I left our apartment for a run on Saturday morning and noticed it immediately: the air was softer, the sun warmer, more people were on the street. In the park round the corner, trees wore tiny green buds, a whisper of the bountiful green to come. In the sheltered spots, daffodils were about to bloom. Yes, the day before Easter, almost at the very end of March, winter was over and spring had arrived.
There is always that moment in Berlin, when you know that though the temperature might drop below 10C again, the harshness of winter has gone for a good for months at least. Exactly when it happens is unpredictable – mid-March is a wonderful treat, mid-April a longer slog. But when it does, you know it. The light changes, the smell of the city freshens, it’s inhabitants crawl out from their hibernation inside apartments and cafes and flood the streets.
In spring and summer Berlin is at its best for visitors. The combination of weighty history, visible on almost every street you walk down, plus superb pavement and park-life, becomes so much more accessible for the casual tourist. Gone are the beleaguered looks of people marching head down to the wind, battling with their umbrellas. Instead, crowds stroll, marvel, repose, taking in everything the city has to offer.
Our repeated advice to visiting friends is to leave time to lounge in Berlin’s many and varied places – to pause and watch the world and his dog go by whilst sipping on a top notch cappuccino. But the worst you can do is pay for overpriced coffee of dubious quality in a tourist trap. So if you’re planning a visit in the next few months, a few insider tips.
La Tazza (Prenzlauerberg): Serving the strongest coffee I’ve ever drunk in Berlin, in a low-key, not hipster overrun atmosphere.
The Barn (Mitte): The focus here is on quality coffee, so a great recommendation if that’s your thing, but mind the many young men and women in skinny jeans, tapping away on their Macbooks.
Cafe Einstein Stammhaus (Mitte): old-school and beautiful, set in a Gründerzeit villa with a glorious leafy garden, in the style of a refined Viennese restaurant, the service is impeccable and the cakes delicious.
DoubleEye (Schöneberg): the coffee is good, the neighbourhood definitely worth exploring, and the Portuguese tarts are nothing short of scrumptious.
Winterfeldtplatz Market (Schöneberg): held every Saturday, the largest weekly market in Berlin with a vast selection of high-quality fruit, vegetables, cheese, and meats.
Kollwitzplatz Market (Prenzlauerberg): the perfect place to grab lunch with friends on a sunny Saturday (or Thursday) and pick up some great food (read fresh pasta and Greek dips) and wine for an evening meal.
Markthalle Neun (Kreuzberg): sometimes it does rain and this covered market in Kreuzberg is the best spot to escape to – not the place to go to do your weekly grocery shopping but ideal for sampling a whole range of exquisite food.
3. Parks and playgrounds
Domäne Dahlem (Dahlem): not strictly a park, but an urban farm with a nice Hofcafe and fields with cows, sheep and horses out the back which are lovely to walk around and breath in the fresh air.
Tempelhofer Feld (Tempelhof): an airport field transformed into a huge open communal space – leaving the runway for kite-surfing, cycling and roller-blading, and the rest of the grass for impromptu football matches and frisbee throwing.
Tiergarten (Mitte): the classic, right in the heart of Berlin, combining wooded corners, ponds, beer gardens, and open expanses of grass.
4. Boat trips
Kanuliebe (Treptow): rent yourself a vintage pedalo, go for a ride on the Spree and grab a beer in the beer garden when you return your boat.
A boat tour on the Spree: a range of providers offer boat tours exploring all different aspects of Berlin life – from architecture, to border controls, to government buildings – select whatever interests you most.
Schlachtensee (Zehlendorf): easily accessible on public transport, prettily lined with deep green trees, just the right size to walk around and feel like you’ve achieved something, and a lovely restaurant (Fischerhütte) to reward yourself at the end.
Wannsee (Zehlendorf): crowded in summer but perfect in spring, with walking and cycling paths to explore and a troubled history to discover.
Müggelsee (Köpenick): explore Köpenick and then head to the lake for some watery scenery.
Schlossgut Dammsmühle (Wandlitz): 40 minutes drive outside of the city, but for the air of dereliction surrounding the old castle and the prettiness of the lake, so worth it.