Surviving the winter is something of a rite of passage in Berlin. Even though the ice-covered winters of yore have given way more recently to milder temperatures and a complete lack of snow, the combination of constant grey skies, cold and drizzle can still get bleak enough to prompt a poetic yearning for sunnier climes.
Huzzah then for spring which—likely a consequence of our warming planet—seems to arrive ever-earlier, with daffodils and tulips sometimes seen on café tables and in local parks from early February. Of course we still usually have to wait until March for temperatures over ten degrees and more regular sunshine, but it’s good to be prepared to make the most of the spring weather when it does hit.
One of the most obvious ways to enjoy it is to witness the blooming first-hand at the city’s many splendid parks and gardens. Outside of the established neighbourhood ‘classics’—Treptower Park, Volkspark Friedrichshain, Viktoria Park, and the rose gardens at Humboldthain and Bürgerpark Pankow—there are lots of lesser-explored and often idiosyncratic spots to recommend.
The 90-acre Britzer Garden, built for a horticultural show in 1985 and used subsequently as a much-needed green space for the walled-in residents of West Berlin, offers several themed gardens (including half a million tulips on display), wild meadows, a pretty lake and several cafes. Other recommended destinations are the Botanical Garden in Dahlem, Charlottenburg’s manicured Schlosspark, and Marzahn-Hellersdorf’s excellent Gardens of the World, which hosts an annual Cherry Blossom Festival.
Spring is an ideal season for more vigorous outdoor activities too, in particular longer city walks and bike rides. An insightful and enjoyable urban hike can be enjoyed by following the Landwehr Canal, which winds ten kilometers through the city from Treptow to Charlottenburg, passing through several districts (Neukölln, Kreuzberg, Schöneberg), conveniently ending near the excellent Schleusenkrug beer garden.
The mighty Grunewald has a slew of different woodland trails to follow too, while for something more ambitious the 160km Mauerweg (Berlin Wall Trail), two thirds of which passes through countryside, offers some extremely scenic stretches, and can be walked or cycled. And even though the city’s lakes are not quite warm enough yet for a dip (unless you’re a seasoned veteran or just hardcore), areas like the Wannsee, Tegeler See and Müggelsee all make for great bike rides. Then there’s the 66-Lakes Trail, which stretches some 416km around Brandenburg.
If hiking and cycling aren’t your thing, the S–Bahn (and Regional Bahn) make a number of excellent day trip destinations easily available from the city centre. Down at Wannsee you can combine a visit to Liebermann-Villa, with its pleasant café and peaceful lakeside garden with the more somber but historically fascinating House of the Wannsee Conference. The Brecht Weigel Haus in Buckow is a fine way to combine nature with a splash of cultural history; the Spreewald is famous for its kayaking opportunities as well as its gherkins; and the Haus am Waldsee offers contemporary art and a lovely sculpture park.
If you want to bring the kids, catch a ferry across to peaceful Kladow, enjoy a stroll around pretty Peacock Island, or take them to the Lübars family farm, the eco-village of Brodowin or Domäne Dahlem for some animal-petting. Pretty Potsdam also has a heap of castles, gardens and cultural offerings and is less than an hour from the city centre.
Of course decent weather is not guaranteed so it’s a good idea to have some indoor options lined up for rainy days. Interesting museums outside of the obvious big-hitters include the Ramones Museum, the Museum of Things, Design Panoptikum, and the Käthe Kollwitz Museum, which can be combined with a pleasant coffee or lunch at the Café am Literaturhaus next door. The swish new Futurium museum close to the main train station is also a thought-provoking place to visit.
Prefer history to futurism? Berlin is obviously no slouch in that department. Outdoor sites like the Berlin Wall Memorial along Bernauerstrasse and the Topography of Terror are full of fascinating stories if it’s not raining, while the German Resistance Museum or Stasi Prison Memorial in Hohenschönhausen are equally compelling if it is. For arty thrills, there’s the me.Collectors room, the Sammlung Hoffmann or the Boros bunker in Mitte, or lesser-known photography galleries like Camera Work and Kicken.
The city also hosts an impressive array of events throughout spring. From the 20-29 March, contemporary music festival MaerzMusik presents a steady stream of inventive, avant-garde sounds, while gamers won’t want to miss Games Week Berlin (17-25 April), and cinephiles can catch Achtung Berlin, which shows filmed at least partly filmed around the city. In May, look out for Gallery Weekend, Re:publica, and Pictoplasma—and of course the traditional May Day celebrations on the first.
Paul Sullivan is a guidebook author, travel journalist and the founder/editor of Slow Travel Berlin. His words and images have appeared in The Guardian, BBC, Sunday Times Travel, The Telegraph, Nat Geo UK and more. He has lived in Berlin for 10 years.