Berlin learns to flirt with the sun | Scene in Berlin | DW | 08.06.2012
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Scene in Berlin

Berlin learns to flirt with the sun

Better known for its dismal climate and general darkness, Berlin has recently discovered its sunnier side. DW's Stuart Braun gets beached in the capital.

"People on Sunday," the classic 1930 silent film depicting a Berlin summer day as the masses pour into parks, forests or down to the cool lake waters of Wannsee, remains one of the most resilient images of Weimar-era Berlin. But in the decades hence, land-locked Berliners continued to flee to outer city sanctuaries from June to August, getting their gear off (often all of it) and frolicking in the fresh lagoons dotting the Spree plain.

More recently, however, Berliners are enjoying their summers closer to home. Inner-city wastelands and polluted rivulets have increasingly been transformed - DIY style, of course - into ersatz summer idylls.

For example: the long line of beaches cum day clubs carved miraculously out of industrial wastes along the Spree river; or the more urban Strandbars, sandy sanctuaries with palm trees and deckchairs plonked next to high-rises and train stations.

Then there are the more improvised summer oases, like the ubiquitous grill parties thrown on random rooftops and balconies or the enterprising types enjoying cocktails on rubber dinghies and homemade rafts in the canals. And, of course, the open-air parties in parks or on disused blocks where sweaty Berlin tribes like to skip in the sun.

Believed it or not, Berlin is now a summer wonderland.

Berliners don't just cool off in the water or lie on the beach, like in Sydney, my old stomping ground blessed with some very pretty stretches of sand. In Berlin, hot summer days are special - an adventure.

Invariably, people also like to dance.


Where can you swim, sit around drinking in your shorts, or boogie barefooted in the sand at midnight on a Tuesday? The filthy Spree River of course.

This was my experience at Badeschiff on a recent sweaty Berlin night, the TV Tower beaming in the distance, a remnant sunset still streaking the sky, murky waters a sparkling reflection of the big bad city.

It felt positively exotic. Badeschiff's designer plastic pool, dug into an old barge, was essentially started as an art installation, also pretty typical of Berlin. My friend warned that it had become a little "sceney;" but hey, it was a sight to see girls in bikinis fawning over a cross-dressing electro act from New York as they played in the sand at midnight.

It wasn't until a couple of years ago that I realized you didn't have to leave Berlin on a hot day. The city beach phenomenon, popularized in Paris a decade ago with some sandy bars set up on the Seine, has gone feral in the German capital. You can now sip mohitos on deck chairs by a man-made pond amid the towers of Potsdamer Platz, in the wake of roaring trains at the central station (where there are at least three beach bars), or even smack in the middle of Checkpoint Charlie.

In Berlin, where there's a will there's a beach, it seems.

People splash in a Berlin fountain

Summer in Berlin can cause spontaneous outbreaks of celebration

Finding the sun

It was surreal sitting on the Spree River one summer, at the very relaxed Kiki Blofeld garden/beach bar, hanging on the water's edge and looking across at sleepless hordes frolicking in a pool at the now defunct Bar 25. Techno beats were booming from the adjoining dance floor, while maritime parties drifted past, Berliners sunning and imbibing on old wooden boats floating serenely on the waters that once divided the city.

Later that day we followed a demonstration - ironically aimed at stopping development on the Spree - that ended at the front of the Berlin Town Hall, which was conveniently fronted by a large fountain. Scores of people had soon disrobed and splashed for hours in the watery monument, police simply looking on as some revellers climbed a spouting Neptune and placed an anarchist flag in its stone locks.

Spontaneity is what makes summer fun in Berlin. Recently, a friend called a barbeque on an abandoned block that also fronts Berlin's main tributary. Several grill parties were happening on the waterside of this fenced-off, overgrown wasteland, a hundred or more people celebrating into the night as the distant city turned a brilliant red.

This was classic Berlin summer spirit. But the scene was made more poignant by the fact that BMW-Guggenheim had planned to build an exhibition space on the site this summer, only pulling out when anti-gentrification protesters threatened a big commotion.

Elsewhere, people might only make it to their balconies or rooftops on hot days and nights. Balcony parties are de rigeur across the city, drinks passed among the packed mobs as a grill smokes dangerously in the corner. Fill the space with plants, roll out the astro surf, or setup a hammock. If it's outdoors, get amongst it.

And of course there are the parks. In mine, it's fine to sun-worship Freikörpkultur style (i.e. nude) on a hot day. Later, the open-air parties kick in, shirtless Berliners swooning to beats in the evening sun until the police come to shut it down.

It's probably not so ironic that this often gray and stolid town makes so much of the warmer months. As the days heat up and I step out into the sun, it's likely that I'll rarely be leaving my neighborhood.

Author: Stuart Braun
Editor: Kate Bowen

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