Settling into our seats on the river cruise boat, I was relieved to get out of the cold and rain. Nothing that a hot coffee could not fix. Even if it was less than sub par for a flat white but I did not care. I am quite accepting with my coffees. What I was less than happy about was the headset I had been given. You know something is amiss when the boat is merrily cruising down the river and everyone is turning left and right whilst you are still listening to German folk music.
After getting another headset, I quickly hooked into what everyone else was listening too which actually was quite informative only to discover minutes later that it bombed out again. After cycling through three headsets, I finally got one that lasted longer than it takes for me to get up from my seat, look disgustedly at the contraption as I chuck it into the tray whilst I grabbed another. All the while, wife was happily listening to the narration and even smiling at the comedy I provided for everyone else on the boat.
In spite of this, I would say that cruising the river spree is a great way to see some of Berlin’s most important buildings in a genteel manner. Sure it does not make for great photos when the roof is closed in winter but in summer, it must be absolutely delightful. So, if you are wondering what you can expect to see on a cruise like this, wonder no more!
As I mentioned in our last, our cruise departed right next to the statues of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. So, the first building you will come across when you pass under the Liebknecht Bridge would be the pompous looking Berliner Dom. An infant when it comes to churches, this cathedral was built only in 1905. For those who can’t get away from their smart phones, the Berlin Cathedral has an answer for them. Download an app and you can explore the whole cathedral by yourself with an interactive function!
Right next to it of course is Museum Island. There is much to see here and the Corinthian columns hides the treasures on the island which is a World Heritage Site.
Then we come to a pair of government buildings which just speaks volumes of the architectural finesse that has gone into Berlin. It is the Paul Löbe Haus and Marie-Elisabeth-Lueders-Haus. Considered as one unit, they are connected by a bridge across the river Spree. The Berlin Wall used to run right over here and hence the bridge symbolizes the togetherness of East and West. It was referred to by the architect as the “leap across the Spree”.
However, my favourite, if I had to pick one of the two, has to be Marie-Elisabeth-Lueders-Haus. The giant circular windows. The huge sweeping stairway. The roof that extends towards the river like a diving board. It has the modern look that seems befitting of where Berlin is at.
Then almost at the other end, is the Chancellery. Ten times larger than the White House, it is actually the largest government HQ in the world. It sits on 130,000 square feet or 12,000 square meters. Designed during Helmut Kohl’s time, it is sometimes known as the “Kohlosseum”. As you would expect, on the top floor it has an apartment for the Chancellor. But no one stays here. Angela Merkel, prefers her own private apartment in Berlin. But then it seems you would expect that of Angela Merkel who in some ways seems an outsider to German politics. Being a woman, a scientist (quantum chemistry and from East Germany, you would not have picked her to be the Chancellor. But then again, that seems to be what made her. By the way, she is also fluent in Russian, drawing admiration from Putin who was quoted as being impressed to be able to communicate with a European leader in his mother tongue.
Unfortunately, the Chancellery has more than one nickname due to its architecture. The one I like is due to the 18m high semi circle located in the upper part of the façade. So, the locals call it the Washing Machine. Hmm . . . It was either that or the Elephant Loo. So take your pick!
Not the most flattering of my photos is the Berlin Friedrichstraße. This old train station was a major border crossing during the Cold War. Located entirely in East Berlin, it was still serviced by the S-Bahn and U-Bahn trains from West Berlin during the entire time the wall was up. As such, many goodbyes were said here between families and friends divided by the wall. So much so, it was called the Tränenpalast which translates simply in English as the Palace of Tears.
Finally at the end of the cruise, where we make a slow u-turn to head back, we see the Haus der Kulturen der Welt or the House of World Cultures. Formerly a Congress Hall, it’s name is a mouthful. Some refurbishment seems to be happening to its facade when we were there but it looks like a clam of some sort. True to form then so far with nicknames, this one sports the unfortunate title of “The Pregnant Oyster”. I did not know before what an oyster looks like when it is “pregnant” but I guess I do now.