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Erected in the 19th Century to connect the Spree and Havel rivers to points eastward, Berlin’s extensive network of navigable waterways now forms an atmospheric backdrop to dozens of beer gardens, beach bars, cafes, and more. You could conceivably travel all the way to Mecklenburg Vorpommern from Berlin on a boat.
Here’s a rundown of the Cheapo-friendliest canal-side spots in the city.
The Beach Bar: Strandbar Mitte
The Strandbar Mitte (“Beach Bar” Mitte, in the Monbijoupark, across from the Bodemuseum, S-bahn: Hackescher Markt), which is laid out along the canal banks directly across from Museum Island, has been around since 2002—long before beach bar fever infected the city.
Relatively laid back during the day, this sizeable spot fills up on warm evenings, when professionals and tourists catch the last rays of sun over bottles of beer and cocktails at the serve-yourself bar. The best seats are the striped canvas beach chairs. Look out for free tango lessons.
The Shack: Freischwimmer
Tucked away behind a Kreuzberg gas station, Freischwimmer (Vor dem Schlesischen Tor 2, U-bahn: Schlesisches Tor) feels like it’s miles away from the city. A hodgepodge of wooden buildings and decks, the hip but unpretentious bar-café-restaurant overlooks a sleepy Spree river canal.
You can order an afternoon coffee or sip a cocktail as you watch a gaggle of ducks dip their beaks into the canal. Alternatively, grab a lawn chair at the Club der Visionäre (Am Flutgraben 1), just across the river. It offers a louder, slightly edgier vibe.
The Beer Garden: Schleusenkrug
Nestled between the Berlin Zoo and Tiergarten, some corners of the sprawling Schleusenkrug Biergarten (Müller-Breslau-Str., S/U-bahn: Zoologischer Garten) overlook a canal. A classic garden where babies, grannies, and hipsters jostle for space, this is the place to soak up Berlin’s egalitarian atmosphere.
The food—especially the freshly grilled organic sausages (try the spicy lamb marguez)—is worth the slight splurge. Afterwards, turn left to take a long stroll along the weeping willow-lined canals that work their way over to the Tiergarten park.
The Hangout: Paul Linke Ufer
Do as Kreuzbergers do and skip the beer garden, café, or beach bar altogether. Follow guitar-slinged neo-hippies to the Paul Linke Ufer, Maybacher Ufer, Planufer, or any one of the lawns or benches along the canals passing through Kreuzberg.
Grab a beer at a kiosk or grocery store, claim a spot on the grass or on a bench, and soak up the relaxed, summer-in-the-city scene. If you want to hear free music, head to the small footbridge linking the Planufer to the Fränkenufer. It’s a hangout for aspiring musicians eager for an audience.