Long before other cities jumped on the sandwagon, Berlin perfected the art of the urban beach. Now it has 30, where you can play volleyball, drink cocktails - and, of course, escape to the nearest museum if it rains, says Patrick Barkham in today's Guardian
(pages 73-75 in the print edition)
Ich bin ein sunbather
Saturday July 14 2007
have sand between my toes, a cooling drink in my hand and as I recline on the pile of inflatable tyres, I can hear trains rumble past somewhere above my head. I am in a deranged Wild West village that looks as if it has been dropped from a great height on to a beach, with potted palms and AC/DC hollering out from the DJ booth.
Before Paris got its Plage and London, Amsterdam and even Birmingham jumped on the sandwagon, there was Berlin. A former swamp 150 miles from the sea, the German capital perfected inland beach culture about 95 years before other landlocked cities. And as parks and squares across Europe are hurriedly transformed into artificial beaches this summer, Berlin is really pushing the boat out.
A mongrel country-and-western style beach, bar and play area, Strandmarkt is one of 30 beaches that have sprung up in Berlin. This stretch of sand is more than a little crazy. It's almost as bonkers as taking a beach holiday in a European capital miles from the coast. The only thing that isn't balmy is the weather.
My Australian companion is sceptical. Australians don't need to build beaches and they don't understand those who do. Unfortunately, on our first evening in Berlin, the rain-lashed deckchairs of the first urban beach we visit - bizarrely billed as boasting wonderful views of Berlin's new railway station at sunset - look as hapless as an out-of-season English seaside resort.
The following day is also a washout. But it's here that the advantages of a holiday in a real city with fake beaches (as opposed to the usual fake city on a real beach) hit home. Our hotel's chic grey minimalism and amazing breakfasts (served until a very civilised 1pm on Sunday) are perfect for a grey day, as are Berlin's museums, most notably, Daniel Libeskind's striking, disturbing Jewish museum. Then there's the added bonus of Germany's superstar polar bear, Knut, who looks deliriously content when cool rain falls on the city's zoo.
Beach weather threatens to break out by the second evening and a stroll to Strandbar Mitte on the edge of Monbijou Park in the city centre reveals why Berlin does beaches so well. Where in Britain could you arrive at 9.30pm on a Saturday and get a drink and a seat straight away? Where in Ibiza could you instantly plonk yourself on a chair right by the water? Forget the stereotypes about the race for the sun-loungers; in Berlin, there's a deckchair for everyone ...
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