Beaches, bridges, indie shops and Cajun food…a day out in the southeastern borough.
In the far reaches of former East Berlin, Altstadt Köpenick and neighbouring Friedrichshagen remain mostly untouched by either hipster irony or soul-free international brand stores. With a mix of big, open neighbourhoods, older cobblestoned streets offering tiny local shops, and water, water everywhere thanks to the Spree and Müggelsee, the area makes for the perfect beach and bike-accented day trip (though tram lines do cover much of the area, and you can make up the rest by walking). You won’t come here to party – thank goodness – but to take in a quaint, local side of Berlin. Almost too quaint: while there have been efforts to drive neo-Nazi businesses out of the area, Köpenick’s still home to the Berlin NPD headquarters and has the highest proportion of NPD voters in the city. You probably won’t run into them during your travels, though, so find a free Saturday (most shops and restaurants stick to tradition and close on Sundays and/or Mondays; check out individual destinations’ hours beforehand) and go exploring!
Start the day at Köllnischer Platz, not far from the Spindlersfeld S-Bahn station. Walk or bike ride across Lange Brücke – a misnomer – to the Schloss Köpenick, a well-preserved Baroque palace heralding your arrival in Altstadt Köpenick. On sunny days, loungers hang out in front of the palace, which now houses a decorative arts museum, on the lawn sloping down to the edge of the Dahme. Consider joining them, or hang a quick left toward the neighbourhood’s cobblestoned, tram track-lined shopping streets. This part of town isn’t extensive, but the one-off shops and restaurants are worth a look. Have Frühstück and a cocoa-enhanced coffee at Mokkafee (Grünstr. 21), or get coffee to go at the funky Milchkaffee, around the corner (Kirchstr. 5). Grünstraße also houses a couple of charming specialty stores. Pick up handmade, preservative-free pistachio-orange-marzipan pralines at Chocolaterie Catherine, at number 17, and look for good quality French and German wines at Domaines Weinhandlung, at number 13. The storefront – where you can also have a glass of wine and a snack – is sister to an eponymous restaurant in nearby Friedrichshagen.
Head south to the residential street Kietz (no “straße”), the supposedly original so-called Kiez street, where 18th century pitched-roof houses largely survived WWII, and grassy lanes in between the one and two-storey private homes directly access the banks of the Dahme. Continue southward to Wendenschloßstraße, which begins unremarkably but gives way at its southern end to a beautiful, most un-Berlin neighbourhood of modern bungalows, large, older homes, and plenty of trees. Turn left on Möllhausenufer (where the houses get even nicer) and unpack your bathing suit – you’re at the beach! Continue due east into the Wendenschloß and you’ll reach Freibad Wendenschloß, where for a €4 entry fee from May to September you can access a sandy strip with a volleyball net and beach chairs for rent, changing rooms and lockers, and a snack bar that serves currywurst and ice cream.
If you’ve packed a picnic, head straight into the overgrown, ill-marked paths of the Wendenschloß woods (fear not, our phones had signal for easy mapping) to small, quiet beaches along the Müggelsee. But first, a bit of history. In the middle of the forest and up the Kleiner Müggelberg you’ll find the Müggelturm, a 29.61m tower with a construction site at its base all on its lonesome, offering one of the highest points from which to view Berlin – you’ll have to squint to see the TV tower in the distance, but it’s there. Despite its GDR-era appearance and semi-abandoned air, the site reaches far into Berlin’s history, beginning with the original 10m tower, built by businessman Carl Spindler in 1880, which burned down in 1958 during renovations. Read all about it – in German only – via the historical information stapled to the wall on each landing of the current structure. And if you’re parched and hungry from the hike/bike ride up the hill, the guy charging a €2 entry for the tower will also sell you a beer and an ice cream bar.
From the tower, get back on the trail and turn northward to the Am Müggelsee path. Where the Müggelsee meets the Müggelspree, you’ll find a quiet beach shortly before the Spreetunnel, a deep pedestrian path under the river to Friedrichshagen, another Köpenick Kiez (bikers will have to cart their rides up and down the stairs). Before crossing, pay a visit to SpreeArche, a floating log cabin restaurant specialising in freshly smoked fish (usually salmon), set in the middle of the Müggelspree and accessible by a float the staff sends to pick up visitors every quarter hour, from a stand in the woods on the Müggelschloss side of the river (they’re open from noon on weekends and holidays from April through October, and will open daily for groups of 10 people or more). For those who prefer lunch on solid ground, continue through the Spreetunnel to Friedrichshagen, to the charming site of Domaines, the French restaurant sister to that wine shop in Altstadt Köpenick. The restaurant is in a freestanding building in Müggelpark with an unobstructed view of the water from its terrace, and unlike many local spots is open daily from noon.
For a beer and classic German fare, head west toward the restaurant Bräustübl, but skip the main building on Müggelseedamm in good weather and turn down Pfeiffergasse, to the restaurant’s casual outdoor outpost on the water. Settle into a bean bag chair on the grass and watch the boats go by. Food options come from an outdoor grill, with one guy cooking bratwurst, Rinderhuftsteak, chicken and shrimp. Be sure to drink a Berliner Bürgerbräu Rotkelchen; right next door, Berliner Bürgerbräu was Berlin’s oldest brewery until it closed in 2010 and operations moved to the Kindl brewery in Weißensee. For a break from Germano-Franco-centric food, take a walk to nearby Bölschestraße, which you should definitely do anyway, for its small-town feel and plethora of landmarked buildings. The street is lined with bookstores, bike shops, independent clothing stores (which are neither high fashion nor frumpy) and a number of restaurants, the most unlikely of which is probably Kid Creole, at number 10. Set in a two-storey Hinterhaus with a peaceful garden and terrace, this Cajun spot – unique for Berlin in general, let alone the former East – offers huge portions of jambalaya, gumbo, catfish, jerk chicken, and an alligator filet (€1427; expect doggie bags) among its range of Louisiana classics.
If you’re engineering your Köpenick day in reverse (beginning in Friedrichshagen and ending in Altstadt Köpenick), you will find breakfast in addition to ice cream at Eiscafé Klatsch (Bölschestr. 25). Regioladen (Bölschestr. 120) also sells well-selected, high-quality groceries and pre-made salads and sandwiches, all locally sourced from Brandenburg farms.
To return to Altstadt Köpenick, be sure to take the unnamed footbridge that crosses both the Alte Spree Köpenick and the Müggelspree, just passing over the southeastern corner of Baumgarteninsel (an island housing private allotment gardens). Besides the pleasant view, the bridge accesses Uferweg, a pedestrian path along the water. For a drink, or a second dinner, head back toward Kietz, which gives way to Gartenstraße, where you’ll find Restaurant Krokodil, serving reasonably priced seasonal German cuisine (in June, Spargel ruled the specials), along with some more broadly European dishes. Most of the menu is under €10, with entrees in the teens. With inconspicuous signage, the restaurant isn’t too noticeable from the street, but look out for it at numbers 46-48, and cut through the cosy brick-walled dining room to the shady terrace right on the river. On the weekend, stop by for live jazz and blues sessions (or earlier in the day, head over for Sunday brunch). For cocktails or beer in the same scenic spot, go to Freiheit 15, a mixed-use complex set among historic brick buildings on the Müggelspree. The indoor/outdoor space houses Duke Bar (the interior of which is somewhat overwrought for the neighbourhood, so have your drink outside). You’ll also find a permanently moored 1891 Dutch sailing ship, the arsVivendi, that hosts private events; and a tiny biergarten, Brinki’s Brutzelbude, the perfect spot for a refreshing beer by the river. From here, it’s not a long walk back to the tram and a very different Berlin.
Originally published in issue #139, June 2015.