For our RV stay in Berlin, we continued our urban assault vehicle approach we had started in Dresden – see what we could drive to in our Roadtrek campervan, rather than take public transportation. Accordingly, we didn’t need a campground right on the metro system, and wanted something with a little atmosphere since we would be staying several days with some sitting-around time at the campground itself. We settled on the Berlin Camping Club because of its interesting history and location right on the Breite, a wide section of the Havel River just west of downtown and centrally located, but removed from the urban grittiness.
The Havel is a larger river, a tributary of the Elbe, which we had generally been following northwest since we left Austria. Prague is on another tributary of the Elbe, and Dresden is right on it. Berlin is technically on the Spree River, which empties into the Havel just north of where we camped. As the Havel flows along the west side of Berlin it widens into this lake-like Breite (“broad” in German), and the western shore of the Breite is all a nature preserve. Traditional uses have included camping, so 60 some odd years ago the Berlin Camping Club secured use (not ownership) of a section of property, put in some hand pumps for a water supply, and slowly grew as sort of a summer social club. The area is heavily wooded, and has never been developed. Wild boars have free access, and you have to be careful with your garbage. There is city water now, but because of the nature preserve status no in-ground wastewater system – all the waste water has to be hauled out by truck. A bunch of more permanent “cottages” line the actual waterfront, but all these people depend on the continued approval of the nature preserve board, and could get kicked out at any time.
Instead of a commercial campground feel there’s more of a social club, Jersey shore atmosphere. Probably 75% of the campground is taken up by people who leave their trailers there permanently, but there’s also room for transients like us. Early July is still not the prime season, so at least half the trailers were empty. I saw many more of the attached tent rooms to these trailers as I had been seeing ever since our arrival. The campground staff were great – Heidi spoke no English at all, but we used sign language and other gestures to convey the basics. Steffi was younger and knew some English, so if I needed something complicated I waited until she was on duty. The washrooms were modular trailer things because of the nature conservancy restrictions but well maintained and functional, and the showers had a great feature – a count-down clock so that you’d know when your five minutes would be up, and could plan accordingly.
In addition to our downtown blitz on the way in, where we saw the Brandenburg Gate and Reichstag, we also went to Wannsee and Potsdam, both on the Breite where we were camping. It was a bit of a drive because we had to go around the lake and up the other side, but it was all suburban except the old section of Potsdam, which had beautiful buildings. We crossed the infamous Bridge of Spies, the bridge over the Havel where the US and the USSR swapped captives during the Cold War. The white line on the sidewalk in the middle marking the boundary is still there, slowly wearing away.
We went to the Wannsee Conference House where the Nazis convened the “final solution” conference deciding the fate of Europe’s Jews. Despite the history, it’s a beautiful area of what were at the time country estates on the Breite, a welcome refuge for Berlin’s elite from the crowded city ten miles away. There was also a huge Coney Island type public bathing beach, the Strandbad Wannsee, which had been in use since the 1920s and provided the working people of Berlin with much-needed summer relaxation accessible by public transportation.
It was quite pleasant using our campground as an oasis in the middle of this urban area and being surrounded by families for whom this place was a summer fixture, a reassuringly familiar place on the lake where kids could play, adults could sit around and socialize, and the beautiful summer days could drift by. There’s a fair amount of rain here on the northern German plain in summer, but people took it in stride and popped right back out as soon as it was over. The lake was full of pleasure boats, commercial barges hauling freight, strange party boats with loud music and no fixed itinerary, kayaks, inner tubes, all kinds of things. The little lake “cottages” were horticultural masterpieces, since each only had a postage stamp sized front yard. I even saw a magnolia tree – up here at 54 degrees north latitude. One thing I have to keep reminding myself of is how long and cold these people’s winters are. As a fulltimer, I lose sight of that easily. They really, REALLY enjoy summer up here.