• Germany's news in English
 

Tracing the capital’s history by canoe

Published: 30 Sep 2011 11:21 GMT+02:00

By 10 a.m. we have put paddles in the water of the River Spree southeast of Berlin. Our destination is Wannsee, the famous lake to the west of the city. Between the two lies two days of urban aquatic adventure.

The crew are Joseph (can’t swim), Ines (never been in a canoe), Eva (doesn’t like Berlin) and me. We are off to a great start.

Follow Shane's Berlin odyssey in pictures

We have found Andreas Langer’s canoe company in Teltow. He will take us and our canoe to where we want to start – and collect us at the end of our trip.

He asks me what we are doing with his canoe and I talk of history and crossing Berlin’s former divisions. He points out behind his shop, “the Wall was just back there,” he says. As we pull out a bit later I see sections of it covered in graffiti and standing in an empty field along the road.

Within minutes we are repacking our things into dry-bags and getting ready to launch. The sun is out: and after an unsteady first few kilometres, things look brighter, figuratively as well as literally.

Between the abandoned factories, sheds built on colonies of Schrebergarten – allotments - reach down to the water. People wave to us from the shore. “The people here are so much nicer on the water,” says Ines.

Near the Plänterwald, a forest southeast of Berlin, a group passes us in a motor boat, eating sandwiches. They holler “step on the gas!” They wave, laugh and buzz off towards the city. The people in the big boats always have good food.

Old border still closed to canoes

Soon we stop for lunch in Treptower Park in former East Berlin before continuing towards the fabulous Oberbaumbrücke. The bridge is a crossing point between the neighbourhoods of Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain - and for about 45 years, East and West Berlin. This is the clearest view we will get: canoes aren't allowed under it.

We take the only option we have and head for the other main water artery through the city – the Landwehrkanal which cuts along the boundary between Kreuzberg and Treptow. We turn west when we reach the borough of Neukölln.

At Kottbusserdamm, Kreuzberg, we stop at the Saturday market to buy beer and soft drinks and climb back in. As we paddle deeper into the neighbourhood the hot sun seems to be streaming straight down into the canal itself.

To our right the elevated metro line, the U1, emerges and runs along our side. High above, a few passengers look down at us from the passing trains.

We find a soccer ball in the water. I add it to the list of things we have discovered so far: it comes after a Styrofoam box of worms and large flower. We have stopped counting beer bottles.

As the light shifts from gold to grey, we arrive at our stop for the night. We eat dinner in a park across from gleaming towers of Potsdamer Platz, a history-laden part of the city. We are hungry and tired. The mosquitoes are hungry too, but sadly for us, they are less tired.

Our camp is nearby, an empty field that was once the “Death Strip.” The cool air is filled with the chatter cities make on Saturday nights. In the middle of this soundscape the television tower at Alexanderplatz looms silently. I am lying just metres from where the Berlin Wall once stood: this was once where two worlds met.

The next morning, continuing west, we have found our rhythm, paddles plunging into the water in sync. Ahead of us ducks chunter along. A light fog lifts off the canal near Tiergarten, the banks drop and houses give way to trees on either side.

Tropical birdsong

In the distance we can hear the calls of tropical birds - we have reached the zoo. We lift our paddles and glide for a time, listening. Within wire domes we see majestic birds with long beaks perched in the trees. Behind that a monkey swings on a branch.

I close my eyes for a second and can imagine we are on the Amazon, or the Gambia, or the Congo. But we are not; just a hundred metres ahead of us the illusion is shattered by the appearance of sturdy German locks.

It is 9 a.m. and they haven’t yet opened: we portage, carrying the canoe around the obstacle. On the other shore an elderly couple in matching clothes watches our efforts.

Berlin is waking up, joggers smile as they pass and several older women stop to admire our boat and wish us luck.

Hitting turbulence

A kilometre past the locks we are hit by a monster wake from a passing boat, dumping water several centimetres deep in the canoe. The clouds have come in too.

The Spandau canal is full of waves. I am thinking less of our romantic history tour and concentrating more on keeping the by now slightly mutinous crew heading towards the lake.

When we finally reach the Wannsee we have to steer clear of things - speedboats, sailboats, and canoes laden with singing German children.

The 24 kilometres we covered today have turned arms and shoulders to rubber and we gratefully set down on a patch of beach. I call Andreas in Teltow to let him know he can come get his boat.

Lying there on the beach, Eva seems to have been won over by Berlin, and while Joseph is still afraid of water, Ines wants to go on a longer trip - once her arms stop hurting.

The grey sky goes pink and the clouds break up. My thoughts turn from the dull ache in my lower back and to the paths of history we have crossed and retraced.

Andreas arrives. We load the boat and sign the closing lines of our now-damp rental agreement.

“You meet everyone twice in your lifetime,” Andreas says as we shake hands and I head to catch my approaching bus.

I smile because know it is true; I will be doing this again soon.

Shane Thomas McMillan

Related links:

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Poland bridles at German minimum wage
Photo: DPA

Poland bridles at German minimum wage

Germany's newly-introduced €8.50 minimum wage is raising hackles at Polish trucking companies, who say they shouldn't have to pay their drivers at that rate for the hours they spend on their western neighbour's roads. READ  

Life sentences meted out in murder-for-hire
A man photographs an appeal for witnesses in the death of Christin R. in 2012. Photo: DPA

Life sentences meted out in murder-for-hire

A Berlin judge on Thursday sentenced four people to life sentences in a sordid conspiracy murder case in which a pizza delivery driver was paid €500 to kill a young woman for her life insurance. READ  

Jobless numbers rise to top 3 million
Men at work. Photo: DPA

Jobless numbers rise to top 3 million

German jobless numbers rose this month, bringing unemployment up to seven percent, the Federal Labour Agency (BA) reported on Thursday. READ  

Frankfurt man loses airport job over Isis links
Security checks at Frankfurt airport. Photo: DPA

Frankfurt man loses airport job over Isis links

In a decision announced on Wednesday, a Frankfurt court upheld the dismissal of a man from his job at Frankfurt airport over his close friendship with a foreign citizen with ties to terrorist group Isis. READ  

Cologne Karneval scraps Charlie Hebdo float
Image courtesy Festkomittee Kölner Karneval

Cologne Karneval scraps Charlie Hebdo float

Cologne's planned Charlie Hebdo float in its Rosenmontag parade was a false start, after the organising committee scrapped its construction over security concerns. READ  

Overnight raids bust up smugglers ring
File photo: DPA

Overnight raids bust up smugglers ring

Federal police arrested 12 people on Wednesday night after a national raid by police broke apart a smuggling ring. READ  

Anti-euro AfD split over Pegida ties
Former Pegida spokesperson Kathrin Oertel and Brandenburg head of AfD Alexander Gauland. Photo: DPA

Anti-euro AfD split over Pegida ties

Germany's upstart anti-euro AfD party will seek to mend a rift among members on whether to forge close ties with an emergent "anti-Islamisation" movement at a congress this weekend. READ  

Court grants kids right to know donor fathers
Photo: DPA

Court grants kids right to know donor fathers

The Supreme Court (BGH) decided on Wednesday that the children of sperm donors have a right to know who their biological father is at any time. READ  

Russia may declare 1990 reunification illegal
Russian President Vladimir Putin. Photo: DPA

Russia may declare 1990 reunification illegal

More than 25 years after the Berlin Wall's fall, Russian lawmakers are mulling a proposal to condemn West Germany's 1990 "annexation" of East Germany as Moscow's answer to Western denunciation of its seizure of Crimea. READ  

No room for scooters on the bus: Court
Photo: DPA

No room for scooters on the bus: Court

A court in North-Rhine Westphalia found on Wednesday that there is no obligation for buses or trains to make room for mobility scooters - and that it's actually dangerous to bring them aboard. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Business & Money
FATCA: 'The age of financial privacy is over'
Gallery
The best regional foods TTIP opponents want to protect
Photo: DPA
Features
The rise and spread of Pegida
Photo: Shutterstock
Culture
This cosplayer did not think his plan through
National
Europe in statistics - from Spain to Sweden
Photo: DPA
Politics
The Local's report from Pegida's largest ever demonstration.
Sponsored Article
Top-notch tech boosts bilingual schools
National
Six stories that will rock Germany this year
Photo: DPA
National
Terror alert at a new high. Should you be worried?
Dresden skyline and river by night. Photo: DPA
Politics
What does Dresden have against Muslims?
Photo: DPA
National
What were your favourite news stories of 2014?
Gallery
Top 12 German idioms
National
Why has The Local got a new logo?
Photo: DPA
National
This German was abducted and tortured by the CIA
Culture
10 top tips for partying in Germany
Photo: DPA
Technology
What does the Chancellor see as the future of the internet?
Photo: DPA
Berlin
The Local's series on 25 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall
Photo: DPA
Business & Money
JobTalk: All you need to know about working in Germany
National
Share news tips with The Local Germany
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in France

More news from France at thelocal.fr

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

Latest news from The Local in Sweden

More news from Sweden at thelocal.se

3,448
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd