Sunday, June 17, 2018

Germendorf, the Jurassic Park near Berlin

Looking for spending some gorgeous unforgettable time with your children, not too far away from Berlin? Desperately searching for an unique place to spend the birthday of your dinosaurs-loving children? The happy parents of a kid - or two - keen to learn as much as possible about science and animals? The petting farm and dinosaurs, plus the little beach and adventure park and the many playgrounds are enough to keep your little ones and yourself busy for as much as a full day of entertainment at Germendorf.

The biggest challenge to arrive to this secret natural oasis near Berlin if you don't drive is transportation. First, you need to arrive to Oranienburg - with the ABC transportation ticket - and then to wait at the S-Bahn station for the bus 842, which during the weekend operates only once the hour. You need to stop at Germendorf station and from there, walk for another couple of minutes until you reach the park. As from the bus station there are no directions, you better use your Google Maps to reach the Tierpark or just follow people with children.
If you drive here, you can easily reach it via the highway Berlin-Stralsund, or follow the directions Kremmen/Nauen.
We personally decided to have a stop first at the Seeterrasse nearby, for a lunch with a view over the lake, within minutes of walking to the park entrance.

The park is open all round the year, from 9am to 7pm, including weekends and banking holidays. The entry is 5 EUR for adults and 2 EUR for children up to 2. The 69 hectars of land offers practically almost everything you may need for spending a family day outdoors: fishing opportunities, over 650 animals, plus the open playground and other entertainment options.

The petting farm is a real attraction among children, with the possibility of purchasing food to feed them on the spot. Besides the chance offered to the little ones, mostly growing up surrounded by concrete and stuffed animals, to encounter real life, there is also a psychological aspect of such a meeting, as the children learn to be good with the animals, to do not fear them, and respect them.

Besides the usual farm animals like goats and goose and hen, there are also the gracious deers, which are always happy to grab some food from your hand.They were as many and as friendly as the ones from the Wildpark Frankfurt/Oder, and as we've been there recently, it was a great pleasure to meet them again.

Does it look this little one as the precious Bambi? You don't have to be a child to instantly fall in love with this gorgeous creature...You can go further with your love for animals, riding the poneys, for instance. In addition, you can also visit the noisy monkeys or the collection of exotic birds.

And there is more to this park than the pets: the spectacular, huge-size dinosaurs. As shortly upon arrival it started to rain, we sheltered for a little while in a small museum playing a movie life during old ages which was both interesting scientifically-wise and entertaining for the less 'literate' small ones. However, the spectacular views created outdoors are really impressive.

Some of the dinos are uttering some low scary sounds which make the ambiance even more authentic. There is even a volcano that can be visited and the park is organised up to various geological time frames. 

Peek-a-boo! It's me, the scary dino! Compared to the ones I've seen at the Biosphere Potsdam, the ones from Germendorf do not move, but their presence is impressive enough to make you think about them a lot after the visit.

One of the many options offered by Germendorf is also the chance of spending a lot of time outdoors - when weather allows - with your picnic friends and basket full of food, sunbathing and even swimming a little bit.

With the summer holidays coming up in just a couple of weeks, there will be a lot of things to do with children in Berlin or elsewhere, such as in Elstal, and adding Germendorf to the list will only add more fun to some unforgettable family times.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Secret Natural Retreats near Berlin: Gatow and Kladow

If you are following my blog for a while, you know already how much I love spending as much time as possible outdoors, especially during the summer. As Berlin abunds in such offers, although I love discovering more and more natural retreats from one to a couple of hours away of the city, I also appreciated those oasis just a couple of stations away from the big B. One of the last weekends, I've spent some lovely time in two places which can be reached easily by using the BVG local transportation system: Gatow and Kladow.


Until this year, I've only been to Gatow for a visit at the Military Museum. The area around the museum is mostly an urban agglomeration of small mansions and copy-pasted family houses built as many as the space around the former military airport allowed. However this time, once I stop at the Alt-Gatow bus station, the view is completely different: individual stone houses, covered by exuberant layers of ivy, with generous flowers gardens.

Nearby, there are also big veggie gardens, mostly for the use of the big organic food chains in Berlin. If you are there early in the morning, you can see people passionatelly picking up the vegetables. A couple of meters away, there are also some strawberry farms from where you can pick your own fruits and also a milk farm, great for those who love to experiment with cheese and milk-based products.

My favorite summer views may always include blue waters, surrounded by green forests and crossed by white elegant yachts. Mission accomplished in Gatow, as the area near the shores of the river Havel has plenty of it. There is a park where the children are playing, with long wooden tables for picnics or various celebrations. Enough to spend there an impressive amount of time, doing nothing. Nothing at all. Nearby, there are a couple of Italian restaurants with big outdoors space, so you can sip your beer and enjoy your pasta or pizza with a view.

Except if you are looking for a cultural challenge and you are lucky enough to find the Art Gallery on Kladower Damm 97 open.  

Happy now? Then unleash your bike and run hard until the next stop of the day...


I've been first to Kladow three years ago, when limited by a new job and the pregnancy I was exclusively looking for some easy destinations, preferably very close to Berlin. Then, I really enjoyed the charming summer feels. Although I did change a lot since then, the good vibes were still there and was happy to be back in this lovely place. A place where there are many stories to be told, like this tree that since the 17th century succeeded to survive various historical encounters. 

There are so many examples of individual architecture in the area, with big areas left for the green bushes or flowers that embelish both the view and the mood of the inhabitants. 

But who actually would stay indoors when you such views are waiting for you outdoors? Kladow can be reached not only by bike or bus from Berlin, but also with a BVG available ticket by boat from Wannsee. An option to be hopefully checked soon.

Until then, time for counting the happy ducks on lily pads.

On the promenade, there is a row of food places, from fish restaurants to fast-foods, a bit over-priced, but with a view over port, so at least once in a while you may spoil yourself. Some places to also have a sand playground so if you are visiting with kids in tow, you may find a nice way to keep them a bit busy while you are having your lunch.

The foodie choice of the day: Maisel Biergarten, for a hot potato soaked in sour cream. A very countryside choice, easy going and unexpensive too. A couple of days after this visit later, went to check again the Chinese restaurant Regent where I've been the last time, and unfortunatelly, both the service and the food went a couple of steps and stairs down. 

The views are an invitation to slow down and get yourself away from the daily worries. Nothing to worry and be sad about. Not now, not today and maybe either tomorrow.

Far away on the other side of the river, Potsdam with its many attractions is winking at me, but I am lazy enough to answer its call. At least not now. It is so quiet around that it seems that instantly all the many people sipping their beers in the beer gardens, made a sudden agreement to not utter any single word for the time being.

Although summer may run away too fast - please, don't - I hope that at least once the month to be able to return here to try another restaurant at the promenade, walk near the river and enjoy every single ray of light. There is life after the summer but until then, I decided to get the best of every moment of daylight. A decision I am sure will keep it!

Monday, June 11, 2018

Visiting Trebbin and Hiking in Nathe-Nieplitz Natural Park

I often change my travel plans on the spot. Especially when I am passing near a place that I realize it may be interesting for one of the thousands of reasons I usually chose for travel. When on my way to Luckenwalde, Trebbin was an appealing option for some extra hiking in the Nathe-Nieplitz Natural Park, but somehow it was a bit too late getting a full taste of the place so decided to book a day there the next week.

In less than 30 minutes by train from Berlin Südkreuz train station, I arrived together with other people happy that the weather is getting warm enough for biking around Berlin. The surrounding enthusiasm almost made me ignore the relatively end-of-the world feeling of the train station.

The more I am getting away from the train station, direction Bahnhofstrasse, Berlinerstrasse, the views are getting better and better. As Trebbin is very close to Beelitz and part of the 'asparagus route', there were many charts selling Germany's favorite spring veggie. Very often though, the precious asparagus - or rhubarb, or eggs or some other local products - were just left in the front of the house with a small piggy bank nearby where to leave the money after the self-service. I've seen this in Werder last year and it is relatively common practice in the small localities around Berlin. It is a system based on trust which seems to function very well in small communities.

In the history of German literature, the 800-year old Trebbin is singled out as the place of birth of Hans Clauert/Clawert, a character from the chronicle of Eulenspiegel. His fictional memory is celebrated with a joyful representation in the front of the city hall which reminded me of the Calauers', also in the area around Berlin.

The building of the city hall, with a row of palms in the front, looks a bit more like a little rich bourgeois mansion than a serious bureaucratic institution. 

As it was weekend, everything was closed, but would have been a bit curious to have a look inside the building, as many such institutions in Germany do have some interesting halls or interior decorations.

Our trip continues with Luckenwaldestrasse and the streets around, bordered by timbered houses out of time, colourful and well preserved.

Many of the shops are also out of time - not necessarily a compliment, especially if you look at the ones selling clothes, very fashionable probably in the early 1960s - but do also have some very homely hobby ones, inviting you to have a look, if not to purchase anything. 

But all those observations and things I see on my way are secondary, as my main aim for this trip is to do as much hiking as our feet can in the Nathe Nieplitz Natural Park. After such a harsh cold winter, I want and need green landscapes to soak my eyes into. Take care what do you wish for, as I am rewarded generously with peaceful views.

The ways through the forest are equally beautiful, with majestic trees covered in ivy or green leaves.

Or magic landscapes where you may expect some fantastic creatures to cross your ways. Nothing so far happened to us, with no single soul around to bother our zen world.

Nothing compares to the view of the fields in the summer, with their golden yellows and touches of green, blessed by the geenrous rays of light.

Far from being a countryside girl - at least not when it comes to assuming the survival chores required for such a lifestyle - yet fascinated by the beauty of nature that I cannot understand, only describe in sometimes cheesy words.

We keep walking and walking, with a short stop for refreshing with water, fruits and some snacks. People are biking or walking their dogs near us, uttering polite 'hellos' or just fast forwarding at high speed. Is place for all of us under the sun, after all.

I can hardly put the camera aside, trying to catch in my pictures as much balance and love for nature and peace that can help me when back in my busy urban life.

Urban life that in fact I cannot stay away from more than a couple of hours. My nature voyeurism ends soon and I am back on concrete, looking for some more houses and familiar signs of human life.

But when a place like Trebbin is situated in the middle of such a beautiful wild landscape, the separation between 'nature' and 'culture' is never complete and both sides of life are there to remind you to pick up only what really matters in life.

Which, in my case, is a generous strawberry icecream cup at the Konrad near the city hall. I may only look for coffees and cakes - and a couple of months the year also some icecream, but, you know what, it's my life and no one else's...

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

A New Berlin Neighbourhood to Explore: Oberschöneweide

Caught in between the Köpenick with its lovely castle and old neighbourhood, where expats love to go rather than live, Treptow and Lichtenberg, Oberschöneweide is rarely on any radar, including for the locals. No museum, a lot of industrial spaces, the relatively out-of-time former communist neighbourhood, with old grey blocks of buildings, casino rooms and tattoo parlours. Except that as many other parts of this city, it is slowly changing, and getting - at least real-estate wise a facelife. I personally never cared about this part of my beloved Berlin until starting to work for some projects headquarters in some co-working spaces created in a former industrial facility. Week by week, my understanding and knowledge about this area changed and decided to explore it even more. At least for learning a bit more about the recent history of the area.  

The journey started at the S-Bahn Schöneweide, which is currently under various rehabilitation stages and hopefully will soon look less ugly. It is a typical 'old style' train station which was on the way adapted to some new modern facilities, with elevators out of order once in a while and some unpleasant odors welcoming the visitor. On the other side of the street, the red-bricked Michael-Brückner-Haus named after a former mayor of this neighbourhood, serves as the Citizens' Office. It looks neat and clean inside, the opposite of the messy train station.

After passing some Indian restaurants - Taj Mahal and Tandoor House, not necessarily authentic, but fully packed given their business hour offer - we wander on Spreestraße, with freshly painted colourful houses. At the beginning of the 20th century, Schoneweide and the adjacent areas were called 'Elektropolis' for the concentration of industries having to do with lightning and electricity, therefore the housing solutions were aimed at offering minimal conditions to the people working in the factories. Nowadays, many of those seem to be cheaply embelish before changing hands to new owners aimed to develop new - and expensier - living arrangements. 

When things are just too bad to be refurbished, they are flattened down and new constructions appear and the fever caught this part of the city as well. Nobody talks too much as for yet because everyone is busy purchasing or investing.

On the rivers of Spree, you can see on both sides, the former industrial facilities that are so much sought nowadays from artists, yoga trainers and doctors too to medium-sized companies hosted in the minimally refurbished industrial workshops.

During my around 15 minutes stop at the river, I've counted more than 5 small boats, speed boats, leisure boats crossing at high-speed the area, therefore there is a potential for entertainment too, with the small port of Kopenick, just a couple of bridges away. There is at least one hotel with a view over the river, which makes it a nice accommodation option, also given the proximity with Schönefeld airport and possibly withe much-praise-promised and never-achieved-as-for-now (yes, you were right, I am talking/reading/writing too much in German lately) Berlin Brandenburg Airport. Mostly, there are cheap options, but there is a direct S-Bahn line to the South of the city as well as to the central, touristic area of the city.

The architectural landscape is overcrowded but the boat traffic brings the human presence around which make things look more warm and friendly. Count also in the summer the lucky Berliners sunbathings on the shores or walking their dogs in the middle of the day.

One of the main industrial yards on one side of the Brückerstraße and down on Rheinbeckstraße is Rathenau Halle, with some supermarket, art workshops and music studios already settled. Big part of it is still looking for a destination for its locations. There were some plans for creating apartments, but as for now it is not crystal clear.

Most buildings are going through various transformations, but some typical industrial headquarters with a simple architecture are still maintained. 

In some locations, the ugly buildings hide funny and gay interior decorations, as in the case of the Café Schoneweile, packed with healthy-conscious customers.

I've gave a try to their lemon soup of the day - never had something so good, spicy and sparkling, with a milky consistence and satiating, before - and a bite of their homemade carrot cake. So bad they don't have lemonade, otherwise they are perfect (and a fast and friendly customer service too, plus a sand corner for the babies).   

A couple of meters away, one can visit an art collection and some industrial art at the Industriesalon. The hard, noisy work around promises even more surprises, but not sure what exactly to expect. 

The intensive post-industrial construction activities in this former industrial area are not to everyone's tastes and there are local initiatives pledging for keeping the shores green and free of buildings (Ufer Frei). As the free and fresh air of the city is concerned it makes sense, but some shores in this part of the city can be eventually re-designed to host more parks and walking facilities, while keeping the predominant green lanes.

On the other side of the crossing the former AEG Leuchtfabrik (Light factory) on Edisonstraße, in the 1920s the biggest in Europe, is bursting with life too: one wing is under construction, the other is intensively hosting various businesses. 

The setting remains industrial, either in the case of the Asian fast-food hosted in an old tram, or the fancy art studios holding photo sessions in rooms with white ceilings crossed by way too many black plumbing and cables.  

There is even a restaurant with a beautiful view over the river.

The bookstore near the Edisonstraße entry helps to update the bibliography in terms of local industrial history, with many thematic German books. As far as I've seen, it is the only source of books in the area, with the local library a couple of meters away from the train station.

During the industrial times, the crossing on Wilhelminenhofstraße used to separate the living area from the industrial factories, with the tram crossing the street, but nowadays the limits are less clear. The times have changed and like many other places in Berlin, Oberschoneweide is searching for a new identity.

As for now, you can hardly fine other interesting small boutique places outside the huge shopping area near the S-Bahn station and it is hardly too much to see and do. Not too many foodie temptations either, with most of the places to eat being fast-food oriented. But once in a while, you may see some appealing architectural details, but be careful enough to watch your steps, as there are many small streets in process of rehabilitation. 

Urban history and maybe a bit more is underway in Oberschöneweide and would love to keep an eye on this area in the near future...