Summer: an ongoing Berlin love affair

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)

Finding the best ice-cream in town

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. Continue reading

Staying cool in the German summertime

Summer in Germany is a humid and sweaty affair, especially down here in the landlocked south. For a pale, sea breeze loving Brit my first summer was indeed a baptism of fire. When I heard of a beautiful place where you could swim and laze away a day it seemed to be the stuff of dreams. I grabbed my swimsuit, towel and sun cream and followed the directions I’d been given on my recently acquired bike. Unfortunately it was 19th April, and even though the temperature was 35°C outside the pool would remain firmly closed, until the safe date for open air swimming, May 1st.

Early morning Freibad - Photo - Alie

Early morning Freibad Photo: Alie

The Freibad (lido or open air swimming pool) is open to all and can range in size from a simple rectangular 50m pool to a complex of various pools with slides, diving boards and water features. My local is famous for its wave pool, in addition to its, sometimes stinky, sulphurous mineral water, which you can drink and thankfully don’t have to swim in.

Anything goes at the Freibad, speedos have never gone out of fashion here in the south anyway, but feel free to wear what you want, some kids are still wearing wetsuits well into July. Temperature wise I’m not sure I’m the best judge of what is considered cold since I’ve swum outdoors in the UK all year round, but the pool for swimming is generally the coolest 21-24°C whilst the more family friendly pools with slides, whirlpools and waves tend to be a little warmer at 25-27°C. Continue reading

Becoming seahorses: otherwise known as swimming lessons

Swimming course provider in Berlin

Swimming course provider in Berlin

Yesterday our children – both aged five and a half – had their first swimming lesson. That is more than I ever had: I love to swim but have little recollection of ever having learned how to do it. Until now we have relied on holidays to sunny places with nearby pools and plenty of visits to lakes, on the assumption that our children would somehow organically teach themselves to swim. Indeed, it did make them confident in water but it did not get them securely out of armbands. So when winter descended and we didn’t fancy weekly family Sunday trips to an indoor swimming pool (we are such fans of open water), we signed them up for a set of ten forty-five minute lessons, at a small local pool.

If you start asking around almost all German children seem to have swimming lessons – either organised through their KiTa, privately, or at school – certainly not the case in Eighties’ Yorkshire. But here, in Berlin, it is very much the norm. And where we live in child-heavy Prenzlauerberg that fact means contending with the swimming course waiting list. As with the last waiting list we encountered – the KiTa waiting list – this one was a rather nebulous, not entirely sure what criteria gets you moved further up it, intransparent, six-month affair, negotiated ultimately by that age-old trick of calling up frequently and asking whether it was finally our turn.  Continue reading

Berlin Day Trips

This summer’s disappointing weather has vacillated between pouring rain and all-consuming heat that leaves you dripping with sweat. Both ways, you end up wet. And not entirely happy.

Perhaps that is why I am casting my eyes outside of Berlin for some summer fun. Sometimes you’ve just got to get out of the city and into the Berlin countryside (or a little further afield). Here are several Berlin day trips with something for every breed of expat or traveler.

 Peacock Island (Pfaueninsel)


For the Nature Lover

Pfaueninsel – “Peacock Island” is a walkable island on a nature reserve in the River Havel. It couldn’t get more peaceful…except for the occasional shriek of a peacock. Yes – real peacocks live on the island!  Once the summer escape for Frederick William II (and a haven for his mistress), this island had all the reminders of long-ago decadence. This UNESCO World Heritage Site has a shuttered castle, exotic birds and an air of elegance, all easily reachable by public transport and a very short ferry ride from Berlin.

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Swimming in Germany

It’s summer time and those of us in Germany have just emerged from an intense week of record breaking heat (40 degrees C/104.5 degrees F). What to do in this heat in an air condition-less country? Hit the water.

While dipping your feet into that water might be all you need, you might want to go all the way. If you’re wondering how water safe you or your child is, fear not, there is a swimming testing process here in Germany that tells you exactly what your level is.

The early swim badges. PHOTO: Jane Park

The early swim badges. PHOTO: Jane Park

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Berlin Suburbia: An Expat Guide


View of the Fensehturm from Mauerpark in Prenzlauerberg

We decided against buying a fancy coffee machine when we moved to Berlin because right downstairs from our flat is a cafe which serves a good espresso; the coffee in the cafe two houses further is even better. At the end of our road is a gloriously big park and at the other end the full spectrum of food shops – from Lidl to a high-end organic deli. 10 minutes from Alexanderplatz, 15 minutes from Mitte and its world-famous museums, 20 minutes from Kreuzberg and 20 minutes from Hauptbahnhof (Berlin’s central station): we live centrally and happily so. But friends who used to live nearby have upped sticks and moved to the suburbs. Missing them and curious to know how it has changed their lives, we ventured out to visit at the weekend. It was a lovely spot – green and quiet. Their flat is much bigger than their old one and they have something near unheard of in the city – a garden. Their children will be able to walk to school along quiet tree-lined streets; no tram-tracks, heavy lorries or police sirens to contend with. Because living as centrally as we do is not typical for most major cities, especially with a family, got us thinking about what life might be like if we too were to consider Berlin suburbia – useful knowledge for any expat considering a move to Berlin.

1. Zehlendorf

Main features: South west Berlin, formerly in the American sector, now part of the administrative district of Steglitz-Zehlendorf, less ethnically diverse than many other parts of Berlin, votes predominantly CDU.

What you might like: The small but bustling high street right next to the S-Bahn station reflects Zehlendorf’s earlier history as a separate village on the outskirts of Berlin – it has everything from arthouse cinema to H&M, from fancy cake shop to rustic bakery. Continue reading