What you need to know about Steglitz-Zehlendorf
According to German writer Kurt Tucholsky, everyone in Berlin dreams of “A house in the country with a large terrace, the Baltic Sea out front and Friedrichstraße in the back yard”. Nearly one hundred years later, Berlin reggae and hip hop musician Peter Fox echoed just that sentiment in his hit song Haus am See (House by the Lake).
It’s a dream that comes close to reality in Steglitz-Zehlendorf, Berlin’s south-western borough, with its stretching shorelines dotted with upscale town houses. But as a vibrant mix of shopping centre and greenbelt recreational area with parks and palaces, a university campus, resplendent mansions in prime locations, and historic sites, this large borough has much more to offer. Comprised of what were once seven villages – Wannsee, Nikolassee, Zehlendorf, Dahlem, Lichterfelde, Steglitz and Lankwitz – , today’s Steglitz-Zehlendorf has many facets to discover!
A day out at the Wannsee lake
Steglitz-Zehlendorf is renowned for its woodlands and lakes. The spreading Grunewald forest, shared between the Zehlendorf and Wilmersdorf districts, covers nearly 7500 acres! The forest is one of Berlin’s best-loved green spaces for sports and recreation. Ideal for walking and cycling, this woodland is also home to the romantic Grunewald hunting lodge as well as the Brücke Museum with its stunning collection of works by German Expressionist artists.
To the south, the green forest meets the blue waters of the district’s lakes. With Wannsee, Krumme Lanke and Schlachtensee lakes, Zehlendorf boasts three popular bathing lakes where (nearly) all the locals meet in summer. So if you’re heading this way, remember to pack your swimming things!
As you cross from Steglitz-Zehlendorf to Potsdam over the Glienicke Brücke bridge you’ll pass by Italy. Well, not literally – although the charming palace of Schloss Glienicke on the banks of the River Havel was inspired by Italian art and architecture. Built by Prince Carl of Prussia, the palace was his dream home – not a ‘house by the lake’, but an Italian country villa with panoramic views and landscaped grounds. The bridge itself, which connects Berlin and Potsdam, evokes a very different period of history. During the years of the Berlin Wall and a divided Germany, the inner-German border ran directly across the centre of the bridge. In the Cold War, Glienicke Brücke bridge was perfect for exchanging enemy agents. Steven Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies, shot on site, recreates the rather surreal atmosphere of the exchanges in those days.
Not far from here, you can find the charming Pfaueninsel (Peacock Island). Once the love nest of Friedrich Wilhelm II, the pleasure-loving King of Prussia, the island is perfect for a romantic day out. Peacocks still strut the grassy meadows on the little island – and often come close to the jetty where the ferry docks after its two-hundred-metre trip across from the mainland.
In the early 1900s, German Expressionist artist Max Liebermann did indeed own a ‘house by the lake’, directly on the shores of Wannsee. Today, his summer residence is a museum showing his works, many of which capture the different moods of his beautiful garden. At the Liebermann Museum, you can admire the paintings on show and then relax on the terrace, looking out across the lake with a cup of coffee and a snack.
In Wannsee, as so often in Berlin, beauty and a reminder of the darkest chapter in German history can be found in close proximity. In 1942 at the Wannsee lakeside villa just a few minutes’ walk from the Liebermann Museum, members of the SS met with high-ranking Nazi party and government officials to discuss and coordinate the “final solution”, the mass extermination of the European Jews in death camps in Poland and eastern Europe. Today, the villa houses a memorial and education site known as the House of the Wannsee Conference.
Dahlem – a campus set among trees
When you’re strolling through the well-to-do district of Zehlendorf, you might be surprised to see so many young people, most with bulging shoulder bags. They signal Zehlendorf’s role as home to Freie Universität Berlin, a university founded in 1948. Many of the university’s smaller institutes are located in the mansions in the area. The main complex of university buildings on the campus is home to the new Philological Library. With its striking architecture designed by Lord Norman Foster, the library is a fascinating place to read and learn.
Of course, Dahlem is especially green and leafy in the Botanic Garden. Here, you can stroll through displays of plant species from across the world and visit the impressive hothouses. The adjoining Königliche Gartenakademie (Royal Garden Academy) comprises a gardening school, nursery garden and café.
Steglitz – for shopping in a palatial setting
For most locals and visitors, Steglitz means the major shopping street of Schlossstraße, with its malls, flagship stores, and large and small outlets. Here, you can enjoy palatial shopping – quite literally, since one of the largest malls is called the “Schloss” (the palace)! When inside, don’t forget to check out the ceiling. On Fridays and Saturdays, this is decorated with animated images of underwater worlds or pictures of deep space and the universe.
In the Schlosspark Theater theater, iconic German actor and comedian Dieter Hallervorden presents light comedies and farces, including a stage version of his successful film Honig im Kopf. To see the latest on the movie scene, look no further than the adjacent Adria cinema, designed in a retro style evoking the 1950s.
And even if Steglitz itself does not have any large lakes of its own, it still has plenty of water – in this case the Teltow Canal, which is also popular for recreation. If you prefer a stroll through Lichterfelde West’s elegant residential area, you’ll come past every style from Tuscan villa to English country house and medieval castle!
To find out more about Berlin’s neighbourhoods, just check out our Berlin app Going Local!