where you can either sit outside on the lawn in the shade of a giant 100-year old Weymouth Pine or retreat into the light, bright greenhouses surrounded by stunning greenery and flowers.

Lunch on the lawn

As its name suggests, the Gartenakademie is a school for horticulture and the present building dates back to 1903. It was originally founded in Potsdam in 1823 by Peter Joseph Lenné, Germany’s most influential 19th Century landscape gardener, who established English landscape garden design in Germany. Since 2008 the Gartenakademie and its grounds have been run as a successful business by Gabriella Pape, a horticulturalist, garden designer, journalist and author of several gardening books, who trained at Kew Gardens.

Aerial view of the Gartenakademie

Gabriella Pape in the garden centre

The Academy itself offers a wide range of lectures, courses and workshops for keen amateurs, as well as professional gardeners from all over the world. The surrounding grounds feature show flower-beds and borders and two gardens – the Bee Garden and the Japanese Garden. The large herbaceous border is my particular favourite and reflects the English gardening tradition of the Berlin Gartenakademie.

Herbaceous border

There is an extensive plant sales area, both outside and in historic greenhouses, and customers can also buy garden furniture, accessories and books or avail themselves of the garden design service. The whole site is beautifully maintained and wonderfully colourful in summer. You can simply wander through the grounds and the greenhouses and enjoy the experience of being in a rarefied gardening world. Everything is beautifully kept and aesthetically pleasing. As a Londoner, it reminds me of a blend between Petersham Nurseries in Richmond and the Chelsea Physic Garden.

Among the roses

Plants under cover

For Berliners and other visitors who are not intent on buying plants or bulbs to stock their garden, the main attraction of the Gartenakademie is its wonderful café culture. There are tables and chairs dotted around on the lawns and inside the greenhouses, and the whole ambience has an artlessly Impressionist feel to it.

Light, bright interiors

Coffee and cakes

Bon viveurs head to the Gartenakademie for their delicious breakfasts, light lunches and home-made cakes. Apart from good coffee and teas, there are locally-produced beers and lemonade and fine wines. I recently visited the Gartenakademie for Sunday Brunch (advisable to book ahead) which is a set price of 22 euros. The buffet spread was as colourful as a summer flower garden, with plenty of seasonal dishes and the house cocktail, Gambrinus Spritz, slipped down a treat. 

Seasonal buffet

For further information, including an interesting video presentation by Gabriella Pape herself, follow this link to the Gartenakademie website. The opening hours are Tuesday to Saturday (closed on Mondays) from 10am until 6.30pm and Sundays from 10am until 4pm. From October to March the Gartenakademie closes at 5.30pm on weekdays. The nearest underground station is Dahlem-Dorf.