It’s early summer and early afternoon and there’s no better time. In a few hours the place will be humming, glasses will be clinking, people will be laughing. For a while, kids will continue to run around barefoot and dirty or stand in line to buy an ice cream with a few euros held tight, and even their helicopter parents are unfazed about not having them in sight. Soon, though, the families will go home and be replaced by stag parties, groups from the nearby language school practicing their newly acquired skills, twenty-year-old fashion victims, and tourists after a long haul through the city who have read about Prater in their guidebooks.
Beer has been sold here since 1837, when Berlin was experiencing a period of explosive growth
But for now, there are no more than a dozen people spread out over the benches under the chestnut trees, older couples having quiet conversations or freelancers enjoying a break and reading a book. Beer has been sold here since 1837, when Berlin was experiencing a period of explosive growth, but Prater, although conveniently located on Kastanienallee, was still far outside of the city. Until the turn of the last century, you could bring food and even your own coffee and have that brewed for you, making it a place for normal, working-class folks from the neighbourhood that grew up around it.
It’s still a place for neighbours and normal folks
Since then, Prater has been a place of variety shows, political gatherings, film shows, and theatre premieres, but it has always, and reliably, been a place where you could drink a beer. It reopened after a brief post-Wende hiatus in 1996, the year I moved to Berlin, which makes us twins, kind of. Every
year, it opens when the weather is nice enough, and it’s the way I mark the beginning of summer. It’s where I needed to go first after the Covid-restrictions were lifted to allow outdoor dining. From here I can see the windows of the Pflegeheim where our old neighbour, who’d been living in our house since 1945, died. When I heard that a conflict about renovations between the current tenant and the Bezirk threatened to close it down, I headed for the hardware store with the intention of buying a chain for locking myself to one of the trees. There’s no better place to begin a chat with total strangers and no better place to be left alone.
Even though you are not allowed to bring your own food any more, it’s still a place for neighbours and normal folks. Prater has remained unaffected by fashion. It exudes the same pride of place that Berliners have, all Schnauze aside, when they flood buildings on open house days or on Lange Nacht der Museen – as if they own those places and the museum or the Bundespräsident just borrowed them for a while. We sit at Prater and smile a little as we watch people carry their beer glasses back to the serving window: it’s a sure sign that they’re here for the first time. We let them have Prater in the evenings. In the afternoons, it’s ours.
Born in Offenbach, raised in Germany, Austria and the US, ÄNNE TROESTER was a Berliner – and Prenzlauer Berger – in spirit before she legally became one in 1996. This movie fanatic and former Exberliner film editor (2003-2013) now earns her living dubbing scripts for Netflix shows and for big productions such as David Lynch’s Inland Empire and the new Star Trek films.