If you feel the winter sadness descending, there’s only one thing for it: a walk in the blissfully empty woods. Popular among hikers for its ethereal green waterways, the path through the Briesetal (the Briese River Valley) manages to keep its allure even as the weather turns bleak.
Although it requires a few changes, you can reach the Briesetal trail in an hour or less from most places in Berlin. Hop on any S2 stop (it passes through several major stations like Gesundbrunnen, Nordbahnhof and Friedrichstraße) and head in the direction of Buch, then switch to the RB27 at Karow in the direction of Schmachtenhagen Bahnhof. Exit at Wensickendorf and head west along the Hauptstraße until you reach Zühlsdorfer Straße, which you’ll follow until it joins up with the riverside trail. Fair warning: Wensickendorf has absolutely nothing in terms of provisions, so it’s definitely a BYOB situation.
Once on route, you’ll be joining up with a path that runs over 400km known as the 66 Lakes Trail. Running in a loop from Potsdam around the whole of Berlin, the entire trail would take an intrepid hiker the better part of three weeks to complete. The Briesetal section is some of the best, and clocks in at around 12-13km depending on your deviations.
Walking alongside the Briese River feels like stepping into a classic German fairytale. Fallen trees form bridges across the smaller sections of streams, miniature waterfalls tumble over the rocks and weathered stone bridges mark the way between sections. The trail is dotted with little wonders that make it feel like a magical city for forest creatures, like the dozens of makeshift lean-tos or the sets of trees with mysterious feathered etchings, eerie in their uniformity.
Keep your eyes peeled for the mushrooms that thrive in the damp, boggy soil around the river. Pearlescent, caramel-coloured clusters form at the base of trees and golden, elegant chanterelles can also be spotted in the mossy overgrowth. You might even catch a glimpse of the infamous amanita muscaria with its distinctive red and white cap.
The most beautiful sections of the trail are where the water has risen over the stumps of trees, marooning the forest in a hypnotic green pool of water. Swans float peacefully among the tree trunks, creating the sensation of a space between two worlds. The winter strips the trees bare, adding to the stark effect of towering limbs over the cold, placid water.
Take the plunge
Fear not the winter swim. If you’ve ever seen the retirees taking their leisurely morning skinny dip at Schlachtensee in subzero temperatures, you’ll know what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. An optional 30 minute de- tour off the trail near the start, Rahmer See is a popular sunbath- ing spot in summer and an inviting place for a (very short and sharp) dip in winter. The Strandbad is closed from October to April, but you’ll find some grassy spots around the edges to strip down to your FKK finest. Stepping into the bluish green water is a shock to the system, but you’ll find yourself invigorated and surprisingly warm after scrambling out. Bringing along a hot drink in a thermos and a fluffy towel is highly recommended.
End your hike in Birkenwerder, a short deviation to the northwest after you reach the Waldschule (forest school) at the end of the Briesetal path. Before you catch the S1 back into Berlin, reward yourself with a slice of cake and a hot coffee at the Kaffeehaus Birkenwerder, located mere minutes from the train station. It’s only open from 10am – 5pm on Saturdays and Sundays, so it’s worth planning your hike at the weekend so you can end the trek with a slice of their poppy seed sour cream cake and a warming cappuccino.