We climb down from the U-Bahn and onto leaf-strewn streets of a distinctly French flavour. Here, where the French military were based during the years of occupation, the roads are marked “Rue” and the avenues, well, “Avenue” in a small cluster of a community on the northern fringe of the Tegel airfield. Most of the French community is gone now, and the doorbells and postboxes are labelled with suspiciously German names, but the site of neatly laid-out petanque courts of the “Boulodrome” remind us that we are in one of those places in Berlin shaped by the unique history of the city.
As we make our way through the piles of leaves towards the Flughafensee (AirportLake) we can guess at the military hierarchy of the buildings: these villas to our left look suitable for the Officers, those blocks of flats for their juniors, and the squat barracks-like buildings for the rank and file. They have been gone a while, the French soldiers, leaving behind the dark forest that surrounds and threatens to engulf the houses, and the sound of the take-off and landings from Tegel Airport. The whirr and scream of the engines follows us throughout our walk, and it is clear that this will be an incredibly desirable neighbourhood, once these sounds become nothing but a memory.
We try and leave it behind, walking past and beyond the lake and through the forest. At the Tegeler See the sound is diminished, but never out of earshot as we cannot walk that far or that fast. But after a while you stop noticing it anymore, and in the gaps between take-offs we listen out for the sound of the woodpeckers rat-a-tat-tatting on nearby trees. At the lake we pause by a stretch of sandy beach to drink a coffee, watching the sailboats and motor launches make their way across the water, their captains off work early on a Friday afternoon to enjoy what may well be the last warm weather weekend of the year.
As are the general population of Alt Tegel, who are out in force along the Greenwich Promenade once we have skirted the harbour of the enormous Borsig industrial complex that was once the major employer in this corner of north Berlin. On the promenade all the benches are taken, the outdoor tables of the cafes occupied and the top decks of the pleasure boats slowly being filled. We find a spot, just down from the red pillar boxes and phone booths donated by the Borough of Greenwich and enjoy the last of our coffee, happy with our luck in finding the last spot on a bench and the weather which graced our walk through Tegel.
Words & Pictures: Paul Scraton
If you haven’t been before, this weekend in Tegel is Hafenfest. It is definitely some real Berlin-ness with concerts, food, and fireworks.