Snow, glorious snow. At last, winter arrived in Berlin and the streets were paved with white. That was two weeks ago – after an unseasonably warm December, the temperatures dropped and it snowed – for a day or two at least. Then it warmed up again and everything melted, until this weekend just past, when once again the air was biting and the skies opened. How the children celebrated. For them, waking up to a fresh layer of snow on a Sunday morning is right up there in life’s pleasures. So we bundled ourselves up, trudged down to the cellar to collect the sledge, and rushed to the park to enjoy the hill before everyone else ruined it.
But it is not quite as simple as just showing up and setting off full-pelt down the slope. If you are new to Berlin, there are a few important points of etiquette to note about snow and sledging.
1. Dress properly
Depending one where you herald from in North America, you may well be accustomed to dressing properly for winter. Not so, if you call the UK your native land. There, where the winters are mild and snows infrequent, you don’t have clue how to be comfortable in really cold weather – you’d be likely to think wellies (aka gumboots) and a heavy woollen jacket would do. They won’t – not when sledging in Berlin anyway. If you’re going to enjoy yourself and to be outside for any length of time, you need to be well dressed. Essentials include: a vest, long underwear (long johns as the Brits call them), woollen socks, thick-soled boots, a woollen jumper, thick gloves, and a down coat (which comes below your hips). Most children will be wearing proper snow boots and padded, waterproof snow trousers as well – as an adult and you have them, you wouldn’t feel out of place wearing yours.
2. Choose your sledge
Perhaps it is the organic, pro-environment, wooden-toy focused Prenzlauerberg enclave in which we live, but my overriding impression of Germans is that they are a bit snobby about sledges. When I was a kid, it was considered a coolness advantage to have a plastic sledge. Here, it is all about as wooden and old-fashioned-looking as possible, with metal runners and ideally handed down through generations of sledging Germans. Having a toddler liable to fall off your old-fashioned sledge is no problem. Many small children have a special wooden attachment, like the back of an old chair, which fits onto the seat of the sledge for them to lean back and loll sideways against. But it’s not all wood – you do see a substantial number of teenagers on “bum boards” – small, plastic, bottom-shaped mini-sledges which you sit on and hold between your legs – though I notice them getting quite a few disgruntled looks from the more traditional sledgers. If you are not lucky enough to inherit a beautiful wooden sledge, most good toy stores will sell you one for not too much money.
Despite being notoriously flat (this is the city of marathon world-records), there are a few good sledging spots in Berlin. Many parks have sledging runs – including our local Volkspark Friedrichshain and Wedding’s Volkspark Humbolthain. Teufelsberg (Grunewald) and Müggelberge (Treptow-Köpenick) are also good. Here’s a helpful summary of them all. My advice would be to seek out the one closest to home, then you don’t need to bundle anyone snow-drenched and tired into the car or onto public transport for too long.
4. Bahn frei!
Once you have arrived at the slope, you may well feel overwhelmed by the sight in front of you – however early in the morning you set off. Sledging in Berlin is popular with all ages at whatever temperature. Hills fill up and get icy remarkably quickly. But what at first appears to be people chaotically hurling themselves downwards is actually a carefully self-regulating affair. Take a moment to spot the “Bahnen” people are using – specific routes down the hill which avoid potential collision with trees or fences. There will be a number of these varying in length and speed, and you should seek out one which suits the needs of your group. Beware! Before starting your ascent up the hill, make sure you are walking up the side of one of these Bahnen, not through the middle. If not, you will be guaranteed to here the yells of “Bahn frei” (a polite form of “Out of the way!”) as sledges come racing down, hoping not to wipe you off your feet.
5. Wait in turn
Another point of self-regulation: at the top of hills an informal queue system forms. That means you can’t arrive at the top of a hill and then go barging other people out of the way to go straight down. Wait and observe – somewhere people will be subtly feeding into a row of sledges ready to go. It is unlikely anyone will actively tell you off for pushing in, but doing so will certainly win you a few dirty looks.
So now you are set. Here is to another heavy snowfall this winter and lots of fun on Berlin’s slopes!