Getting into the warm and toasty River cruise boat, it was a welcome relief from the cold and the light showers that was beginning to fall. Coffee was quickly conjured up and we settled in for the relaxing ride. Cruising the River Spree is the best way to see a lot of Berlin’s most important buildings in a genteel manner. Undoubtedly having a roof overhead is great protection from the elements but less so for good photos. I can only imagine what it would be like in summer with blue skies overhead and the roof open!
The cruise started on time and whilst I was all geared up wth my headset, my engineer husband seemed to be having trouble with his. This is one of those idiot proof ones where you just plug it into the socket and wait for the narration to begin automatically. The engineer was pressing away on the buttons and I was wondering what he was doing. The commentary had already started. He was looking quite annoyed and as it turns out, his headset was still playing German folk music!
So, he trudged up to the front of the boat and got a replacement only to find out moments after returning to his seat, that the replacement headset stopped working after a while too. Again, he got up to the front and as if the operator did not believe him, checked it was faulty before giving him another one. The engineer this time stayed up front to make sure all was good and just as well because the third headset also gave up. No one else had this problem on the boat and he was certainly providing some comedy relief from the commentary.
As I mentioned in my previous post, 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. A youngster when it comes to churches, this cathedral, built in 1905, is just over a century old. It does look a lot older due to its architecture but looks can be deceiving. For some perspective, St Mary’s church I wrote of in my previous post, is over seven centuries old! So as a young cathedral, it is pretty savvy with technology. It has its own interactive app that enables anyone to explore the whole cathedral by themselves. So, you can ditch your headsets or tour guides and just DIY this place.
After the Berlin Cathedral, right next to it, is Museum Island. There is absolutely loads to see here behind the Corinthian columns. If you enjoy antiquities, you cannot miss this place as it is a treasure trove of items. We were going to come here next after our River cruise so I will leave it to the next post.
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. The bridge was referred to by the architect as the “leap across the Spree”.
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 there is the Chancellery where the German Chancellor stays. Ten times larger than the White House, it is the largest government headquarters 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 Angela Merkel, prefers her own private apartment in Berlin. I think I read that she prefers something less over the top and simple.
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. Nevertheless, don’t expect the empty apartment to show up on AirBnB anytime soon.
Other than the “Kohlosseum”, the Chancellery has another nickname given to it due to its architecture. There is an 18m high semi circle feature 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!
Next up is the Berlin Friedrichstraße. This old train station was a major border crossing during the Cold War. Located entirely in East Berlin, it was serviced by the S-Bahn and U-Bahn trains from West Berlin during the entire time the Berlin 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 at the time which translates simply in English as the Palace of Tears. It is a popular spot for visitor photos now.
Finally at the end of the cruise, we see the Haus der Kulturen der Welt or the House of World Cultures. Formerly a Congress Hall, it’s name is a mouthful to visitors like us. Some refurbishment seems to be happening to its facade when we were there. This one also has a nickname and it’s unfortunate title is “The Pregnant Oyster”. It does look like a clam but I am not sure what “pregnant” means. After this, our River cruise boat made a u-turn and began making its way back.