Best Day Trips from Berlin
If you’re coming to Berlin for the first (or even the second or third time), there’s more than enough to keep you occupied within the city limits – Greater Berlin is, after all, roughly twice the size of Paris and there are more museums here than there are rainy days per year. If you’re more of a regular visitor, however, and are familiar with the city, it’s worth casting your net a little wider and having a little explore beyond Berlin’s borders. You won’t be disappointed. Here’s a few tips for inspiration:
Potsdam is a city of kings – where the Hohenzollern monarchy of Prussia and Germany built their summer residences to escape the heat, crowds and smells of summertime Berlin. It is to the German capital as Versaille is to Paris. And it’s super easy and quick to get there from Berlin’s city centre. Either hop on the S-bahn on the S7 line or the RE1 regional train from Alexanderplatz, Friedrichstraße or Hauptbahnhof – both lines will take you to Potsdam Hauptbahnhof. From there it’s a short bus ride into the downtown or to the palace gardens. Visiting Sanssouci – Frederick the Great’s private sanctum with it’s tiered vineyard – is a must, and history buffs should also head out to Cecilienhof in the New Gardens – where Churchill, Truman and Stalin met for the Potsdam Conference at the end of WWII.
This biosphere nature reserve is one of Brandenburg’s best natural features. Extensive waterways criss-cross sprawling Alder forest in this protected wetland – famous for preserving it’s slavic traditions (look out for the log houses with their steep roofs) and its gherkins (protected under EU law). It’s beautiful in winter if there’s been snowfall and the waterways are frozen over, but it’s best to go in summer – prime time for trundling up and down the canals and tributaries of the submerged forest in kayaks. Just make sure you pack your bug spray – the Spreewald is mosquito territory. The gateway to the Spreewald is Lübbenau, reachable via train from Berlin in roughly an hour. You’ll find everything you need – kayak and bicycle hire, boat rides, restaurants etc. – there.
The capital of Saxony, overlooking the river Elbe, is certainly doable in a (long) day from Berlin, and definitely worth the time spent in transit to get there and back. The reconstructed Old Town (parts of it still scorched from the savage Allied fire-bombing raid on the city in February of 1945) is full of architectural gems to admire – the Frauenkirche and the Zwinger Palace foremost among them – pleasant parks to stroll in, and world class museums and galleries to visit. The Museum of Military History, for example, is considered the best of its kind in Germany. Direct trains from Berlin take a shade over two hours, while travelling on a coach (much cheaper) takes roughly two-and-a-half to three hours, depending on traffic.
Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp Memorial
If you’ve not visited a concentration camp memorial before, this is an important, if sobering, trip to make. Sachsenhausen was the largest concentration camp in the vicinity of Berlin, and was used for the detainment and exploitation of 200,000 political prisoners and racial enemies of the National socialist regime. More than 10,000 inmates died there as a result of starvation, disease, and systematic murder perpetrated by the SS. The memorial site is poignant and powerful, and has an excellent exhibition. Entrance is free, but you should make a donation. Get there on the S1 train line to Oranienburg station, and either walk (15 minutes) or take the bus (5 minutes) from there.
Geographically speaking, Berlin and its surrounds are marsh land. The name Berlin is even derived from an old slavic word for swamp – Brlo. This means the city is surrounded by lakes, hundreds of them. On sweltering days in the summer, that’s where Berliners will find their respite. Schlachtensee is surrounded by forest and easy to get to on the S1 train line (it has its own station). The edgier crowd might want to consider Teufelssee in the Grünewald – but be aware it’s tacitly acknowledged that this is a nudist lake, so there’ll be plenty of flesh on display. Our favourite, though tricky to reach for the uninitiated without a car, is Liepnitzsee with it’s crystal clear waters and forested island. You need to take the S2 from Bernau, then ride the bus from there.
Baumblütenfest, Werder an der Havel
Very much a cultural curiosity, this one. The Baumblütenfest is the largest carnival in former East Germany, takes place annually at the beginning of September, and sees the entire populace of quaint German riverside town Werder lose their minds as they crack open the year’s stock of fruit wine. People throw open their houses and gardens to strangers, there’s live music stages in the heart of the old town, and ubiquitous, chaotic merriment. Careful now, the local tipple (in myriad flavours such as strawberry, elderflower, apricot, and birch sap) packs a punch. The 2020 fest is currently in jeopardy, however, with the contracts of previous partners expiring in March 2019 and the town authorities looking to reorganise the festival into a more sustainable enterprise. Watch this space.
One for the family, this converted zeppelin hangar is Europe’s largest indoor swimming park and sauna complex. There’s myriad pools, snaking speed slides, a sandy beach, palm trees, an indoor rainforest, and an outdoor rapids section for you and your kids to tear your way through. Childless visitors may consider an extended visit to one of the many bars or the sprawling sauna area to get away from all the madness. Getting there from Berlin is simple. Take the RE2 regional train from Alexanderplatz to Brand Tropical Islands train station (circa 40 minutes) and jump on the shuttle bus from there.