How to survive a Berlin heatwave with a baby

Your how-to guide on keeping cool in the summer heat

  1. Go to the beach

  2. Cut the queue

  3. Pretend you're invisible

Yes, you read that right. The beach! On the outskirts of Berlin is a beach complete with sand, french fry kiosks and Strandkörbe1 called Strandbad Wannsee. With the temperature predicted to reach 35 degrees last Saturday, Tom and I thought it would be nice to get out of our apartment and go for a dip in a lake.

I've been to a few lakeshores around Berlin but never to Strandbad Wannsee so I wasn't sure what to expect. Tom assured me that it was a real beach so I decided to let myself be surprised and not look at photos ahead of time. Our main concern was shade—we don't own a beach umbrella—so our plan was to rent a Strandkorb when we got there. We figured that if we got there shortly before the facilities opened at 9 o'clock, we would have no problem finding one...

We got off the S-Bahn at Nikolassee at 8.45am and swiftly made our way towards the beach, Tom carrying Paul in the baby carrier and me carrying our beach stuff. We felt smug as we power-walked past other beachgoers carrying far less than us. I remember thinking as we passed some more people “At what point does passing people becoming cutting in front of them?”. A couple hundred meters later and that question became irrelevant: the entrance to the beach was now in sight…along with hundreds (!) of people. Berliners are not known for getting up early, especially not on weekends, but apparently, going to a lake on a hot day is the one exception to the rule.

We quickly joined the queue while Tom, concerned about the Strandkorb availability, hastily pulled up an image of the beach on Google images and started counting the Strandkörbe. 67. We both let out a sigh of relief. There were definitely more than 67 parties ahead of us but surely not everyone would be interested in paying for a Strandkorb rental?! (We would be wrong on that front too but more on that later)

Maybe it was a sixth sense or a mother's instinct, but despite the non-negligible number of Strandkörbe, I turned to the couple standing behind us—let's call them Alice and Bob—to ask them if they too like us had purchased tickets for the beach in advance2. Alice replied that ‘yes, they had’ but she too was surprised to see so many people so she asked Bob to go and investigate.

A few minutes of small talk later and Bob was back. He motioned to all four of us to come forward, so we stepped out of the queue and followed him. About a hundred metres away from where we had been standing was a second queue. It wasn't a special queue or anything, it seems the queue we had been standing in had simply grown faster such that the shorter queue was no longer visible to people walking down the path from the S-Bahn like us.

Excited, we slowed down but Alice kept walking. Unsure what to do, we followed her until she finally stopped near the front of the queue and then sort of stood next to it. We positioned ourselves behind them avoiding eye contact with the people standing near us. If anyone asked we planned to say 'We’re with them!’ and point at our newfound friends.

As is to be expected, a man soon called out to Bob and angrily said “You cut the queue” (Germans are nice and to-the-point like that). Bob protested that no, he had actually been there from the start but that he'd just gone to get his wife, a statement which was clearly untrue. At this point, Tom and I started feeling uneasy. If someone were to ask, we were no longer ‘with them’ but what could we say instead?3

Luckily, the doors opened at that moment and the queue moved forward diverting attention away from us. We rushed in and made our way to the Strandkorb rental kiosk only to discover it was closed. Surprised, we looked at the beach: people were running to grab free Strandkörbe, first come, first served so we did the same! Seconds later and we'd secured one of our own.

As we settled in and looked around, there, only a couple Strandkörbe away, were Bob and Alice, waving at us, smiling. They'd bagged one too.

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1

The best translation I could find of ‘Strandkorb’ during my 5-second Google search was ‘roofed wicker beach chair'. What a mouthful. I prefer the more literal ‘beach basket’!

2

Because of Corona, everyone is required to book tickets online ahead of time for public pools and beaches so it was a silly question. I mean, was I really suggesting that all the people ahead of us in the queue were unaware of this fact?

3

I've thought about this and the only way out of this situation I can think of is making Paul cry (sorry Paul!). Surely people wouldn't try to talk to us whilst we were dealing with a crying baby?!