• Berlin
  • Natur Park Südgelände: Tempelhof’s railroad forest

Short escapes

Natur Park Südgelände: Tempelhof’s railroad forest

Take a timeout this summer at Natur Park Südgelände, a slice of wilderness-turned-installation space where blue-tipped grasshoppers jump between mossy railroad lines.

Railway switchyard turned unique, Berlin park. Photo: Grace Henes

The history

In the late 1800s, a railway switchyard was constructed in Tempelhof, and for decades, it thrived as the popularity of rail travel increased. Shortly after the end of World War II, however, the yard was decommissioned and left to the whims of nature. Forty years without human intervention led to tracks hidden by lush grass, crumbling buildings with creeping vines, and a wealth of wildlife which thrived in the mini-ecosystem at the edge of the bustling city. By 1999, locals sought to actively preserve the unique space that had formed in the trains’ absence, and by 2000, the park was opened to the public and preserved as a Nature and Landscape Conservation Area.

First impressions

As you enter the park (a €1 ‘donation’ is required), the first thing you see is a bright block of colour: a yellow brick wall with a single quote, “Art is the closest neighbour to wilderness.” Passing under the archway, you enter the yard itself. The towering 1920s water tower looms above, and remnants of the old railway are dotted throughout: a giant water pump, wooden carts overflowing with plants and, down the path, a 1930s Deutsche Reichsbahn Class 50 steam locomotive in all its shining black-and-red glory. Before hitting the trail, you can check out the installation pieces in the back courtyard – an unusual addition to the space but less compelling than the graffiti found in other parts of the park.

Photo: Grace Henes

Into the park

The best way to take in the park is via the metal walkway, which twists and turns past the old railway lines. The quiet, grown-over train tracks give an ethereal, Miyazaki-movie feel to this stretch of land, which switches from open plain into dappled-sun forest as you head north. Along the way are plaques with information on the wildlife, secluded playgrounds, and towers to climb for views of the vistas beyond.

Photo: Grace Henes

The quiet, grown-over train tracks give an ethereal, Miyazaki-movie feel to this stretch of land.

For a place so close to the heart of the city, there are plenty of creatures that seem perfectly at home here. As the trains shipped out and nature took over, the park became a sanctuary for a number of endangered species. Settle in on one of the metal benches along the walkway and see if you can spot a green sand lizard or blue-winged grasshopper rustling in the underbrush. The distinctive tweet of the nightingales is a sweet, chirpy background noise to the soft and irregular sound of the trains in the near distance. Interspersed between tall birches, lavender and high grasses, there are also wild roses and fruity-smelling briars.

Last stop

After exploring the park, head back to the Café Paresüd for a slice of rhubarb cream cake and a cappuccino in the sun to round out your afternoon. The café, which is housed in the old Brückenmeisterei, is not the only repurposed building. You can also peek your head into the echoing, century-old locomotive hall, which is currently being developed as an event space.

Photo: Grace Henes

Getting there

Although the Priesterweg S-Bahn stop is right outside the park gates, you gain extra views when you approach by bike. A cycle down Wilhelm-Kabus-Straße is an introduction to the industry-meets-nature aesthetic of the area, where green spaces are slotted in amongst hip co-working spaces and the odd warehouse-turned-Biergarten. You’ll pop out onto a wide cycle path in a long, narrow park that runs to the left of two of Berlin’s largest Kleingärten, which rival Treptower Park in their sprawl. As you cruise along to the Natur Park, you’ll get low, green vistas over the gardens to your right and the gentle whoosh of the S-Bahn on the left as it tunnels in and out of the trees.