Van life in the city at Berlin’s Tempelhofer Feld & Leipzig, then a cycle ride into Poland

For a few days we lived on the edge of Berlin’s former military airfield and explored the amazing culture and history of the city…

We first visited Berlin with Jess & Freddy for New Years Eve in 2016 (read more in our previous post here).

We are all quite smitten with the city, admiring its progressive political policies on housing and  the environment. The way that grassroots activism seems to thrive with local communities collectively coming together to affect change is encouraging and refreshing to see, particularly when coming from the aimless and chaotic ‘Brexit Britain’! Jess & Freddy noted this on their blog when they saw posters on buildings encouraging tenants to speak to their neighbours and seek advice on rent increases.

They had already visited again on their travels in June this year but loved it so much they were happy to return once more and meet us there in July. We had all read Van Dog Traveller’s blog post on Tempelhofer Feld so were keen to experience it for ourselves.

Another great example of local community action – Tempelhofer Feld is on an enormous site covering 355 hectares, according to German newspaper, Die Zeit, it is the largest inner city open space in the world. Several international commercial investors have proposed plans to develop the site but since the airport was decommissioned in 2008 it has remained untouched and the large asphalt strip is now home to joggers, cyclists, skateboarders, roller skaters, parents with pushchairs, dog walkers and any other city dweller wishing to get outside in a large open space. At the centre is a large community garden with allotment plots growing vegetables and flowers and a covered shelter where informal cultural events are held.

The site is well maintained with several clean toilet blocks and a dedicated BBQ field with large hot ash bins free for all to use. While we were visiting there was a cycle polo tournament being held. Makeshift OSB and pallet wood courts had been carefully constructed to hold several games with seating all around. A bar selling beers and cold drinks blasted out music and called out the winners from each game.

The participants were international and conveniently for us English was spoken across most of the games. Despite the DIY feel to the tournament the atmosphere was charged with serious competitiveness, shouts and calls came from each court as participators hammered the balls, flinging them across the court and thudding them into the barriers made from recycled wood.

It felt exciting to be a spectator at this large event which didn’t appear to have any one particular organiser. There were no big sponsors banners running along the courts, it was clearly a team effort, something that had happened because people wanted it to happen and had rallied their efforts together to make it happen, all cooperating, contributing and supporting each other.

Parking at Tempelhofer Feld in our van was easy enough. There is a street running along the field in the Schillerkiez neighbourhood with lots of van dwellers clearly living here, their tables and belongings stored outside the vans. On our very first morning at Tempelhoffer Feld we were woken by someone cycling alongside the vans ringing their bell and shouting “no camping please!”, apart from that we were undisturbed so opinions on people parking here seems to be mixed. We expect this everywhere we travel and completely understand some people’s objections, but our overall experience of the van dwelling community is that people respect the places they stay, taking litter with them, often even picking up other people’s and leaving places as they were before they arrived. If you do plan on visiting Tempelhofer Feld in a van please be mindful of this and help keep it free and available for use by future visitors.

We enjoyed a few busy of days of sightseeing and sampling the local beer from the many bars, clubs and gardens then decided to head back out in to the countryside. We found a beautiful lakeside spot on Park4Night that was just perfect.

There were a few other motorhomes parked up on the grass under some trees so we decided to do the same and set up camp with our two vans parked side by side. This would come to be our usual set up and we loved it so much. Being able to make our own little area between the two vans with our chairs felt like having our own private back garden.

We stayed for a couple of days, playing games beside the lake, then decided to go for some more urban van living and move on to Leipzig.

Six years ago me and Jess travelled all the way to Leipzig for her 21st birthday to see Cosmo Jarvis play at an amazing venue called Moritzbastei. The place made such an impression on us that we really wanted to visit again. Moritzbastei is the only remaining part of the cities ancient fortifications. The venue has since had a varied history, becoming a school in the 1700’s, being partially destroyed during the second World War and then being rebuilt and used by students as a cultural meeting place during the 1970’s, in the days of the GDR. Today it hosts all kinds of cultural events , arts, cinema, theatre and live music. We visited for their weekly Saturday club night where you can dance away to DJs playing pop, alternative & metal. A labyrinth of ancient underground stone staircases take you from room to room which were all packed with dancing party goers.  Definitely one of the most interesting clubs we’ve ever been to.

We decided to take a break from the bustling excitement of the city and venture out to the Leipzig Wild park. Situated across a large patch of woodland the Wild park is a free attraction where visitors can see animals such as racoons, minks, wild boar and deer. We spent a lovely relaxed day walking and cycling around the park, feeding the animals and delighting in the racoon’s ritual of washing in water. We later learnt that the German word for racoon is Waschbär, literally “wash bear” on account of how they are sensory animals and so feel their food all over before eating it, often doing this in the water which is often mistaken for them washing.

We always take our bikes on the road with us, mounted to a Fiamma rack on the back of the van, as we like to be able to park out on the edge of cities/towns where it is often quieter and cheaper/free. Pretty much all the European places we’ve visited are well geared up for cyclists with wide cycle paths separate from the road, so it is easy to park up and ride into town. We’d read about a long cycle trail running along the border between Germany and Poland, the Oder-Neisse Radweg. We didn’t fancy doing the entire 335 mile route so decided to cover a section on the edge of the German town Gorlitz, a filming location for Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel.

We started off in the town itself and could instantly see how it inspired the film with its satisfyingly symmetrical and beautifully ornate buildings.

We followed the Neisse river south of the town and into Poland. We were surprised at how much the landscape visibly changed as we crossed over the border, noticing the different shapes of buildings, windows, doors and road layouts. The cycle trail itself was quite well sign posted, we lost the trail for a while but it was straightforward to get back on track as it sticks closely to the river. Most of the trail is smooth, well paved and completely separate from the road so very enjoyable to cycle.

Having a taste of exploring another new country got us excited to continue our journey and head further East so we packed up the vans and headed for the Czech Republic.

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