Looking for some green gifts to take home from Berlin? What about gardening inspirations, vegetarian food ideas and some vegan condoms?
As one of Europe’s “greenest” cities you are never far away from a park, garden, lakeside or riverbank to breath in some fresh air or just sit yourself down after hefty sightseeing in the German capital.
Green is no longer alternative in the city but mainstream; so too are sustainable co-operatives, hipster bars and eco-friendly shops. So don’t be surprised to find veggie wurst, tofu kebabs, upcycled clothes, oh, and vegan condoms – this is a day and night city after all.
But back to green spaces which you must, of course, visit by foot, cycle or public transport to amass those green credentials.
Cable car at IGA
This year, until 15 October, visitors looking for a new parks and gardens experience can head out to a less explored part of the city to spend some hours at the International Garden Exhibition (known as IGA).
It is not quite what we would expect from a flower show, rather it is a parkland covering 104 hectares that is literally breathing new life into a neglected part of the city’s former Eastern Berlin suburbs (a little like London’s post-Olympic site, the Queen Elizabeth II park).
The IGA grounds are in an area called Marzahn-Hellersdorf that few UK visitors are likely to have ventured into before but is now worth checking out if you are on a longer stay in Berlin which is becoming increasingly common as it is one of the cheaper hotel cities with plenty of apartment accommodation. Similarly, if you like me, are a regular visitor to the city it could be an afternoon out that is a bit different.
The American garden at Gardens of the Worl
An eco-friendly watering herb wall
The Italianate garden
Inside the Balinese Garden hothouse
It is actually divided into five parts, the Gardens of the World, the Wuhletal Valley and Kienberg Park, incorporating Kienberg Hill and Kienberg Promenade with varied topography, partly natural, partly man-made and partly a bit of each (they had to put the post war rubble somewhere). The best way to get a feel for the place is to start from the main entrance of Kienbergpark at the subway station “Kienberg – Gardens of the World” and board the cable car, climb 25 to 30 metres up the top of a natural hill (made higher by the addition of wartime rubble) to the central area of the exhibition and vistas. The views are not just the natural landscape, a lake, a brook, those endangered breeds in enclosures but on a clear day (ours wasn’t) you can see all the way to the heart of the city and (always visible) the largest prefab settlements in Europe.
It is not all brand new. The “Gardens of the World” already existed but will be doubled to accommodate new international gardens created by landscape architects from around the globe. Everyone has their favourites and some are much more aesthetically pleasing than others, some appeal to the whacky (such an American parking lot with plastic palm trees), others more traditional, such as a walled Italianate garden, while the English-designed garden based on Vulcan will leave you hot or cold.
Head for the more traditional English Garden for the roses, herbs, box hedges that you would expect from Britain and then small patio-garden sized plots which are fabulously inspiring for we back yard gardeners. Also instantly calming and enjoyable are the more landscaped areas, rich with lawns and rhododendron, hydrangeas, hibiscus and perennials with seasonal planting in multi-coloured beds.
For children – and how do you keep little ‘uns amused in a big city like Berlin? – there is a play areas based on a locally well-known book called “The 35th May”. It takes the form of a fantastical adventure voyage through three playgrounds.
All through the festival there will be all manner of concerts and other events in a new 5,000 seat arena (an event overview can be found at www.iga-berlin-2017.de/en/event-calendar and tickets for special events in the arena can be bought at www.igaberlin-2017.de).
Yes, there are lots of parks, gardens, lakes and riverside walks in the city yet for the sightseer a number of the green spaces also contain some of the city’s historic sites – or have been created within those sites. The former includes the Soviet war memorials and graves at Treptow Park in the former East while the later is epitomized by the wide open spaces contained by the former Tempelhof Airport in the West. Tempelhof Airfield
The Arena at IGA
The South African garden
At Treptower Park there is a four kilometre long path along the Spree and if you make it to the island of youth (die Insel der Jugend) and historic monument, the Abbey Bridge,you can take to the water on pedal boats and rowing boats. The expansive parklands contain huge lawn and a play area, a large lake, the Archenhold Observatory and one of Europe’s most evocative reminders of the horrors of war and Russia’s unfathomably large price paid to liberate Europe from the Nazis, Soviet Memorial Treptow.
The Soviet Memorials and Cemetery
The small memorial just a short walk from Brandenburg Gate in the centre of the city is well know but this is far more remarkable. The cemetery holds the bodies of 5,000 Soviet soldiers, was built between 1946 and 1948 and the mass grave is surrounded by statues, memorial slabs and tableaux depicting the course of the Battle of Berlin. The monumental soldier carrying a child symbolises the staggering 80,000 Red Army soldiers killed in ridding Berlin of its National Socialist regime.
Jump forward to when the city was divided in the dark wake of that war and Templehof airport became the vital airbridge into Berlin when the Soviets blockaded the Western sections. It is now a massive public park following the closure of the airport in 2008. While tourists come to see the still standing airport buildings and spot the occasional eagle (carved in stone on the buildings) the Berlin population enjoy cycling, kite flying, jogging, dog walking – well just about anything you want to do outdoors – and there is also a small area for vegetable plots. It is also a great place to spot eagles – but sadly only the ones left carved on the walls by the Nazis.
Okay so we have to mention the Wall – you can hardly miss it. An excellent understanding of the physical, political, cultural and, sadly, demographic, division of the city can be best explored at the The Berlin Wall Documentation Center with the carefully preserved and augmented for interpretation sections of the monstrous construction, watch towers, death strips, memorials and memories. But that is an entire other feature. Suffice to say you are never far away from some reminder of the divided city days and there is nearly always something to discover, such as the Documentation Centre. Explore further and you will also be able to find one of the former “ghost stations” that happened to be in the east but which trains carrying passengers from one part of the West to another went through. They were, of course, closed down.
The Kiss, East Side Gallery
Berlin Wall Memorial
For some lighter relief you can check out the transformation of this area of the city as you stroll towards Hackesche Höfe in the Mitte district of Berlin, popping in and out of secret courtyards, checking out more eateries, trendy shops, gardens and galleries – and some exquisite Jugensteil architecture.
Markethalle Neun Street Food Thursday
While gentrification is well underway across swathes of the city, the once alternative party scene lifestyle can be seen in a more contemporary form on the banks of the Spree where the Berlin Wall once separated East and West.
Berlin has always had an avante garde reputation and in the days of the divided city a bit of a well, hippy, alternative, lifestyle due to cheap rent, empty spaces and the low cost of living. While land prices have soared, new buildings continue to grow faster than possibly any other European city, that lifestyle is being maintained, or at least, adapted to this new age. Aptly where three districts of the former East and West join, Kreuzberg, Friedrichshain and Mitte, there used to stand the legendary Berlin techno club Bar 25. It is now run as a cooperative with artists and start-up studios, a rather fine restaurant, and more true to the alternative past, a circus type bar, chill areas and a new hotel taking shape. Drop in to drop out (sort of) for a while or maybe lunch. www.holzmarkt.com
Hunger calling? Time to check out the Markthalle Neun Street Food Thursday in trendy Kreuzberg and search out the more unusual eateries from those flavoured tofus, veggie wursts and, of course, all manner of morsels for the meat munchers. There are, of course, probably many thousands of “sit-down” restaurants to try and it would be a sin not to sample the bounty of beers and crafted chocolates, with some suggestions below.
One interesting way to see the city and combine the present with the past is a video coach tour, with the conventional guiding transformed into a clever blend of old footage on screen with what you experience both through the windows and on several stops. Ours included snacking at the Markthalle Neun Street Food Thursday, beer sampling at Brauhaus Lemke, a wurst stall and for dessert the Rausch Chocolatier at Charlottenstraße 60. I have no idea if the chocolate is green – maybe the pistacchio? – but it just looks, feels, smells and tastes heavenly.
Oh, and the vegan condoms? Pop into a shop that got rid of packaging way before a charge for plastic bags was introduced. Since 2014, the Original Unverpackt supermarket has offered all products without packaging and customers use reusable bags and storage jars to take home their purchases. The shop offers everyday products, including foods, cleaners and beauty products. original-unverpackt.de
I didn’t try the vegan kebab but a veggie wurst was perfectly acceptable and the vegan condoms? No idea!