Berlin in Winter

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On this cold and rainy morning in Vancouver, it made me smile to read about a sparkling winter’s day in Berlin. Our local guide Penelope (or Pen, as she is usually called) sent me a beautiful written memory that illustrates the spontaneity, creativity and community spirit that embodies what it means to be a Berliner. If someone can convince me to travel to a city, even when that city is in the middle of a historic cold snap...well, it must be someplace special!

The last month has been seriously cold here in Berlin, hovering between minus 14 and minus 8 or so every day. But while these kinds of temperatures mean less people visit this wonderful city in winter, it is also a unique and special time to be here. About a week ago it was a cold frozen Sunday, a glorious 'big freeze' day with pale clear sunlight and blue, blue sky. My partner and I and our 2 yr old son wanted to get out of the house, so decided to meet a friend and go for a walk in Treptower Park – a massive park in former East Berlin, right on the edge of the river Spree.

We covered up in our thermals, waterproof boots, wool layers and down jackets, bundled my son into his lambswool lined pram, and took off on the (heated) train. After 15 minutes we were in a winter wonderland. Tramping through the snow, we watched ducks navigate their way through frozen ice slabs on the river, whole flocks of gulls launching themselves into the air as joggers puffed past with ice in their beards. We set a comfortable pace, but fast enough to keep ourselves warm in the low temperatures. We were heading for a cove, a part of the river hidden by a peninsula of land that you wouldn’t be able to find if you didn't already know it was there. We knew by now it would be frozen over, and we would be able to do that special thing of walking on a frozen river. My son, snug as a bug in a rug, fell asleep in his pram.

When we rounded the corner, the scene was quite extraordinary. The Berliners had taken to the ice in droves. People were ice-skating, or even just clearing sections of the snow to have sliding competitions on the ice. People had cleared makeshift ice hockey rinks, people were playing football on the ice, or simply walking around on this massive, frozen landscape. A few enterprising Berliners had set up little stands to sell warm mulled wine, sausages, and homemade cakes. (The mulled wine was a welcome addition at this point!) When my son awoke, we headed to a nearby restaurant for a light meal – which was buzzing with customers coming in to warm up from the ice).

When we headed out again, it was late in the afternoon and we were stopped by the sound of music drifting over the ice. Someone had brought out a set of decks, a small generator and speakers and was playing some really fabulous dance music. As we lingered, more and more people started bobbing, then dancing to this great music on the ice. My son was entranced, as were we all. The scene was so beautiful – the sun clear and beginning to get low in the sky, blue skies, white snow on a frozen river and a spontaneous dance party on the ice. This was no organised event. There were no licenses required, no applications made or approvals given. This was a spontaneous gathering of Berliners who knew a glorious winter’s day like this deserves to be celebrated. This for me is part of the unique spirit of Berlin – this spontaneous creativity and ability to think outside the box combined with an active community spirit and a sense of immediacy that comes with living in a city which is reinventing itself every day.
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