Since I have a ticket that covers all of Berlin’s transport, which is considerable I might add, I decided to visit one of the many lakes within the city limits that you can swim in. I chose Schlachtensee, as that is the location of the student accommodation that I would have been living in, had I not found my own spot. Sundays in Germany mean that everything is closed, well grocery shops and department stores and the like – well, there’s always going to be some stuff open for the tourists downtown. It’s nice to think that the unions are that strong still, that people can have a guaranteed family day. The journey out to Schlachtensee didn’t take that long, 30 minutes maybe, but it was another world. En route, the houses changed from apartment blocks to single residences, solidly built family homes in leafy suburbs. No graffiti here, and no art or commentary or advertising. It could have been a suburb of any German town, nothing indicated that it was on the edge of the most vibrant city in Europe. Schlachtensee S-bahn leaves you right at the edge of the lake, a most beautiful place surrounded by trees, with ducks and moorhens and cormorants bobbing around, and a few people swimming. A path ran around the shore, with a sign indicating that it was a cycle path, and that pedestrians would be tolerated if they watched out for bikes. All along the shore, people had set up picnic rugs, got into their swimsuits and were paddling, eating and smoking. I threw myself in and was pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t too cold. Beside me, an extended family, complete with Opa who looked like Einsteins brother, trooped into the water to swim to the other side. This is one of dozens of bathing places in lakes around Berlin – unfortunately the weather is getting a bit unreliable, but the restored municipal indoor bathhouses look fantastic from what I see on the internet. I’m looking forward to them.
After this, I travelled over to meet friends at Revaler Strasse. This is typical of what Berlin is at the moment. A huge space, full of interesting empty warehouses, was sitting there, growing weeds, when some arty/community types managed to take it over. Now there’s a series of artists studios, an alternative theatre company, and a huge fleamarket at the weekends. A group of us sat and had pumpkin soup, from a huge vat, made by an Italian activist, who gives all the profits to a social programme. The fleamarket is a big mixum gatherum of both craftworkers and people clearing out their attics, so plenty of bargains there. Of course, there’s a businessman somewhere trying to negotiate the purchase of this site for the development of apartments and hotels, but Berliners are quite a tenacious lot, and don’t shift too easily. They appreciate unspoiled Berlin, and protest at any question of the kind of development all of us have seen ruin some of our own cities. They also see the value of non-linear or organic development; they know they have a wonderful city that is amazingly stress-free. Of course the footprint of Berlin is eight times larger than Paris, and it only hold 3.5 million people, so there’s lots of space, which makes everything cheap, and keeps everyone happy. I feel it can’t last forever, so I’m very lucky to see Berlin as it is now, open, arty, inclusive, delighted to be different.