Winters in Berlin are seldom frigid, and snow is a rare occurrence. Instead, a bone chilling cold befalls the city starting in late October. The uncomfortable chill is accompanied by pure grayness, short days, and a lack of sunlight that often lasts until April.
There are few benefits to spending a winter in Berlin. There are no ski slopes or sleigh rides. Although you can ice skate in outdoor rinks, you can’t skate on the Spree River or on the city’s lakes.
The cold winter limits outside excursions to drab outings. The colorful foliage of the fall does not get replaced by the glorious whiteness of a brisk winter wonderland. Vibrant colors may be proudly displayed in ski towns across the world, but most Berliners wear black.
Before Dawn in the Mauerpark
I’ve embraced the grayness this year by changing my training program to adjust for seasonal differences. I usually hunker down and compete for time on the rack at the gym with the Christmas crowd—those who become more earnest about their training right before the holidays. Instead, I modified my program to do more outside. I figure, if I am preparing for Rainier and Denali, I need to improve my tolerance to the cold.
As suggested by the New Alpinism, I started doing hill sprints once or twice a week in the Mauerpark. After living next to this park for almost 10 years, I tend to avoid the barren field and former Berlin Wall no-man’s zone with its mountains of trash, piles of dog poop, unwashed punks, weekend grillers, party chillers, flea market tourists, and Prenzelkinder (the children of day care refugees who live in the district of Prenzlauer Berg). In fact, my wife and I prefer walking around the park than traveling through it. We also limit our youngest daughter’s visits to the park’s playgrounds where we used to spend so much time with our older children. Our beloved neighborhood has changed. We feel like lost tourists in an unfamiliar place.
An Empty Mauerpark
Strangely enough, my pre-dawn excursions have given me a new appreciation for the Mauerpark. As the days of winter have grown shorter, my sprints up the northern cobblestone path of the park have become more peaceful and relaxing. There is little activity and noise in the early morning. Joggers occasionally pass, but I have not yet seen a drug dealer or a partygoer at the top of the hill. I am usually left alone in the darkness where I can run undisturbed.
I often appreciate the latest graffiti in silence. The ever-changing images sprayed on the wall of the bordering Jahn stadium remind me of nature’s impermanence. Each week I dutifully increase my number of reps and sets as prescribed by the book while others paint over the often stunning, colorful designs. Impressed by this beauty, I bring a camera each time I go. Although it is often too dark or rainy to get a good shot, I have started documenting some of the sprays. I pay homage to them like icons in a church. The tenuous signs of life give me comfort, and distract me from the sound of my own panting.