Student club spotlight: the Hertie School Hikers

Two hikers wearing backpacks on a trail in the forest, with red fall leaves on the forest floor, and a Dalmation dog in front..

Get out into nature and explore the outdoors with this student club.

You may know Berlin for its energetic city vibe, but what about its lush green parks and surrounding forests and heaths, filled with wildlife and dotted with hundreds of glacial kettle ponds? We talked to Felita Reed (MIA 2021), founder of the Hertie School Hikers student club, about the local hiking scene, favourite trails and life outdoors in Berlin.

Please tell us about yourself and how you got involved with the Hertie School Hikers.

My name is Felita Reed, I’m from Hawai‘i, USA, and I am a second year MIA student at the Hertie School, so I’ll be graduating this summer. I ended up creating the club while hiking last summer. At the time, the only things we were allowed to do socially had to be done outdoors due to the pandemic, so I was like, why not just start a hiking club at Hertie and see how it goes?

It’s fun seeing how many hikes are actually within the Berlin area, especially with corona regulations limiting how far out you could go. There are many trails, and all hikes we do have to be accessible by public transportation. I’d say the Berlin hikes are quite easy, they’re very flat, and there are so many of them, especially in the Grunewald and Köpenick areas.

What have been your favourite trails?

My ultimate favorite hike is in a small town called Birkenwerder that’s just within 15 kilometers outside of Berlin. It goes through a pine forest, you pass over marshes, there are wooden platforms to go over, you go through beech forests, and it’s beautiful. My second favorite one is in Spandau. You go through a forest by an animal reserve, so you see boars there (they’re away from the trail so you don’t have to worry). There’s lots of water and then really big open fields. During autumn, you might be able to find and identify mushrooms, which is another reason why it’s one of my favourites.

Below: Pictures from the Hertie School Hikers' excursions in Birkenwerder and other areas around Berlin.

Swampy forest with white birch trees surrounded by water with gree moss on the surface.
A group of hikers and a Dalmation dog walking a trail with fall leaves on the forest floor, and a green field of grass on the right side.
A boardwalk that winds through greenery and trees.
A cluster of outdoor tables and chairs, where restaurant guests are seated with beers and drinks in front of a lake, with trees all around.
A narrow stream flows through a green field, with a small dirt trail on the right and a blue sky with clouds above.

How has the club stayed active throughout the pandemic?

I just started the club in September, so we were able to have around six hikes together before lockdown. We organized hikes twice a month, one shorter and one longer so that people from all fitness levels were able to join us. It was really nice in the beginning – we’d go to beer gardens together, and COVID really messed that up! But as for staying active, it’s been pretty easy because it’s just sending out a newsletter, and it’s been nice to hear that students who used to come out twice a month on hikes are still going on hikes with their friends and flatmates now.

How has hiking shaped your study experience?

Before starting the club, I’d already go out into nature. I’m from a small town on a little island, and sometimes the noise of the city gets really overwhelming for me, so going on hikes has been a nice mental break. I take my dog with me, and we go out. In my first year at Hertie, I’d get asked for advice on hiking areas or outdoor activities all the time. And then in the second year after corona shut things down, I was really missing the social aspect of school. I started the club, and I think it helped at least make things a bit more positive because I would actually be able to see the people who I saw on the screen.

Other students have told me it’s been a cool way to have the first years and second years mingle together since there always seems to be a little bit of a barrier. So on these hikes, you’d hear second years giving advice to the first years, like, “Oh my goodness, take this class, this one teacher is great.” Or, “Oh you're taking that class, it's a good class! Make sure you manage your time this way because it's going to get really hard at the end.” On the hike sometimes you talk about non-academic things, and sometimes we’d end up talking about some lecture we all had. I think it’s been great for me at least to be able to just talk with people outside of the classroom and then keep that Hertie school community going on.

What advice would you give to incoming students, especially those unfamiliar with Berlin?

Especially if you’re new to Berlin or new to Germany, just find clubs that sound interesting to you, and then get involved right away. I hear a lot of times students won’t join a club at first because they wanted to see how it goes with their classes. I mean, that’s an approach that could work, but I think it’s better to join earlier because you know for sure you have the time. Then if you don’t like it, you can just find another club that matches a little better. But I would say, find something that interests you in the beginning and check it out. And if you like it, stick with it. Because the beginning of your studies is one of the easier times at Hertie.

Any favourite spots or recommendations in Berlin?

In Neukölln, you can check out this little cafe called HOM. They have really good food and most of it’s vegan (I’m not vegan but I thought it was great). There’s great coffee down in Neukölln, too. Don’t feel afraid to venture out of your neighborhood. I think every neighborhood has its spot.