It always comes upon you suddenly, the Berlin summer. One day you’re shivering in your down coat at the playground, lamenting with friends how it is already May but barely 10 degrees celsius. The next day you’re sweating in your shirtsleeves, the powerful sun beating down on your cycling helmet. Though the daffodils peeping out in the park might have been hinting at warmer weather for a while, the abrupt shift leaves no time to adjust your wardrobe. England makes up for its lack of a proper summer by giving you a long and promising spring. Here, there is no such gradual move from thick woollies and heavy boots to a cotton cardigan and lightweight shoes. However sudden, the glorious thing about that day, that first day of sunshine, is that Berlin erupts into summer – the streets busy with ice-cream eating children, cafes spilling out onto pavements, parks filled with rich barbecue smoke, families packing cars for lazy lake days – and you fall in love with the city all over again. Four highlights of our early summer season so far, which you might consider if you’re heading to the Haupstadt before October.
Ice-cream at Rosa Canina on Arnswalder Platz (Prenzlauerberg)
This title will be challenged by other Berlin residents, but I’d call Rosa Canina the best ice-cream dealer in town. The quality of the ice-cream is unbeatable – creamy, sharp, inventive (buttermilk lemon right through to pumpkin seed), not too sweet – all whilst not being extortionately expensive. We have two Rosa Canina parlours within a stone’s throw of our place. We are frequent summertime visitors to both, but the just renovated one on Arnswalder Platz has the advantage of being slightly less discovered, large and airy, on a shady side of the street for hot summer days, and just opposite a playground which pleases most age groups.
Summer skirt shopping at Thone Negrón (Mitte)
I often complain to London friends that for clothes Berlin lacks a mid-range high street. Its high-end boutiques sell lovely items but are mostly too expensive for everyday wear (especially if you spend plenty of afternoons sitting in the sand at the playground). The opposite end of the scale is well served too – with H&M, Zara, and C&A. But something in between can be hard to find – unless you know where to look. Luckily for my wardrobe this summer, I have spent the last nine months cycling past the perfect boutique in Mitte – Thone Negrón – on my way to work. I assumed it would be too expensive, but when I finally stopped there in a spare half an hour and on the hunt for a new summer skirt, I discovered that for the quality and innovativeness of the clothes the prices were reasonable. And what charmed me still more was the designer had her studio at the back of the shop and came out to talk to me about her clothes. She is a native Berliner and takes her inspiration from Berlin’s roaring 20s. You can see it in the clothes. With its high rents, London is unlikely to have a shop quite like this.
Evening drinks at Sommergarten (Mitte)
Just off the main drag of Karl Marx Allee, there is a small and hidden beer garden – Sommergarten – complete with deckchairs, disco ball, beer benches, ping pong, and table football. There is something magical about sitting in a leafy garden on a summer’s evening, sipping a glass of Riesling, and looking out over the massive socialist architecture of what was built to be the main boulevard, the architectural pearl, of East Berlin. It is urban and historic contrast like this that Berlin does so well. We went one evening recently for a work event to which lots of people (including me) brought children – even that worked well, with the children tearing around quite safe in amongst the trees – and all just a ten minute walk from the bustle of Alexander Platz.
Swimming at Lübars
We set out last Sunday with the intention of swimming at the Freibad (outdoor pool) in Pankow, only to find it didn’t open until June. Not the types to give up easily, especially not on a scorcher of a day like it was, we jumped back in the car and drove north west to the lake at Lübars on the outskirts of Berlin. Now Lübars is not quite the idyllic shady lakes you get further out in Brandenburg, but it has an incredibly child-friendly Standbad with a kiosk for chips (read fries North Americans) and ice-creams. It is also quite small, which is a disadvantage at the end of the summer when it starts to get a bit scummy, but in May it means the water is not quite so freezing as you might expect, plus there’s a water slide – and who can argue with that. So we found our spot of shade and swam and played gladly for a good three hours.