A moving day in Berlin is a rite of passage, and like any rite of passage, everyone (of a certain age) does it pretty much the same way. You hire a van with a blue sea lion on the side, get all your willing friends together, and then spend the day trying to organise everyone into some kind of chain up the stairwell and playing Tetris with your boxes and yucca plants in the back of the van. When everything is finally in the new place, you all sit around drinking beer and eating hunks of Turkish bread with budget cheese, ham, and paprika crisps. After a while, people start drifting off home. If anyone sticks around, you’ll usually end up in a bar or café, soothing your aching limbs with cake and/or more beer until you all start to doze off at about 7 p.m.
In my case, we ended up at the Café am Engelbecken. I had no idea the place existed, but it’s just around the corner from my (now not-so) new home. Engelbecken is the name of a small man-made lake that sits on what used to be the Luisenstadt canal. The canal was at the heart of decorative gardens designed by Peter Joseph Lenné around 1850. It later became stagnant, and work on filling it in began in the 1920s. The lake was kept as an ornamental feature, and now the former route of the canal is a green space that sits on the border between Kreuzberg and Mitte.
If you start from Oranienplatz, the gravel path leads you past grand old blocks of flats, under a bridge and past an Indian-style fountain with trellised walkways and graffiti-splashed walls on either side. Usually there are ducks paddling around on the lake, and in summer the fountains spout away, looking very picturesque and making you need the loo. The café is in a low building on the far side, and its rows of white picnic tables stretch almost the full length of the lake. It’s a great place to have breakfast, lunch, or a late-afternoon beer as the sun goes down. From your picnic bench, look up at the buildings around you, and you’ll get a real sense of Berlin’s former division because you’re basically sitting where the border zone used to be. The buildings that curve around the far left-hand corner of the lake are the old pre-war buildings that survived in West Berlin. The flat-roofed, blocky buildings behind you, which would have been in East Berlin, are the typical prefab style that sprung up all over East Germany after the war. So even though the Wall isn’t here anymore, you can still get a feel for how this used to be, in effect, two different cities.
Then, of course, there’s that beautiful church. It’s the Sankt Michael Kirche, and I’m going to deal with that in a separate post. I fear I am getting too wordy, what with all this talk of moving flats and eating cheese sandwiches. In any case, a trip to Engelbecken is well worth it. When you’ve finished your beer, you can stroll around the streets of Kreuzberg and maybe take in a film at the open-air cinema (Freiluftkino Kreuzberg), which is just a short walk from your picnic bench.
Getting there: Take the Bus M29 and get off at Oranienplatz. From there, look for the low stone sculpture-thing on one side. You’ll be able to see the church in the distance. Head down the gravel/mud path between the trees and just go straight ahead till you hit the lake.
Alternatively, you can take the U8. Get off at Moritzplatz or Kottbusser Tor and walk to Oranienplatz from there. The U1 also stops at Kottbusser Tor.
Here’s a map.
Text & Photos: Jen Metcalf