What color do you associate with Berlin? Most people – even longtime residents – would probably answer gray. It’s not just the heavy clouds which blanket the city for much of the year; sometimes life-sapping mid-tones seem to seep upwards into the built environment from the gray, sandy soil on which the city rests.
But around this time of year, you realize how incredibly green Berlin is. And no more so than at its heart, Tiergarten, covering an area half as big again as London’s Hyde Park, miraculously preserved for centuries and landscaped in the early 19th century. The name translates as “animal garden”, and was once a royal hunting ground (you can still see animals in the adjoining zoo).
The park is scored by wide avenues, all of which lead to Siegessäule (“victory column”) – you may have seen it as a backdrop to a speech given by then presidential candidate Obama in 2008. Since then it’s been restored, and its pinnacle offers not just an unparalleled panorama of the park, you also get a close-up view of the gilded, wreath-bearing “Goldelse” dazzling in spring sunshine once again.
The extensive grounds are ideal for strolling, cycling, rowing on the Neuer See or enjoying a pint and a pretzel in one of the beer gardens. Classical statuary dots the landscape and at the park’s periphery there is much for architecture buffs to admire – the Modernist Philharmonie concert hall, the President’s grand residence Bellevue, Haus der Kulturen der Welt (nicknamed “the pregnant oyster” by locals) as well as the government quarter which has sprung up around the Reichstag. The district which shares the park’s name is dotted with embassies, many of them new; highlights include the Nordic Embassies with their sweeping moss-green cladding, Mexico’s slender concrete columns and the filigree drum of Saudi Arabia.