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How to survive the Berlin winter: 10 tips

Berlin winter – if you’ve experienced it, you’ll know. If you haven’t yet, take a deep breath and start limbering up now. This beast of a season is precisely as bleak and arduous as the Berlin summers are light, bright and magical. Lakes, picnics and dancing all night under balmy skies will seem like dreams from another dimension sometime around November. In their place, an icy wind that is always against you, horizontal rain, and an unbroken weight of grey cloud that sinks into a 4-month residency each year with typical German punctuality.

 

But cold and dark and long as they are, Berlin winters hold some surprising charms and hidden treasures. You just have to be prepared (long coat, sturdy boots, resourceful mindset) to find them. Here are our Berlin winter tips to keep you hanging in there until spring.

 

grey Berlin street in the snow
It gets pretty grey out there (Onnola/flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0)

1. Buy all the clothes

If you’re from somewhere warmer and sunnier than Northern Europe, there’s a good chance you won’t have experienced the particular brand of damp, bone-chilling cold that Berlin offers each winter. Pack away flimsy jackets and non-waterproof shoes and invest in a big, proper coat, thick-soled boots and woolly hat. Have a rummage through one of the city’s flohmarkts if you’re on a budget.

Our tip: The flea market at Arkonaplatz in Mitte is a favourite for vintage coats and big cardigans.

Stock up with warm clothes throughout the year (photo: fotolia.de ©Fiedels #105035387)

2. Become a sauna regular

To the summer visitor, Berlin’s abundance of saunas and hamams (Turkish baths) might seem a little curious. But give it a few months and you’ll be first in line to steam yourself warm and escape the bitter darkness at one of the city’s picturesque baths. Be aware that the German tradition of Freikörperkultur or ‘free body culture’ is alive and well, so going nude is the norm.

Our tip: For a fully regal experience, book yourself into the Sultan Hamam in Schöneberg.

3. Don’t forget to exercise

As the nights draw in it can be tempting to abandon all forms of exertion in favour of complete hibernation, when actually, winter is precisely the time we need those exercise endorphins. Invest in some running gear and join the hardy souls who pound the streets come rain or snow, sign up for the gym or try a yoga class to keep yourself trim and Zen.

Our tip: Yoga Sky in Kreuzberg offers a beautifully light and airy loft studio with a range of classes.

Keep the winter demons at bay with lots of exercise (Photo by Geert Pieters on Unsplash)

4. Dance the weekend away

As wonderful as it is to dance in the dawn at an outdoor club in June, surely there is no better time to commit to a 48-hour techno extravaganza at Berghain than when it’s -15°C and dark outside. Whether or not Berlin’s legendary clubbing scene is a direct consequence of its long winters is arguable – but there’s no better way to shake off the January blues than by throwing some (cool and understated) shapes in a huge concrete bunker.

Our tip: If you need to Google Berghain, you probably shouldn’t be going. But heck, everyone’s gotta start somewhere.

Gretchen Club
Icy winds can’t reach you here (Club Gretchen)

5. Try traditional German food

Midwinter is also the perfect time to familiarise yourself with sensible German comfort food – food that can only have evolved in a cold, dark place. Typically heavy on carbs and meat, this much-maligned cuisine really comes into its own when hearty winter fuel is required. Try some pasta-like Spätzle, Königsberger Klopse (meatballs in creamy sauce) or an array of Würste (sausages) to warm up your evenings.

Our tip: A perennial favourite for some warming German winter food is Kreuzberg’s Mädchen ohne Arbeit.

Cheesy dreamy Spätzle…mmmm. (Photo: sergeant killjoy/flickr/CC BY-ND 2.0)

6. Get productive

Once you’ve accepted Berlin winters for what they are, it’s time to make the most of the darkness and get resourceful. Why not take up that hobby you never had time for in your old, sunny life? Or teach yourself to code, sew or paint? If you’re going to spend a lot of time indoors, it helps to have something to show for it when the sun finally emerges again.

Our tip: ESDIP Berlin offers several creative courses in English, from design, photography and video editing to a monthly life drawing session.

7. Soak up some culture

With its unique political and human history, Berlin offers a fascinating collection of cultural institutions to inform and delight visitors year-round. From contemporary art to natural history, GDR design to WWII landmarks, there’s enough to keep you learning throughout the dark months, marvelling at how far this city has come.

Our tip: For a reliable programme of contemporary art exhibitions, lose yourself for days in Hamburger Bahnhof’s cavernous halls and corridors.

Immerse yourself in design history at the Bauhaus Archive (Photo by Florencia Viadana on Unsplash)

8. Take Vitamin D

All jokes aside, living through seemingly endless dark is tough – both on mind and body. Without regular sunlight we lack the means to synthesise Vitamin D, a substance essential for healthy bones and general wellbeing. It’s now also clinically recognised that seasonal depression is a real, tangible thing, so it’s important to give your body the support it needs by supplementing your diet.

9. Invest in a sun lamp

One step up from from taking Vitamin D supplements is to actually buy a small, fake sun. Well, a light therapy lamp, anyway. These miraculous creations mimic the sun’s light (without any harmful UV rays) and are said to help stabilise mood and regulate sleep by stimulating the production of both melatonin and serotonin. Although sun lamps don’t directly induce Vitamin D production, their benefits are recognised by doctors worldwide and no Berlin winter tips list would be complete without them.

10. Glühwein and Gemütlichkeit

Lastly, and by no means least, we arrive at those winter elements that should be fully embraced the moment the autumn leaves start to turn. Glühwein – literally ‘glowing wine’ – is the spiced, warming wine of the gingerbread-cute Christmas markets found throughout December. Order mit schuss for that little extra kick. Gemütlichkeit, on the other hand, is one of those beautifully untranslatable words that means something between ‘cosiness’, ‘belonging’ and ‘good cheer’. Keep active, stay sociable, and let those gemütlich moments guide you through the dark months.

Our tip: The newly opened Companion Tea & Coffee on Weserstraße is a great spot for some gemütlich vibes.

Lots of Glühwein is key to conquering the Berlin winter (Photo by Alisa Anton on Unsplash)

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