We took the S-Bahn south to the edge of the city, not far from Schönefeld and the mythological new airport that we hope our grandchildren will have the pleasure to use. We did not really know what to expect… the last time any of us had been to Grünau, this green and leafy corner of what was once East Berlin was almost twenty years ago and it was hard to imagine the changes that must have taken place since then. From the station we followed a path through the trees in the direction of the water, until we reached a small park with a jetty, and some friendly chaps enjoying the sunshine with a scowl as their fishing rods rested on the rusty railings.
At the end of the crumbling pier it felt as if we were on top of the water, and could see down the Langer See to where a large scoreboard flickered in the shadows of a grandstand. On the water itself we could see the first rowers of the day warming up for the regatta, that was about to take place. As we walked down the street towards the grandstand it suddenly began to get very busy. Broad-shouldered men and women jogged up and down, the name of their rowing clubs stitched into the back of their tracksuit tops – Tegel, Wannsee, Königs Wusterhausen, Pirna…
Attentive readers will know that over the past few months I have been involved with Slow Travel Berlin in organising a series of walks and strolls through different corners of Berlin. Only this week I took a small group through my home neighbourhood of Wedding and it was once again a really brilliant experience to share my much-maligned corner of the city with others, as well as the different stories that make up its history. If you go here you can get an overview of the other tours that are offered, but I wanted to give a heads up for the newest tour that is being launched this weekend, with a second date on Tuesday 30th April. This tour is through the neighbourhood of Neukölln, and is being led by Anna Sprang of the absolutely fascinating Strollology Berlin website. I would urge anyone with an interest in Berlin to take a browse through those pages, and if you at all have the chance, join Anna on her tour which promises to be excellent:
Rixdorf & Rollberge – a cultural-historical stroll through Neukölln
Berlin‘s gritty, working-class Neukölln district is widely known as a problem-gone-hip, now home to a colourful mix of people from all around the world. On this tour through the northern part of the borough, we‘ll uncover many different layers of its changing and often surprising history, some of which are still visible, with others concealed in old photos, literature, eye witness reports and personal memories.
The interstate runs right through the heart of the city, dividing the high, gleaming towers of the downtown with the wide, sedate Connecticut River. We wait for our junction and then roll off, the ramp taking us down and into the concrete canyons of the city centre. Not that Springfield is a large place – 150,000 people live within the city limits, just over a half a million in the metropolitan area – but it is the only true city that we will spend any time in, and the contrast with the university towns, sleepy seaside resorts, and hillside villages that make up most of our two week trip to the United States is quite marked.
The creators of The Simpsons, when deciding on a name for the town where Homer, Marge and the rest of the gang would live, chose “Springfield” as Anytown, USA – and indeed it is the fourth most popular place name in the nation – but Springfield, Massachusetts can lay claim to being one of the oldest, founded as it was in 1636. The history of the city has been one dominated by manufacturing, from the first American musket factory, the discovery of vulcanized rubber, and the Indian motorcycle company. Other claims to fame are as the birthplace of the first American-English dictionary (Merriam Webster), the sport of basketball – created in the local YMCA – and the children’s writer and illustrator Theodor Seuss Geisel, better known as Dr Seuss.
Just underneath the S-Bahn tracks, crossing from Wedding into Pankow not far from the Wollankstraße station, there is a collection of cherry trees gifted to the people of Berlin by the people of Japan, and which are currently in blossom. It remains one of my favourite “memorials” in a city that as so many, if only for its fleeting appearance every springtime. And thankfully spring has arrived, even if it is almost three weeks later than the Sunday last year when I captured the pink blossom at this exact point for another entry on Under a Grey Sky.
It was also possible to see the arrival of warmer weather by the coating of pollen on our bikes as we lifted them out from the rack in the courtyard of our apartment block, and in the number of people walking, riding and running along the Panke and Berlin Wall trails, which we followed to reach the Soviet Memorial in the Schönholzer Heide. We had decided to ride up there to capture some pictures of what is the third largest such memorial in Berlin, behind those in Treptower Park and the Tiergarten, and the final resting place for over 13,000 of the 80,000 Red Army soldiers who died during the final battle for Berlin. Unfortunately, we timed our trip during a period when the memorial is being restored, and so Katrin picked her way through the trees to try and get some pictures, but otherwise it was not possible to get any closer than the gates.
It is the Easter weekend and we have headed for the coast. Despite the fact that lawn signs advertise Egg Drops and oversized bunnies are posing for photographs in shopping malls, the seaside resort of Ogunquit, just north of the New Hampshire border, has a decidedly off-season feel to it. Many of the motels, inns and hotels are not yet open for the season, and the little trolley bus that travels around the town and its neighbouring resorts will not emerge from the garage for another month or so. Still, as we follow the Marginal Way trail along the coast from Ogunquit village to the boutiques, lobster shacks and clapboard houses of the scruffily-posh Perkin’s Cove, there are a good number of people on the trail, enjoying the first real warming sun of the year. Enough, in fact, to image what kind of a traffic jam must occur on these low cliffs during the high season.
It has been a long winter. The snow fell and was still on the ground way into April, even after the bathing lakes of Berlin were supposed to be open for business. Last year we welcomed spring with a walk around the lakes of Hohenschönhausen in the middle of March. This year we have had to wait almost a month longer to cast aside our winter jackets, but we were finally able to do so this weekend for a walk around the Weißensee.
On three occasions in the past month, leading a tour around my home neighbourhood of Wedding, we came across the gates of the old Crematorium in the heart of what was once the loud and dangerous industrial heart of northern Berlin and found them locked. Each time it was a disappointment, because a few months ago during the Berlinale International Film Festival we stumbled across this space for the first time, it was open, and we were able to have a little explore behind the high walls and the iron gates.