Last updated in Feb 2018
Berlin winters aren’t terrible and exhausting because they’re cold – they’re terrible and exhausting because they’re long. Rain falls at you horizontally, the Siberian winds make your fingers freeze off, it never really snows (it only freezes over slightly, just enough to be annoying), and by February, sunshine is only a vague concept that you’ve long forgotten. The perpetual -2°C offer a special category of hellish limbo in which there’s never a right or wrong choice about wearing long johns. All of this – until April. If you’re unlucky: August.
So here’s what you can do when you’re stuck in a cold winter in Berlin.
Take a walk through Tiergarten park
Certainly an activity for both winter and summer, Tiergarten is especially romantic on a gloomy and frosty Sunday afternoon. Every step you take is an excuse to stuff yourself on delicious Westberlin cakes and coffees afterwards, maybe at Café am Neuen See or at Schleusenkrug.
If you can bear a longer walk, I suggest you also look at the beautiful architecture of the Bauhaus-era Hansaviertel neighborhood on the way, as well as pay a visit to the wonderful contemporary art institution Haus der Kulturen der Welt.
Cafe am Neuen See – Lichtensteinallee 2, 10787 Berlin
Pay a due visit to the Gemäldegalerie
There are plenty of museums in Berlin, but there’s just something about strolling through the classic paintings of Europe’s greatest artists – like, of all times. You don’t have to be an expert on the fine arts to appreciate how the skills of painting have evolved over hundreds and hundreds of years. Sure, you could easily Google some of them, but when you see a huge painting with such intricate features – such as Jan van Bijlert, Das Gastmahl von Alexander und Kleitos, which I must have looked at for half an hour before getting over it. I can’t explain why, and I have no idea where that came from, but I can tell you that contemporary art doesn’t do that to me.
GemäldeGalerie, Matthäikirchplatz, 10785 Berlin, open 10AM-6PM Daily, Monday closed
Get your tickets ready for Berlins winter festivals
Winter festival season starts in January with the transmediale, an exclusive, interdisciplinary festival of art, culture and technology which puts modernity in a critical perspective. It’s been going on for 28 years and has become one of the most important events within Berlin.
Parallel to the transmediale is the ctm, an adventurous festival for music and art. A must-see of the 2018 program is the SKALAR exhibition at Kraftwerk (Tresor), which ends on the 24th of February. “SKALAR” is a large-scale art installation by Christopher Bauder and Kangding Ray that explores the complex impact of light and sound on human perception. Its an incredible feat of technology, art and showmanship.
Last but not least, Berlins International Film Festival – the Berlinale – is your chance to see new movies before they’re in theaters (if they ever get there, anyway). Read more about the Berlinale and how to get tickets, and which movies to watch in 2018.
Take a tour through the former Tempelhof airport building
Most people flock to the Tempelhof park – the tarmac of Berlins iconic airport – but have never seen the inside of the impressive, neoclassicist building. The tour, which takes around 2 hours, is not just insightful in terms of architecture, but also gives visitors a sense of historical context: after all, Tempelhof was designed and built under Hitler’s regime as part of the greater Germania plans that were never realized. Tours have to be booked in advance.
THF Berlin, english tours Wednesday, Friday, Saturday & Sunday, 1:30 PM (2 hours, 15€)
Discover Berlins sauna, spas and wellness opportunities
Your skin is dry, your shoulders are tense and you haven’t seen the sun for weeks: it’s time to do something nice for yourself. There are plenty of spas in Berlin, popular among them Liquidrom and Vabali. But if you really want to make most of a depressing month (February and March are usually the worst), you should consider the following options:
- Do yourself a favor and escape to Brandenburg. I loved the Bleiche spa, although that’s definitely a luxurious splurge. Alternatively, the Fontane Therme in Neuruppin are great if you only have time on the weekends, when Berlins spas are bursting from the seams.
- Get yourself an Urban Sports Club L membership, which may look a little pricey at first (89,- instead of 99,- if you sign up with Finding Berlin) – but you can book up to 4 spa / massage appointments per month in a participating studio of your preference, and you can cancel your membership within two months (I know it says one month, but they’re really intransparent about that – it’s actually two months). Additionally, you can use gyms and saunas across the city, even if only for around 4-8 times per month, which seems to me like a very flexible deal if you only want to use it for two months. Read the full review of their memberships here and here.[1. Full disclosure: I cooperated with Urban Sports Club two years ago. They have since changed many details of their deal since then, so do read upon again].
Eat hearty South Tyrolean food to warm you up from the inside
One of my favorite places in Berlin is definitely the cozy restaurant Knödelwirtschaft. As you know, I have a slight obsession with South Tyrol, where Alpine food is at its best. If you’ve never had proper Knödel, now is the time to make a reservation. Everything is set up very simple – there’s only Knödel on the menu and a few beverages – but that laser-like focus on what’s really essential only adds to the experience. Nobody’s got energy to waste on choices in winter, anyway.
Take a guided tour of the Feuerle Collection
My most recent enlightening experiences took place at a new, private collector’s exhibition space. You do not have to be an expert on South East Asian art (as that is what’s on display predominantly), because a visit to the former bunker is more than just a tour through an exhibition: the Feuerle collection is a once in a lifetime experience for all senses. I could tell you more about it, but I actually think that the less you know, the better it is. Don’t spoil yourself by reading reviews. If you have any love for WWII bunkers, amazing contemporary architecture, intricate design and a place in your heart for eccentrics, you should book your tour now.
The Feuerle Collection, only guided tours, only on weekends (1-2 hours, 18€)
Shop at Darklands for the iconic Berghain style
If you thought you couldn’t afford Voo Store, you should pay a visit to Darklands – the designer store which recently moved to the upper floor of an old industrial courtyard off Müllerstraße, and which is known for its peculiar aesthetics. The exclusivity and elitism of it (on the website, you’re asked to call for an appointment and plan at least 2 hours for your visit, taking and even phone calls in the shop is not allowed) is full Berghain mode, and so is apparently the color du jour (well – black). I feel really torn about a store that makes me read a proper manual before I can visit, but I guess it’s a good excuse to waste four hours when you’re cold and lost in Wedding.
Darklands, Lindower Str. 22, 13347 Berlin
Explore the amazing light installations of Bocci 79
Bocci 79 is a Canadian product and architecture design company that has recently opened its Berlin flagship store in a former courthouse on Kantstraße (and right behind it, a new hotel is being built where once stood a prison for women). Although I don’t expect anyone to actually feel inspired to buy anything, the exhibition – which spreads across five floors and in different sized rooms of the 2,200m2 building – is nothing but exceptional. Bocci have focused mainly on very intricate and mesmerizing light installations, adapted to the specifications of the rooms and going back decades.
If you’ve got an eye for design or a passion for architecture, this should be very high up on your list of things to do this winter in Berlin (and here’s a hint for my fellow bloggers and photographers: it’s also a great setting for an impromptu photo shoot).
Bocci 79, Kantstraße 79, 10627 Berlin
Ransack the Arena indoor flea market
You have to be quite dedicated to find something you were looking for at this particular flea market, but if you’re just trying to pass the time (without freezing to death) and you’ve got a good eye for valuable junk, you may get lucky.
ARena Flea Market, Eichenstraße 4, 12435 Berlin – open Saturdays & Sundays from 10AM-4PM