The Secrets of Winter: a perfect day in BerlinPosted by in Travel - 19 February 2013
Some people will tell you that Berlin is like a different city during the depths of winter, and they’d be right. Different yes, but not worse than in the friendlier seasons. Actually, now I’ve lived here for the best part of four years, I’ve come to embrace the icy innercity, with its snowy streets fading to slushy brown. At any other time of year, you’ll share the parks and pavements with hoards of other revellers all enjoying a slice of Europe’s party capital, but between November and March, you can enjoy some quality one-on-one time with this most enigmatic and dynamic of cities.
Having started the day with cup of freshly brewed coffee (courtesy of my neighbours at Five Elephant), it’s time to get outside and face up to whatever the day has in store. It’s invariably not as bad as it looks from the cosiness of a warm flat. I always take my dog out — sometimes we walk, sometimes we jog — and his general enthusiasm and complete indifference to the weather are infectious. Cutting through the scruffily charming Görlitzer Park, a former train station forced into obsolescence by the Wall, we head towards the banks of the mighty River Spree.
Now well into what was once the East, grand avenues gradually morph into forest as the impressive villas become fewer and further between. This is Treptower Park, a sprawling labyrinth of towering trees and vast green spaces, the river at the northern edge providing a peaceful waterside promenade made just, it seems, for dogs and joggers.
We’re warm now, and my cheeks glow red. It’s time to head home, make myself presentable and jump on the bus to check out one of Berlin’s inexhaustible supply of exciting exhibitions. My final destination is often the Haus der Kulturen der Welt, host to any number of pioneering international initiatives from renowned Transmediale festival to the new and compelling Anthropocene Project. Then again, it could be the Hamburger Bahnhof, once the main hub for trains to Hamburg, now an innovative museum for modern art with a permanent collection featuring the likes of Andy Warhol and Gerhard Richter.
Another great thing about winter is that it justifies a perhaps unhealthy amount of visits to the pictures. I’m addicted to the handful of Yorck arthouse cinemas that show films in their original language with German subtitles. Forget generic blockbusters in a faceless multiplex, this is movie-going as it’s supposed to be done, with thoughtfully selected features, painstakingly restored cinemas and fairly priced tickets.
After all that solitude and reflection, a salubrious dose of socialising is probably in order. On its lesser-known list of benefits, winter also offers the opportunity to go to bars much earlier than is usually acceptable. When it gets dark just before four in the afternoon, 6pm can feel like the middle of the night, so meeting friends for a hearty German beer in a gemütlich bar is just what the doctor ordered. Some (most) continue late into the night at one or more of Berlin’s world-famous clubs. But me, I make sure I’m tucked up at a reasonable hour ready for tomorrow morning’s date with the great outdoors, well rested and ready for whatever this wonderful city has to throw at me.