As I rode through an increasingly sparse landscape, Hermannstraße turned into Britzer Damm and apartment blocks broke down into a jumble of free standing stores and deteriorating warehouses. This charming, though eerily industrial, neighbourhood faded as my bike took me across a pastoral series of suburbs. Houses became smaller. Hedges became closer, concrete streets chipped away into gravel and eventually I found myself at the small back entrance of Britzer Garten.
In this surprisingly-spacious enclave tucked between acres of small summer homes, lays quiet a rolling park filled with young trees and shimmering lakes. Built in 1985 for the isolated residents of West Berlin, it provided a substitute for the German countryside to which they had little access. Here, they could experience the wide vistas and intrepid feeling of the natural forest landscape, as well as dilate their pupils with the lush colors of tulip, daffodil, and rose festivals (which are still celebrated annually).
Though the walls surrounding Cold War West Berlin have since fallen and the countryside is within reach, Britzer Garten still provides a stage to explore naturalistic landscape, the four seasons, and sides of Berlin rarely seen. The structure of the park is a combination of Picturesque English Garden style (which mimics nature) and an 1980’s, polished aesthetic. It has the man-made hills of New York’s Central Park combined with bounded and perfectionist, though artistic, touches. The manicured lawns and glassy lakes are hosts to various, neat installations: sculptures, metal lawn chairs, sun dials, and expressive bridges. This whole stylized setting affected the way I was interacting with the world around me. Unexpectedly, it felt very normal here to climb up the easily marked trails and conquer the faux-terrain before me. The ecstasy that accompanies genuine forest adventures was absent, but in attendance was a hushed buoyancy. This adventurousness didn’t roar through synapses or pulse down arteries, but it pushed me pleasurably forward throughout my visit.
However new this quiet impetus, nothing was as affecting and intriguing as the unique population I found there: suburban Berliners.
Living in Berlin’s city center, it is easy to develop a distorted view of the entire country. One easily imagines that every dorf(small town) and vorstadt(suburb) overflows with relaxed, cosmopolitan, edgy 20- and 30-somethings. However, coming to Britzer Garten, south of the city, was a quick disabusal. Elderly couples came from nearby neighborhoods in matching, “practical”, outdoor gear to peer silently into the lake or amble quietly down beige paved paths. Their grandchildren ran hesitantly a few meters from them, while newly-weds held hands on a wooden bridge. If my description sounds at all distant, it is because, for the first time in months, I had genuinely experienced a side of Berlin I’d never known. This novelty showed me, again, that I do live in a special place and that there is so much more, right outside the city center, to explore.
So, I recommend you-whether you’re a visitor, a new resident, or simply a curious Berliner- go to Britzer Garten. I guarantee you will see something new and have a great time doing it. You’ll feel that you’ve really escaped your neighbourhood and your simple ideas of Berlin life. Isn’t that what exploring is all about?
Britzer Garten (3 euro entrance fee for adults)
Daily 9:00 until16:00 (November to February)
Daily 9:00 until18.00 (March and October)
Daily 9:00 until 20.00 (April to September)
Sangerhauser Weg 1, 12349 Berlin (There are multiple entrances. Look below the linked map)