Berlin Walks: Oranienplatz
With spring approaching us once again, the darkness of the city starts being replaced with more sunny days, clearer skies and wonderfully pink sunsets. The seasons and weather in Berlin is very different from my hometown, Sāo Paulo. There, the seasons cannot be distinguished as intensely as here; and although you have more days of heat and sunshine, I for one always took the yellow skies for granted. In Berlin, the weather and transition of seasons is a psychological, emotional and physical process. Humans residing in this city become like flowers. They fade away slowly with the entrance of winter, it’s an internal time to reflect and take in all that’s happened in the previous year. The winter time starts as a much needed moment of solidarity, of re-grouping, but soon lags onto into a painstakingly long hibernation. I moved to Berlin in February, it was snowy and the streets were deserted. Someone told me that soon the sun would begin showing its rays again, and that I’d see people standing on the streets - finding the patches of sunlight. Looking up to the sky, and feeling the warmth on their faces and hands. I always think about that scene, hence why I feel we’re much closer to plants and flowers. The spring comes and it’s wonderful, an abundance of colour, sensitive and warm natural light and a crisp air. New smells, people retreating from their winter caves, clothes become more colourful, the city in bloom. Instead of going onto summer, I thought I’d continue to reminisce about what’s to come by listing some of my favourite walks. Maybe we’ll make this into a series, and invite friends to share their best neighbourhood walks.
Start on Oranienplatz
This square holds important political significance in Berlin. The OPlatz Movement takes after it’s name and was stationed on Oranienplatz between October 2012 and April 2014. The square is still a common place for demonstrations and protests. In the warmer months, you can witness, partake or simply learn about the different struggles people face today on the square. Usually, demonstrations are beginning there, and going into the centre. The square is also one of the liveliest spots during the 1st May - Labour Day celebrations in Berlin, popularly dubbed “May Day”. From Oranienplatz you can follow the old canal passageways, either to Landwehr Kanal, or to Engelbecken. If you are using the map to guide you, you can either select the “Historical Walk” or the “Spree Walk”. Either can take from a half hour of your time to a whole afternoon, depending on the weather and how inclined you are relax and have a slow day.
The “historical walk” will take you through what used to be Luisenstadt Canal, and now is a walkway/ underpassage. It will lead you to Engelbecken, which translates to Angel’s Pool. Depending on when you do this walk, Engelbecken’s rosegardens might be in full swing. Enjoy the beautiful flowers, and take a seat around the pool, which has many swans, ducks and some turtles. In the winter, when the pool freezes over (it’s very shallow) many people put on their ski’s and ice skate here (but it’s somewhat a locals secret… so… shhh). Engelbecken was also right between the east/west divide. I used to live in a building which overlooked it, and one of the old-time residents of the building (he probably lived there since the 70’s) said that the pool was totally covered up, and there were watchtowers to control the border. He said it was quite an undesirable place to live because the watch tower lights would invade his private living space. I love to bring my friends here. When you stand facing the church, and look on either side of the street, you can see a stark difference in the architecture - and you’re reminded of how real the divide was. The next place on the map, is Michaelkirche (St. Michaels Church), which is just up ahead. Many people don’t notice on first look that this church is missing an integral part of it’s structure. It’s outerwalls still stand, but the majority of the churches interior was destroyed in the Second World War by air raids. Within the church, there is actually a garden, which I believe opens once a year to the public. Next, “D” on the map, take your to a building which stands on the corner of Engeldamm X Michaelkirchplatz. This building, called the Taut-Haus, now houses luxury apartments, but it’s history is equally as interesting at the other spots visited. Taut-Haus was built by Modernist architect Bruno Taut and his brother Max Taut in the late 1920’s. Bruno Taut’s legacy, his utopian vision and egalitarian beliefs can be see still echoed in parts of Berlin, especially though the social housing. Taut-Haus is far from that, but one can still appreciate its robust beauty, and read more about the buildings nine-lives. Next on the walk, is the Kinderbauernhof (Kid’s farm) which is marked as letter “E” on the map. It’s open on weekends and most weekdays, except Wednesdays I believe. There are 3 horses all over 30 years old (Max, Lola and Lolek) and an old but very mellow donkey (Pifke) who’s also over 30 and blind. The area the farm is in, was once occupied by squats, their way for them to remain on the grounds is to give back to the community. A dedicated team of volunteers works to care for all the animals. Besides the horses and Pifke, there’s also many goats, sheep, geese and a lazy cat. End your walk, by going next door to Bonanza Coffee, and treat yourself to their Cardamon bun.
Spree walk is more focused around nature! It’s perfect for that really sunny day, when you want to relax along the water, and perhaps have a picnic on the canal. Start on the same spot, on Oranienplatz, and walk through the middle (old canal passage ways). The scenery begins to get greener and greener, until it opens up to the canal. This is a popular spot for lazing around whenever it’s sunny, until sundown. Stay and chill here a bit, or if you’re hungry, turn to the right and cross Admiralsbrücke (a lively bridge) where many people gather, and hang out. I’ve even seen people hanging out here on colder winter nights! There’s a great pizza place called Il Casolare, where you can either eat in, or takeaway and sit on the grass. All upto you, there’s actually quite a few other nice food option around here. End your walk, at Prinzessinengarten, a community garden which was once a junkyard! Now it has an amazing openair cafe under the trees, and a tall treehouse where I’ve sat down to read and relax.