Saturday, June 23, 2018

A Short Trip Guide to Frankfurt/Oder

Since moving to Germany, I visited Frankfurt/Oder at least 3 times, each time looking for a short one-day trip from Berlin. With one exception, it was long before my blogging years, therefore no writing traces of my trip. This time, I am back for creating a short travel guide for anyone with an open mind to see a different side of the former communist Germany. 

Our first stop after 1h30 train ride from Charlottenburg train station is the picturesque Rosengarten, which looks like a small modern village. It was my stop when I first went to the Wildpark and I am back to visit the open air zoo again. The passageway through the streets is sometimes covered by a natural roof of fresh cherries and the weather is just perfect for spending a full spring day outdoors.  

The smell of the roses is filling the air and while waiting the 988 local bus to take us to the Wild Park, we are slowly walking the deserted streets whose quietness is broken only by the screams of the fighting geese from a house nearby.

If you not going there by car, transportation might be an issue, as the local bus connecting Rosengraten to the park and further to the rest of the city stops here only hourly. Arriving there early in the morning guarantees a full day outdoors, otherwise one may be careful to check the schedule of the last bus for not being completely lost in thbe middle of the fields. 

The open-air petting farm and zoo is enchanting enough to make you forget completely about the time. You can walk surrounded by deers that can't wait to be feed, coming along with the residents of the petting zoo and spend all the time in the world actively testing the various playgrounds for various ages and levels of difficulty. 

Our time here is short though and after three hours we are heading back to the world of humans, leaving the friendly animals behind. At the first sight, Frankfurt/Oder looks like an extremely worn-out former communist city and the streets and the huge blocks of houses are a constant reminder of the relatively recent past and completely lack of architectural common sense. However, tucked in the middle of 10 or more-storey houses, some discrete traces of a different past remained, memories of a time where the living was more individualized to the status and requirements of the inhabitants, not just boxes of matches. 

There are even more historical buildings relatively well-preserved, renovated a couple of years after the war, such as the 1903-built Karl Liebknecht Gymnasium on Wieckstraße, still used as an educational institution nowadays.

Talking about the boxes of matches, the communist architectural memories are also here to show their contribution to the recent history of Frankfurt/Oder.

Regardless of the type of housing you are living, you can easily find a retreat for catching up with your own life while wandering through Lenné Park, with its alleys surrounded by green trees leading the walking pathways around the water.

One of the few things Frankfurt/Oder is known outside is for its fast - by foot - connection to Poland. As in the case of Görlitz, you can reach the neighbouring country in just a couple of minutes, by crossing the bridge over the Oder river.

For the nature lovers, a walk on the shores of Oder is also a great opportunity to get away from the urban buzz, either by foot or by bike.

Besides the cheap cigarettes and drinks and other affordable shopping attractions that can be easily found in the Polish town of Slubice, the city also has university headquarters located on both sides of the border. The street and directions in Frankfurt/Oder are bilingual - German/Polish - and the opening of the academic center, which benefits from substantial EU funding, is aimed at displaying an example of post-Cold War openness, with the administrative borders rather a memory than a bureaucratic challenge. 

We made a short tour by foot of Slubice, but everything we see has to do with shopping and we are not exactly in the mood for it. Also, you have to change your Euros in the Polish local currency, Zloty. The university buildings are by far the most interesting in terms of modern architecture.

Our visit in Poland was short, as I was very curious to find even more touristic attractions of Frankfurt/Oder. 

Oder looks to offer many options for outdoors and sport lovers, with waters sports looking as a very attractive option during the summer days. From canoes to water skiing, or just walking your boat through the water, all you need is only the right gear and the skills.

In the immediate vicinity, the music lovers are invited to the Concert Hall, situated very close to the music school. From my first trip, I still have the memories of walking a small square near Oder surrounded by trees, with the sound of music filling the air with a special out-of-time feeling. If you are looking for a special meal with a view to Oder, Panorama restaurants guarantees an unique ambiance to a lavish meal.

The Karl Marx avenue is currently under construction, and displays - like Frankfurt/Oder in its entirety - a mixture of new and old historical layers and influences, which can be also read through the shops' windows: some of them display garments that for sure were very much in fashion during the shining years of the Honecker Regime. Some artistic presences brings a bit of dynamism and creativity to the streets.

From classical statues to some realistic wall mosaiques, there is enough to make you think a little bit about arts and why they are sometimes important to go out of the classical exhibition closed spaces for adding a different note to the public spaces.

The hilarous constructions near Lenné Passagen are even more playful and make you think at a commedia dell'arte show.

Inaugurated in 1976 after eight years of construction, Der Oderturm is nowadays partly hosting offices with a higher-end shops at the ground level. Renovated for two years between 1992 and 1994, it is a classical example of GDR architecture which integrates pretty well within the new capitalistic urban realities.

Viadrina University has one of the most classical constructions in Frankfurt/Oder, displaying a typical university architecture. This high-ed institution was here long before the GDR and nowadays has a strong European and humanistic focus. 

The Marktplatz with its cobblestone side streets is an example of old architecture, another oasis of old times.

The red-bricked architecture of the city hall reminds of similar constructions in the area of Brandenburg, and even far away North, in Greifswald.

The local library looks like an interesting place to explore too, at least if you take the entrance. I would have been curious to see what books are of interest for the inhabitants of Frankfurt/Oder but it was shortly before the closing time. 

Near the city hall, there is a museum of modern art, regularly hosting exhibitions of German artists, a good opportunity to connect with the local artistic trends. Another entertainment opportunity for the short-term visitor is booking a ticket at the German-speaking theatre or kabarett. I personally never been to one in Europe - only some political ones in the USA - so I would be curious one day to check the German offer.

Somehow lost in time, or out of it, a classical statue is lost in thoughts at the corner of Schmalzgasse. As there was no historical mention of the construction that was there before the ugly blocks of houses, we can only guess about a glorious past that was part of the history of this well-wrapped classical beauty.

Too many questions and not too much time left. On our way to the train station, we stop in the front of a former communist cultural institution, as for now, with an incertain future. With its many far and recent past secrets, Frankfurt/Oder would be an interesting place to visit again in the near future. Maybe to connect with its people too and connect more dots of its histories as well. 

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!