We took the tram from outside our building to the end of the line. There were only a handful of passengers when we got there, the tram stopping just before the point where the Seestraße becomes the autobahn and normal city life is handed over to the roar of car engines or, more likely, the traffic jams of rush hour. A disembodied voice told us in two languages to climb down from the tram and into the cold. Most turned left, into the enormous campus of the hospital. We crossed the street in the other direction, towards the frozen expanse of the Plötzensee.
This lake, tucked away at the entry-point to Wedding, not far from Tegel Airport, is something of a hidden treasure amongst Berlin’s many city lakes. In the summertime you can rent boats from the smoky drinker’s cabin at the southern tip, or wander around to the beach to take a dip in the clean waters. Just beyond the lake is the Rehberge park, complete with wild boars (thankfully behind fences), tennis courts and wide open spaces, where the multicultural mix of the local neighbourhood can been seen in the pick-up games being played on the grass. In a Berlin park you will often see football, basketball or Frisbee, but last summer as we rode through the park on our bikes we came across a large group of young men playing cricket, whilst families grilled around the makeshift boundary.
But on a February Sunday the route around the Plötzensee was relatively quiet, save for a few hardy joggers braving the double-digit minus temperatures, and the odd strollers wrapped up against the cold. It was the lake itself that was a hive of activity. Despite warning signs all around to stay off the ice, there were skaters and sliders and a pretty organized looking game of ice hockey in process. At the northern end, away from the sounds of the autobahn and much of the normal noise of the city muffled by the light blanket of snow, the main thing we could hear were the shouts of the players and the clackety-clack of sticks on the puck and each other. Like the summertime cricket match it would have been nice to stick around and watch for a while, but it was simply too cold. So we kept up on our march through the snow, around the lake and back to our starting point and the tram line to home.
Footnote to the walk:
Not far from the lake is the Plötzensee Memorial Center, a site of quiet and powerful remembrance commemorating the victims of National Socialism. From 1933 to 1945 nearly three thousand people unjustly sentenced to death by the Nazis were executed here, and the execution chamber has been prepared as a memorial. On the website you can see the fourteen display panels from the adjoining exhibition, which document the practice of the National Socialist judicial and penal system. As always with a walk in Berlin, the past is never far away.
Words: Paul Scraton
Pictures: Katrin Schönig