Whenever I find myself overwhelmed by the flurry of busy street life, excited party crowds and tourist masses washed up on my front door, I like to get out of Kreuzberg and Mitte for a while, not to travel far away, but to seek solitude within the city boundaries. Berlin’s calmer parts feel as much home to me as my central Kiez, and considering that the outskirts have a lot to offer in this regard, I regularly find myself on trips into the city’s very own countryside. A place which I feel myself particularly drawn to during autumn, is Wannsee’s Pfaueninsel, a small island in the Havel which lies so hidden, that you would probably not stumble upon if you were not looking for it. However, the search is worth it, since the island blooms in full autumnal colours these days.
Pfaueninsel is probably one of Berlin’s most beautiful islands, so beautiful in fact, that it was King Frederick William’s II of Prussia teenage love nest, which he later had a small castle and a park built on, that later kings had expanded and is now a UNESCO world heritage site. Strangely though, the island doesn’t draw as many visitors as its beauty deserves, so that it’s a pastoral and secluded place during the week when an extended walk is rarely disturbed by anyone crossing your way.
Pfaueninsel is not only the perfect place to enjoy solitude, have a picknick with your sweetheart or simply go jogging. The island also has several peacocks roaming about (and white ones living in an aviary), there is also a 19th century hunting castle, a Schinkel designed portico, several marble statues and some more artifacts from Prussian times. However, don’t waste your time at the pearly-white main castle on the Western tip that looks great from far away, but rather desolate and depressing from up close. See if you can find the Asian buffaloes that keep the grass short or the remnants of the old palm house!
It takes either a bike ride through the woods, a sailing trip from upstream or, if you feel more lazy, a short bus journey through the forest – that is, only if you arrive in time, since the bus runs only once an hour. But if you make it, you’d probably be the only passenger and chauffeured by a happy bus driver, whose politeness will make you wonder how this is even possible in Berlin. Arriving at the shore, you will likely have to wait for a while until the ferryman spots you, drives over, collects a small fee and ferries you over to Pfaueninsel. Keep in mind though, that neither cars nor bikes or dogs are allowed on the island.
Well, to keep it brief, you can find more information on Pfaueninsel’s long history on its (excellent German) Wikipedia page and further information about on the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation’s website.