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5 Berlin summer rituals

Jefferson Chase, BerlinJuly 22, 2015

While many Berliners leave the city for summer vacations, others say the German capital is precisely the place to be when the mercury starts to rise. DW's Jefferson Chase shares five tips for beating the heat in Berlin.

Berlin pedal boat, Copyright: DW/Jefferson Chase
Image: DW/J. Chase

I have to admit that I’m a bit of a Scrooge when it comes to summer. The thought of lying on a crowded beach in the sun strikes me as about as much fun as being the turkey on Thanksgiving. So while others head off to Spain or Greece in search of even higher temperatures, I’m content to stay in Berlin. More than content.

The typical Berlin summer is sunny but not sweltering, and over the years I’ve developed a number of seasonal rituals to help me handle the heat. Here are a few of them:

Rolling on the river

It’s often said that Berlin has more bridges than Venice. I’ve never counted them myself, but it’s certainly true that the Spree River is one of the dominant features of the south of the city. So hitting the water when the mercury rises is a pretty obvious idea.

My favorite way to do this is to rent a pedal boat at the Insel der Jugend. This island, which is connected to Treptow park via a picturesque arc bridge, used to be home to an abbey and later to a girls’ home. It’s a picturesque setting, but for my money the real fun starts when you get beyond the island out into the river proper.

Scene in Berlin, Copyright: DW

On the north bank, housing developments gradually give way to giant industrial buildings that for some reason I always imagine to be disused cement factories. To the south, the park gradually peters out in a former amusement park with crumbling rides and dilapidated dinosaurs. I enjoy drifting about in one of the many shady spots soaking in the half-oasis, half-apocalypse atmosphere. The only drawback: pedaling the boat can be pretty strenuous.

Keep on playing those lawn games

Hot days always make me feel like a pensioner, and non-coincidentally one favorite summer pastime of mine is playing lawn games physically undemanding enough for out-of-shape octogenarians. Boule is the classic one, and I only need stroll down to a gravel stretch of the northern bank of Landwehrkanal to get a game. It’s home to the First Boule Club Kreuzberg and the clink of metal balls can be heard as long as the long summer evenings in Berlin permit.

Younger folks tend to prefer kubb, a Swedish game for two to a dozen people in which two teams compete against one another throwing wooden batons at squat little blocks of wood ("pawns") and a tall wooden "king."

Berlin Kubb players, Copyright: DW/Jefferson Chase
Addictive and perfectly non-strenuous: Viking chessImage: DW/J. Chase

I was introduced to the game, also known as "Viking chess," when a friend brought a set back with him from the Roskilde Music Festival, and ever since it’s been a fixture of our Berlin summers.

The great thing about the game is all you need is the wooden pieces and a reasonably flat five-by-eight meter patch of lawn. It’s guaranteed not to make you sweat, and as is the case with most lawn games, a moderate amount of alcohol actually seems to help.

Wasting away in Margaritaville

Speaking of which, no Berlin day is complete without a couple of drinks, and that goes double in summer. The meteorological start of the season may be June 21, but the cultural beginning of the summer is the first day it feels warm enough to order a Berliner Weisse, the sour, lactic-acid-fermented beer specialty that’s drunk with a splash of raspberry or woodruff syrup.

But for me, a Berlin summer means margaritas. That’s because from early June to late August, the street corners and open-air markets are full of people selling local strawberries. Someone’s got to use up all the damn things, and I get a kick out of experimenting with various recipes in search of the perfect margarita, one of the few mixed drinks that lives or dies with the freshness of the ingredients.

Jefferson Chase and a margarita, Copyright: DW/Jefferson Chase
Jefferson Chase mixes the best margaritas in townImage: DW/J. Chase

Somehow a homemade cocktail on my balcony as the summer sun sets tastes better than anything I could order in even the most professional bar.

This must be the place

When the going gets tough, the tough go shopping. When the mercury hits 35 degrees Celsius, the only option in my book is to find somewhere with air conditioning - which is a fine excuse to pay a visit to one of Berlin’s consumer temples, be it the Galeries Lafayette or the venerable Kaufhaus des Westens department store in the former center of West Berlin.

Berlin designer furniture at Stilwerk, Copyright: DW/Jefferson Chase
Style life with dog: The Stilwerk is a great spot for a walkImage: DW/J. Chase

My favorite spot for window shopping is Stilwerk in the ritzy Charlottenburg district. It’s basically a shopping mall for top-end interior design, with 52 stores on four floors displaying everything from vintage Panton chairs to the latest in luxury lighting, Jacuzzis and stereo speakers. The perfect place to chill out on a much-too-hot summer day. The prices are high enough that hardly any customers go there during the week, and the sales people happily serve you coffee while you window shop for furnishings you can’t afford and enjoy the artificially cool air.

China, my China

Eating out in summer usually means eating outside, and competition for the best spots has grown so fierce that reserving tables in a restaurant - once an anathema to Berlin - has become the norm. One eatery where this is not the case is Ming Dynastie.

I love Chinese food - the more unfamiliar the better. Located across the street from the Chinese embassy, Ming can stake a better claim than most to authenticity. It’s also got a terrace that directly overlooks the river.

Ming Dynastie Chinese Restaurant Berlin
Jellyfish salad and fried pork belly with Berlin flairImage: DW/J. Chase

Summer isn’t summer for me unless I visit the place at least once and imbibe the incongruity of a Chinese restaurant with a water view and a wait staff that speaks in rough-edged Berlin patois.

I may be a summer Scrooge, but give me some jellyfish salad and fried pork belly and even my heart warms to the season.