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Escape Berlin: Six Ausflüge for the weekend

It’s time to pack your lunchbox and get out of the city. From gathering mushrooms to lazy bike rides, our travel expert Emily McDonnell tells us about her favourite day trips easily reachable from Berlin.

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It’s time to pack your lunchbox and get out of the city. Our travel expert Emily McDonnell tells us about her six favourite day trips, all easily reachable from Berlin. Photo: Eva Seiwert

Day trips, AKA Ausflüge, remind me of sprawling summer holidays as a kid, when my mum would fill the weeks with activities to stop my brother and I from bouncing off the walls and destroying the house.

Being stuck in the house for the past few months has also had me bouncing off the walls, but I have replaced playing games with incredibly boring adult stuff like cleaning. This got me thinking: day trips should be a life staple. 

I think we should all have a little black book of our favourite Ausflüge. Getting out of our daily routines keeps us sane, especially when it’s with a budget-friendly alternative to bougie breaks at the beach.

We all know the classics: Potsdam, Teufelsberg, Wannsee, Spreewald, Rostock, Hamburg… so, instead, here’s a little look inside my little black book of escapes that can easily be reached from Berlin by train. 

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A lazy bike ride in the forest. Photo: Emily McDonnell

The Müritz National Park: For days when I want to be active

Long, leisurely bike trips are the epitome of a good Ausflug. But rather than cycling out of your apartment building in search of a good route, jump on the train to Waren (Müritz), where you’ll find yourself in a national park just over the border of Brandenburg in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern.

The Müritz is the largest lake in Germany (it’s bigger than Paris), and is surrounded by thick forests. Instead of taking a loop around the whole lake, I cycle down to Müritzhof (on the east side) to fill up on beer and cake, before peddling to Feisnecksee for a dip. The town of Waren itself is rather charming, and it’s well worth lazing about in the harbour before you get the train home.

The train from Gesundbrunnen to Waren takes just over an hour.

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Staring out at Leipzig. Photo: Emily McDonnell

Leipzig: For when I’m craving culture

If someone tells me Leipzig is the new Berlin one more time…! It’s not, Leipzig is Leipzig and it’s a wonderful city, buzzing with energy and creativity. I fell in love with it at the tender age of 14, and have visited countless times ever since.

To get a true taste of the place, I’d recommend you take a walk in Clara-Zetkin Park, have lunch in the Plagwitz district (and explore the artist studios at Spinnerei), visit the Völkerschlachtdenkmal and Thomaskirche, and go for a drink along Karl-Liebknecht-Straße. As a bonus, check out what exhibition Yadegar Asisi has on at the Leipzig Panometer.

Direct trains take just 1 hour 15 from Berlin Central Station.

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On the docks at Werbellinsee. Photo: Amy Quayle

Brandenburg’s lakes: For the days I just need to switch off

I’m a sucker for being by the water, and there’s something about watching light dancing on the surface that helps me unwind. Now, I know favourite lakes can be a controversial topic! Mine are mostly in the north… 

For a picture-perfect walk, head to Hellsee, part of a lake chain formed by the last ice age. As a result, it has crystal-clear water, and there are a few tiny beaches if you want to throw a towel down. When I want an afternoon of swimming and sunbathing, I head to Werbellinsee, which is surrounded by forest: the water is cool but oh-so-clear. Normally I find a little pier, plonk myself down and unpack my picnic. For a bit more adventure and seclusion, head to Tonsee (near the village of Groß Köris). You have to cycle along dirt paths through a forest, but the ride is well worth it.

Bonus: Liepnitzsee will forever hold a place in my heart, partly thanks to the its turquoise waters, and partly thanks to it being the place where I got bitten by a mosquito and reacted so badly it looked like I’d done botox on myself (buy me a drink and I’ll show you the photos).

Catch the train with your bike: for Hellsee (and Liepnitzsee), get off at Wandlitz; for Werbellinsee, Joachimsthal Kaiserbahnhof; and for Tonsee, Groß Köris.

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A creepy abandoned sanatorium. Photo: Willgard Krause / Pixabay

Beelitz Heilstätten: For a look at Germany’s darker history

Yes, it’s not the same as it used to be since they started charging for tours, but I still think it’s well worth the trip, and yes, I couldn’t write about Berlin day trips and not include an abandoned building or a reference to the Nazis and the Cold War…

Beelitz Heilstätten is not only a creepy abandoned sanatorium, it’s also where Hitler was treated for injuries during WWI and was taken over by the Russians after WWII. As you may imagine, there’s a bizarre atmosphere, and if – as I did last time – you go on a cold winter’s day, it feels as if you’re at the start of a horror movie. The recently added elevated forest walk allows you to check out the facility from above and provides a bit more distance. But if you’re feeling brave enough, take a tour inside: the smell of damp and disinfection linger, and painted murals peel off the walls of this once-majestic structure. It’s quite haunting.

The train from Berlin to Beelitz-Heilstätten Bahnhof takes just under an hour.

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Hunt for forest mushrooms in Buch. Photo: Hans Braxmeier / Pixabay

Buch forest: For when I want to forage for food

I didn’t discover Bärlauch or Pfifferlinge until I moved to Berlin, and now I am obsessed. As someone who enjoys eating, food takes up a lot of headspace.

Buch makes for a wonderful trip at the best of times. There are acres of forest, crisscrossed by trails such as the sculpture walk. But what I love most is that the area is perfect for foraging. Bärlauch season is in the spring, and Pfifferlinge season is right now. Take a basket and fill it with these delicious little mushrooms. There’s no better feeling than returning home after a day in the fresh air to cook with ingredients you gathered yourself.

Note: Please be careful when picking mushrooms! I find this guide really useful, and if you want some help, there are numerous workshop tours you can attend.

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The eliptical Devil’s Bridge. Photo: Blackout Photography / Pixabay

Bad Muskau: For Instagrammable beauty.

Many head to this part of the country to snap atmospheric photos of themselves in Kromlau by the Devil’s Bridge (Rakotzbrücke), a striking arched bridge from the 19th century that forms a perfect circle with the reflection in the water below. You may have seen it on Instagram!

It’s cool, and so are the nearby Kromlau castle and the UNESCO World Heritage site of Muskauer Park, which is known for its expansive gardens straddling the Polish-German border. Plus the celebrity landscape gardener who developed the grounds was called Prince Hermann von Pückler, AKA “Prince Pickle”.

You can easily get the train to Cottbus, from where you’d need to take a car for half an hour.

Emily McDonnell is our German travel expert. For more inspiration and travel tips, check out her travel club The Staycation Collection.