This is a great day trip when you're tired of Berlin's eternal hipness and just want to go look at some red squirrels in the woods and take a swim in a lake. It's also dirt cheap if you get the timing right.
You get the S-Bahn to Wannsee - it's a suburb in the south-west of the city. Come out of Wannsee station and cross over to the ferry port. Here you'll see a load of tourist boats, but also the 'BVG-fähre' boat to Kladow, a workaday ferry which leaves on the hour. So if you're lucky your S-Bahn ticket will still be valid and you can just hop on.
The ferry journey lasts about 20mins and takes you past an intriguing resort called Strandbad Wannsee - all 1920s architecture and neat rows of sunshades. You can imagine the flappers of the Weimar era frolicking there in their droves.
On arriving at Kladow you could take a right and follow the path into the woods - we did, and spotted a vivid red squirrel within minutes, which put us nicely in the zone for the rest of the day.
Once you're in the woods, and the parks and lakes beyond, you can just idle about the place and you are bound to find something to capture your imagination - for us it was a quick swim in the lake (there are a few sandy shores here and there), coming across an old orchard of gnarly apples and finding a dilapidated house that was once home to the Mendelssohn family.
Back at the bar on the shore by the ferry you can order some potato soup, wash it down with some Weisse beer and let the ubiquitous sparrow population entertain you. Then you can wind you way back to the hipster capital of the world a little less world weary.
The travel for the whole day cost us less than €5 as I recall, which made the wanderings even more carefree.
I wanted to find a pretty German lake for a swim on a sunny day, and Wandlitz was the obvious answer. But however hard I looked online I couldn’t find the answers to any of my questions, or even find the train station on google maps, so here goes…
To swim in the lake get on a train from Berlin Karow and get off at Wandlitzsee, and almost opposite the train station is a lido in the lake. It costs about two Euro to get in and there’s grassy banks, the lido, but also access to swim in the whole lake, rowing boats, diving boards, food and drink and lots of German families.
If you don’t want to go to the main public part of the lake try heading to the right as you approach the lido and take the path round, every so often there are areas you can access the lake for a swim, have a picnic, or just enjoy the peace and quiet.
This is all within Berlin zone C so easy to get to, and only about 15mins from Karow. We took a picnic and asked the woman in the boat hire to look after our things while we went for a swim which she was more than happy to do, but most people just left their belongings and as with everywhere else I went in Berlin you never really got the feeling that anything would get stolen.
Apparently it takes about three hours to walk round the whole lake but it was far too hot to even consider attempting that. And apparently the town is quite pretty, but I was desperate for Kaffee und Kuchen and so bi-passed that and headed back to the city.
Highlights? Watching the many varied attempts of people falling head first, feet first, and far too often belly first off the diving boards into the lake; and just swimming in a huge, calm, clean (although not quite crystal clear) stretch of water.
It’s no secret that Berlin isn’t too pretty and you don’t find a Medieval gem hidden round each corner, but frankly that’s not why you would visit so no shame in that. But if you are on the lookout for some old palaces, grand gardens and cute streets then look no further than Potsdam and bask in the glory of Frederick the Great’s architectural legacy.
And is it worth it? Yes, and I’d have been gutted if I had not gone, and ended up going twice. On the western edge of Park Sanssouci is the Neues Palais (take a bus from the station or hire a bike, although make sure you book in advance on sunny weekends) and then I wandered through the park past the Orangerie, the Chinese House and on to Schloss Sansoucci, Mr the Great’s favourite palace.
Maybe because it was the first one I saw or maybe because it is actually the most impressive, the Neues Palais stands out for me. It’s huge, it’s imposing, it’s incredible that anyone needed so many palaces, but apparently they did, and it’s possibly even more impressive than Pemberley, although Mr Darcy would probably make a more accommodating flatmate than Fred.
But what is more impressive is just wandering around the park on a sunny day and enjoying a completely different experience to Berlin, each part of the park you come across is interesting in it’s own right, and I’m sure I missed loads even after going twice. So you should go and check it out, even on a short trip to Berlin.
Potsdam itself is a nice place to explore, have some drinks, some food, a spot of shopping, and generally relax. We had lunch at Backstolz (on Dorturstrasse, just off Brandenburger Strasse) which was really nice.
To the south west of Berlin are the Wannsee lakes and the great Strandbad Wannsee, the largest inland lido in Europe. This is one of my favourite places to visit when in Berlin. If the weather's good what could be better than a day at the 'beach', having a swim and watching the boats sail by? Who would believe this is just a tube journey away from central Berlin. A short walk through the Grundewald from Nicholassee S-bahn and the lake opens up before your eyes!
Google map: bit.ly/UU2Iob
One of Germany's most beautiful natural areas is only an hour and a half by train from Berlin's Hauptbahnhof. The Spree Forest is laced with lakes and canals channelled from the Spree River hundreds of years ago. There are barges with guides for a relaxing glide through the forest, or canoes for a more energetic exploration. The local dill, mustard and herb-flavoured gherkins taste good with locally smoked fish sandwiches. There are plenty of paths for walking and cycling, and there's hot-air ballooning if the weather is right. A glass of refreshing Lübbenauer Babbenbier is the traditional way to end the day before heading home.
I lived in a university guest house behind the scenes in the gardens a while back and spent hours each day wandering around. The most fascinating walk takes you through the northern hemisphere temperate zones, starting with swamp cypress from the south-eastern US through Japan and China and onwards, ending with a typical German beech wood near the northern exit.
Hidden away in Berlin's laid back East Side, this back-of-a-boatshed haunt for recovering weekenders and general misfits exemplifies the best of Berlin's DIY bar culture. Comfily lo-fi, still manages a natural tree-covered canopy, a covered cinema, consistently brilliant music, and plenty of canalside seats (even if that means sitting in a boat). Staff are friendly and sound without being too-cool-for-school, and atmosphere will accommodate everyone happily, whatever your pleasure. Only in Berlin...
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