11 THINGS I LEARNED SPENDING A YEAR IN BERLIN’S PARKS | part 9
Typically, one doesn’t think about parks when thinking about the Berlin nightlife. But parks provide a good place to rest and unwind, to enjoy the company of others, and view urban wildlife.
Parks take on a special character as the day unwinds. After work you find people out for an evening stroll, couples catching up on their day, parents with newborns walking their children to sleep, older people sitting alone or with friends. Evenings are a great time for people-watching in the parks. When there is a bit of warmth or even just a sky free from rain, Berliners come out to the open fields, set up blankets, and take time to relax. There is a swell of activity and then they become quiet again.
Cafes & Conversation
In Kreuzberg by the Landwehr canal, many people walk along the water and enjoy the evening in conversation with friends. You find people sitting on the edge of the canal with a beer or glass of wine in the little pockets of space in between bushes and trees. They have semi-private spaces to catch up at the end of the day. Along the Spree at the border of Mitte and Wedding, you can even find people grilling, although I’m not sure that is legal.
What’s interesting to me about this swell of people in the evening is the non-commercial nature of these interactions. In San Francisco, our evening outings revolved around restaurants and drinking establishments. We rarely meet up in a public space. Here, the public spaces are full of self-generated snacking and relaxing. Of course, many of these gatherings also include trips to the local Spati (late night shop) for beer.
If you do not have a chance to collect your blanket from home or want something more than a beer, there are also cafes in some of the parks that stay open late into the evening. Near my apartment, I discovered a café in the rose garden. It felt cozy to stop by there for a drink and chat on a hot summer evening.
In winter, you can go to your local park and grab a glühwein or glühbeer (mulled wine or mulled beer). What I love about the tradition is being served glühwein in real mugs. You generally leave one or two euros for the use of the mug which is refunded when you return it. I love this eco-friendly way of serving beverages.
The parks get quieter as evening turns to night. Many parks are open all night long, including their playgrounds. I’ve enjoyed conversations while swinging, and one late night while bouncing on a trampoline, something that can be difficult to do in the daytime when there are a lot of kids vying to jump. You might even run into public art displays at night. I’ve had several public art encounters in front of Gorki Theater which have gotten me to stop and take a break from my bike ride home, even in the cold of winter.
While I like the sense of community that occurs in the evening when parks are full, I also enjoy the solitude and privacy offered by parks at night.
Kinos Under the Sky
It is a special feeling, sitting under the sky, waiting for the film to begin, watching the bats fly by as the night gets darker.
When I arrived in Berlin I saw advertisements for Freiluftkino, open-air cinema, and thought it was a special occasion event. This summer, I realized they exist in every district and run all summer long. Most show German-language films, however, there are English language evenings. And fortunately for me, I learned that the Freiluftkino in Kreuzberg plays original language films every night of the summer which include English subtitles.
Somehow the freiluftkino feels like a mini-vacation from the city. It gives you an opportunity to see the sky. And it is also an occasion to experience film in community, the way movies were meant to be seen, rather than watching alone on a laptop or phone.
Critters & Creatures
Parks are also good places for animals. Wild boar and beaver both come out at night. Although, they are challenging to spot in their native habitats. I’ve tried to track wild boar but had no luck yet.
I’ve encountered other wildlife in the Tiergarten. In spring I’ve seen many groups of bunnies enjoying the lawn and I’ve seen them in Gliesdreieck Park as well. During an evening lecture in the Akademie der Künste, I saw a fox family in the garden. Two young foxes were playing while two adult foxes stood by.
If you want a guided tour of the local wildlife there are options. This year I discovered that the Natural History Museum put on Nightingale walks starting at 10 pm and going until 1 am! Amazing. This is on my list for next spring. And for kids, the Waldmuseum (Forest Museum) in Grunewald offers night walks through wild boar habitat. If you are walking in a big group it is not likely to spot one but it is a good way to visit the forest. And it was on this walk that I learned about the large sand dune located in the middle of Grunewald.
I like that at night, parks do not become dead spaces or places to be avoided. The urban density and fact that people are moving on foot, bike and public transportation and not just in their cars help to make this the case. I think I’m starting to take this for granted but it is good to be reminded that this is special as compared to many cities in other parts of the world.