While Tempelhofer Feld attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors every year, there is no doubt that far fewer people know about the nearby Natur-Park Schöneberger Südgelände. Just a few S-Bahn stops away from the beloved airport-turned-public-park, you’ll find another impressive urban park with eighteen hectares of nature, art, and technology.
Regardless of what time of year you choose to visit the park, there is no doubt that upon exiting the Priesterweg S-Bahn station, you’ll be instantly impressed with this inner-city park — no matter the weather. As you’ll see from the photos in this post, my visit was on a blustery snow-filled February day; however, I’ve also highlighted some additional tips that will be relevant if you happen to find yourself visiting this park in the spring or summer. No doubt that the park is busier in these months, particularly as Berlin’s largest community of allotment gardens (with nearly 2,500 plots) sits right next door. But, first, let me tell you a little more about how this nature park came to exist in the first place.
The Making of the Nature Park
Back in the early 1800s, the Schöneberger Südgelände was situated on the outskirts of the Prussian royal capital of Berlin. Between 1838 and 1870, trains became increasingly integral to the economic and urban development of the city. And with more trains it became necessary to build construction workshops and shunting/switching yards. On this site, the Tempelhof repair workshop was built in 1879. A decade or so later, the Tempelhof shunting yard was constructed. It quickly became the second most active (of the nine) shunting yards in Berlin.
Between 1923 and 1931, it was expanded to become one of the world’s most productive shunting yards for Halle/Leipzig-Berlin and Dresden-Berlin routes. In 1927, the 50 metre high water tower was built there, followed by Priesterweg S-Bahn station in 1928. In 1941, more than 130 freight trains a day were separated and reconnected at the Tempelhof shunting yard.
The Nazis, too, had different plans for this area. They’d planned to address the looming housing shortage in the 1930s and 1940s by working with the non-profit settlement and housing association (GSW) to build apartments for 400,000 Berliners, the bulk of whom had been displaced from the inner city due to Albert Speer’s construction plans for Germania. In fact, these buildings were important to the megalomaniac reconstruction of Berlin as they would emphasize the optics of the new monumental north-south axis that city planning officials, led by Speer, had dreamt up. Only one building with 2,000 residential units, which still stands on Grazer Damm, was constructed. While it was the single largest project in Berlin residential construction realized by the regime, the start of the Second World War put the construction of the remaining residential buildings on hold. It was, however, a project that the Nazi regime intended to return to after their intended victory. This, of course, never happened.
After the end of the Second World War, the Allies seized the railway premises in West Berlin and the operational rights for the German national railway company and they were transferred to the Soviet occupied sector. A small number of freight transport operations were restarted on the Anhalt railway line. However, as the GDR avoided freight transport through West Berlin from May 1950, shunting activities were discontinued in 1952 and the western section of the operational area in Tempelhof was abandoned. Workshop operations and minimal freight transport still continued until the 1990s.
Already in the 1980s, the area was recognized by local authorities as having a rich natural ecosystem; however, it wasn’t until the late 1990s after all rail-related activities had stopped that the decision to create a nature park happened and the area officially became a protected natural landscape. In 2000, Natur-Park Schöneberger Südgelände was opened as a Worldwide EXPO project.
A visit to Natur-Park Schöneberger Südgelände today
Wedged between the city, the nature park maintains impressive biodiversity. 30 species of breeding birds, 57 species of spiders, 95 species of wild bees, 15 species of locusts as well as over 350 species of plants and 49 large mushrooms have been proven to inhabit the area. The hawkweeds are a specialty: Deceptive hawkweed and spotted hawkweed are only found here in Berlin and Brandenburg. The many wild rose species, including some very rare ones, are also attractive. For those who are not nature experts, there are information boards along the raised path that provide additional information about the flora and fauna of the area.
Throughout the park, the art work of a group of Berlin artists who went by the name Odious in the 1980s can be seen from just about anywhere. The abstract steel sculptures, as well as the 600-meter-long steel walkway that leads through the reserve, is all part of their work and reminds visitors of the former industrial function of this particular nature reserve.
Along the tracks, you’ll find remnants of the shunting yard, including rusting train tracks now overgrown with trees and other greenery and a historic locomotive. If you’re interested in learning a little more about the history of the site, you’ll find a visitor’s information center immediately upon your entrance from Priesterweg S-Bahn station.
If you’re looking for a more creative afternoon, bring along a can of spray paint and your best street art ideas, so you can make a colourful contribution to the graffiti and street art wall near the entrance to the park. It’s completely legal to leave your mark here; in fact, the park operators even encourage it!
Where to eat and drink in the summer months
Hungry? In the summer months, you can indulge in a few glasses of wine and some snacks at the local garden restaurant, immediately next door to Priesterweg S-Bahn. While they have a somewhat limited menu, you’ll find only seasonal and local food, including flammkuchen, sausages, liver dumplings, and Saumagen, a Palatine favourite. All the wines they serve also come from the Palatinate. Make sure to visit the restaurant’s website in advance to check their operating hours if you’re counting on these snacks.
In addition to the garden cafe, from April to October, you can also visit Paresüd Café, which is found next door to the information center. On offer you’ll find coffee, cake, and other snacks that you can enjoy either inside the café or outside on the terrace.
What you need to know before you go
Opening hours of the park vary by season. From November to February, it’s open 9am until 4pm. From March to October, the hours are 9am to 6pm. And, in the summer months, from April until September, you can visit from 9am until 8pm.
Entrance to the park costs 1 euro per person and, with correct change, you can buy your ticket at the machine at the entrance. While the gate is left open, you’ll still need your ticket. Even though we visited on a cold and snowy February afternoon, we did meet a park employee who was patrolling the area and asking people to see their ticket receipts.
How to get there
The entrance to the park can easily be found by getting off at Priesterweg S-Bahn station; there you can follow the exit signs that lead you directly to the Naturpark. You can choose to do a roundtrip and return via the same S-Bahn station, or you can exit at the far end of the park and return to just about anywhere in Berlin by jumping on the Ringbahn at Südkreuz S-Bahn station.