Like no other city I’ve known, Berlin knows how to cultivate beauty from out of desolation.
There’s a turnoff to a pretty, tree-lined bike path that I pass often on the way to and from my Treptow Schrebergarten. (More about that here.) I’d known that the path ran the length of the former Berlin Wall, but I’d never taken that turnoff before, having always had garden work waiting. On a recent sunny autumn afternoon, however, I had no destination, and took the turnoff.
The Mauerweg walking and cycling path runs about 160 km on its haphazard, jagged journey through the city. The stretch that I found myself on over the weekend is a lovely one, running from Alt-Treptow past Plänterwald to Britz in south Neukölln, lined along the way with Schrebergarten colonies, smartly white and sterile post-WWII housing developments, a canal choked with phosphorescent algae, an S-Bahn line, and trees, many trees–trees that look so much like they belong it’s hard to believe this land was a Death Strip until just 24 years ago, and that the Mauerweg project only got underway in 2002.
The path is a popular spot for local residents. Young parents with Kinderwagen air out their children and groups of teenagers fleeing home drink beer on the benches. Two women chatter to one another in Polish as they harvest wrinkly-ripe rosehips from a bush on one side of the path. On the other side, thickets of barren blackberry vines. Just a few short weeks ago, these brambles would have been drooping with fruit. Now it’s acorn season, oak trees surrendering their kernels to the pavement below where they’re soon crushed to a fine powder.
I turn back when the path leads me to a bridge crossing the Britzer Zweigkanal. This quiet stretch of water reminds me I should explore Berlin’s canals more–the Landwehrkanal close to home is nice, but it’s just the beginning. A small group of people on the other embankment have set themselves up with a small fire and some fishing rods. Maybe I’ll follow their example sometime.