Dahlem has always been one of Berlin’s most exclusive districts. Berliners like to say that Dahlem’s population doubles during the day thanks to the flow of students to the main campus of the Frei Universität, the Free University of Berlin.
Located in the somehow underrated southwestern section of Berlin, this former Middle-Age village is one of Berlin’s most upscale areas: Dahlem has one of the most expensive square meters in the city. As such, Dahlem is also known for being home to several embassies and stunning villas, framed by treelined streets paved with cobblestones and surrounded by squares, parks and two of Berlin’s “green symbols”: the Botanical Garden and the Grunewald Forest.
Dahlem’s idyllic atmosphere makes it a perfect destination for a bike tour. But that’s not all. Walking enthusiasts can also enjoy this paradise in the city. The district is cut by the U3, line 3 of the Berlin metro and its stations are among some of the most beautiful in the city, with Dahlem-Dorf topping the list.
We suggest you start your tour at the Breitenbachplatz U-Bahn station. For a more stylish departure, you can go biking from Bundesplatz station, riding along the Südwestkorso, a pleasant boulevard in the district of Friedenau, surrounded by elegant squares with old-style cafés and lovely front-yard gardens.
At Breitenbachplatz, turn left onto Englerallee. At the corner of Schorlemerallee, you’ll see one of Berlin’s architectural gems: the terraced estate designed by brothers Hans and Wassili Luckhardt. It was built in the 1920s in Bauhaus style, employing new construction methods like steel and reinforced concrete.
Continue biking on Englerallee. On your right, you’ll find the first of Dahlem’s many green areas. The Erlenbusch is a slightly small park with a meadow flanked by ancient trees. On the left side of Englerallee, Gustav-Mahler-Platz has a little pond and a lawn, making it perfect for a short break.
At the end of Engleralle, at the corner of Königin-Luise-Strasse, the Botanical Garden is one of Dahlem’s highlights. Officially located in the Lichterfeld district and part of the Free University, the complex contains the largest collection of plants in Germany, with over 22,000 species, as well as the Botanical Museum. The greenhouses are simply stunning. A stroll among the “succulent landscape,” maintained at 30-degree temperatures inside a greenhouse, is the perfect winter escapade to help you forget the cold weather outside!
Continuing on in your green expedition, next to the Botanical Garden, on Altensteinstrasse, you will find a haven for “green thumbs”: a plant shop and gardening school called Königliche Gartenakademie – KGA. The space also has a gardening-oriented branch of the German general store Manufactum, with everything you need to garden in style, and a greenhouse-café, which serves a copious brunch on Sundays (not to mention its mouthwatering cakes!). Just be aware of their strict business hours and be sure to make reservations for brunch.
Back on Königin-Luise-Strasse, keep biking until you reach the Dahlem-Dorf U-Bahn station with its charming thatched roof. Right in front of it, the Domäne Dahlem will no doubt make you forget you’re still in Berlin! The Domäne houses a Bioland certified organic farm, an outdoor agriculture museum, a café-restaurant and Biergarten and a shop where you can buy fruits and vegetables produced there. As one might expect, the farm is mostly visited by children who get their first taste of the rural way of life there. The farm is open every day all year round. And during the Christmas season, the Domäne hosts one of the most magical Christmas markets in Berlin!
From the Dahlem-Dorf U-Bahn, make your way to Fabeckstrasse and explore the buildings of the Free University‘s main campus. The campus was built just after the end of World War II, as a counterpart to the “communist” Humboldt University on Unter den Linden and based on the campus model of American universities.
The first new building to be completed was the Henry Ford Bau, a true gem of mid-century architecture, funded by the Ford Foundation. Shaped like a human brain, the Philological Library is the most impressive building on campus and known as “the Berlin Brain.” Designed by British architect Norman Foster, who was also responsible for the Reichstag’s dome, it opened in 2005, housing the FU’s humanities libraries.
After the architectural sightseeing, from the lovely Frei Universität-Thielplatz U-Bahn station you can access Thielpark, one of Berlin’s most beautiful parks with its grounds surrounded by hilltop villas. It is also a favorite hangout for FU students, who flock there to relax between summertime classes.
South of Thielpark, on Garystrasse, you’ll find one of the entrances to Dreipfuhlpark, with its enchanting thatched roof bungalow.
Outside the park, don’t miss the Dreipfuhlsiedlung. Conceived as homes for US Army officers, this housing estate is another stunning example of mid-century architecture. The bungalow-style houses with their front-yard gardens will make you feel like you’ve traveled back to the 1950s!
From Garystrasse, you’ll find a path leading you to Saargemünder Strasse. There, you can spot the former headquarters of the United States Army in Berlin, located next to the US Embassy, since converted into upscale apartments.
Around the corner, on Clayallee, the Wiener Conditorei is a perfect place to enjoy the traditional German cake time, accompanied by the flawlessly stylish ladies of Dahlem!
On the other side of Clayallee, the Samurai Art Museum showcases extraordinary examples of samurai art spanning from the 8th and 19th centuries. Its collection of treasures includes armor, helmets, masks, swords and many other pieces of Japanese art from that period.
Also on Clayallee, the Allied Museum, housed in the former Outpost movie theater, is dedicated to preserving the history of the Western Allies (the United Kingdom, France and the United States) in Berlin. The museum contains the original last guard house from the famous Checkpoint Charlie (the one that stands there today is a replica) and admission is free.
At the edge of Grunewald Forest, Dahlem holds three other cultural institutions. The first is the Kunsthaus Dahlem, a venue that exhibits postwar German modernism and also home to an amazing sculpture garden with works by Bernhard Heiliger.
The next cultural venue is the Brücke Museum. This institution contains the world’s largest collection of works by Die Brücke (“The Bridge”), the early Expressionist movement from the 20th century.
And finally, Jagdschloss Grunewald is a hunting lodge built by the Grunewaldsee in the 16th century. This Renaissance-style palace, Berlin’s oldest, survived the two World Wars and houses artifacts relating to hunting and paintings, including a collection of works by Lucas Cranach the Elder.
Enjoy your ride!