This post compares and reviews many of the Berlin boat tours and cruises available to you in the city. Berlin has about 200 km (125 miles) of waterways – rivers, canals and lakes and 950 bridges. So, visiting Berlin on a ship is a natural way of learning to know the city. We have listed the companies that offer tourist cruises, night cruises bus-and-boat combos and companies that offer tours to special events and during special seasons, e.g. Christmas. Only the companies that offer guided tours in English are listed here. Regular cruises in the city center and beyond are offered by several companies. Some tours are only one hour in the historic city center; others take up to four hours on the river Spree and a canal, the Landwehrkanal. English commentaries are offered both live and by an audio guide. The regular tours usually start at Easter and continue through October 31st.
START at Alexanderplatz (A) with the S-Bahn, several subways (U-Bahn), streetcars and buses.
The square had been used as a market for livestock and was named Ochsenmarkt (oxen market) before it was named Alexanderplatz in 1805 on the occasion of the visit of the Russian Tsar Alexander I. Most of the buildings are in the 1960s architectural style. You find the World Time Clock there, a fountain, and a lot of shopping opportunities. Alexanderplatz was the modern city center of the “Capital of GDR”, in 1989, during the peaceful revolution; the biggest demonstration of the country was here.
Travel insurance is often the last thing you have on your mind when planning your next trip for just yourself, with your family or with friends. We look forward to a well-earned and long-desired vacation and we know deep down, however, that travelling brings about the unexpected (mostly in good ways). For the hopefully rare bad case scenarios, where you need to cancel a trip due to hazardous weather, sickness, the death of a family member, or any accidents during your trip, stolen or lost luggage/passports/wallets, and even worse injury or death of a travel mate, you want to be covered. Instead of overthinking the many things that might happen, travel insurance can help to put your mind at ease for the many what-ifs, so you can get back to planning and enjoying the fun things about your next trip. So, is travel insurance worth it?
March in Berlin tends to be somewhat cold, however, temperatures do start to warm and the weather dries out a bit near the month’s end. Early in March you will most likely experience morning lows in the mid-30s F (about 1C) with a few of the colder mornings dropping down to 25F (-4C) or below. Afternoon temperatures early in March will most likely be in the mid-40s F (about 7C). As the month ends, morning temperatures will normally be in the upper 30s F (3-4C) while the afternoons are more likely to see the mid-50s F (12-13C). A few of the warmer afternoons towards the end of March could get up into the low to mid 60s F (about 15-17C). Temperature extremes in March have been as low as 14F (-10C) to as warm as 70F (21C).
Skies tend to be mostly cloudy this month with about 17 days reporting some precipitation with about 8 of these also reporting some snow. The risk for snow on any given day is about 20% at the beginning of March but only 6% by the month’s end.
Close to the Brandenburg Gate, between the American Embassy and a neighborhood of former East Berlin 1980s concrete slab residential buildings, there is a field of dark grey blocks. This is the Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe, also known as the Holocaust Memorial. It was opened in 2005. What does this rather unusual memorial signify and why is it situated at this very spot?
Berlin’s most beautiful and most photographed bridge is the two storied Oberbaum Bridge across the Spree. It links two former boroughs that are now one: Friedrichshain in the former East Berlin and Kreuzberg in the former West. Both districts are known for their interesting nightlife. Check out our FREE self-guided Friedrichshain tour and the self-guided Kreuzberg tour.
Take a S-Bahn to the Ostbahnhof or a U-Bahn, Trolley or Bus to the “Warschauer Straße”. Or book one of the sightseeing ships that do the long tour on the river Spree and the Landwehrkanal (a canal south of the river). The Oberbaum Bridge will be the last bridge before the ship enters the canal.
The Oberbaum Bridge has two towers, an elevated subway/underground line on the upper story and a pedestrian walk that has a cloister vault like in the Middle Ages. But why all this effort for this very bridge and how old is it anyway?
Well, the Oberbaum Bridge that you see today isn’t actually as old as it looks. The towers and many other aspects are reconstructions of the 1990s. The bridge was damaged in the Second World War and partly blasted by the German troops on Hitler’s command. The original bridge was built between 1894 and 1986 in the Gothic Revival style and in 1902 the subway/underground rails were ready. The “number one” line is the oldest line in Berlin and connects Friedrichshain and Kreuzberg with the City West at the Kurfürstendamm. In Kreuzberg it’s elevated and gives you some sightseeing possibilities.
The beautiful Oberbaum Bridge replaces an older wooden construction from the early 18th century. Back then; the bridge was part of the excise wall that surrounded the city. Ships had to stop, declare their goods and pay customs. The counterpart was the “Unterbaum Bridge”, now “Crown Prince’s Bridge” near the Central Station (Hauptbahnhof) and the parliament buildings.
So yes, the name of the Oberbaum Bridge (in German: Upper tree bridge) stems from this 18th century tree-barrier that blocked the river especially during nighttime to prevent ships passing by without paying a tariff to the municipality.
The new bridge of the late 19th century was designed to symbolize the function of a city gate that the older bridge had. The two towers are modeled after towers in the town walls of Prenzlau and Kyritz (small towns East of Berlin) and are decorated with a bear (for Berlin) and an Eagle (for the state of Brandenburg). Old coats of arms of surrounding towns decorate the bridge.
After the war, the bridge found itself connecting Friedrichshain (Soviet Sector) with Kreuzberg (American Sector). The East Berlin authorities repaired it, but didn’t rebuild the towers and rather demolished them. In 1948, during the Berlin Blockade, the Oberbaum Bridge was the site of intense smuggling. During an incident with a smuggler, an East Berlin police officer was shot; he is now seen as the first victim of the East West conflict in Berlin. In the mid 1950s, the Eastern authorities decided that only pedestrians could use the bridge. When the Berlin Wall was built in 1961, the Oberbaum Bridge was closes completely until it was reopened for pedestrians in 1972 due to the Four Power Agreement on Berlin.
Today, the Oberbaum Bridge is open to all traffic. The vaults of the pedestrian way are a perfect concert hall for street musicians and sometimes also sites of political demonstration, or legendary events like the Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg Food Fight that took place in the years 1998-2013. People from the two city districts Friedrichshain and Kreuzberg would meet at the bridge for a legendary food and water battle – mostly won by the Friedrichshain team because of their superior “vegetable artillery”. But in 2014 nobody wanted to organize the event and for 2015 nothing is for sure yet. At the Oberbaum Bridge you are very close to another interesting Berlin only thing to see: The East Side Gallery, murals on a piece of the Berlin Wall.
Ever wondered how a long piece of the Berlin Wall looks like? Interested in murals? The East Side Gallery near the beautiful bridge Oberbaumbrücke in Berlin offers both. It’s about 1,300 km or 0.8 miles of the interior wall in the neighborhood of Friedrichshain, at the border of the river Spree.
The Berlin Wall consisted of two walls: The border wall, the part that faced the West and is often referred to as the “Berlin Wall” and the inner wall, in the East. In between was the death-strip, with multiple obstacles designed to prevent people from crossing it, with soldiers patrolling and sometimes also dogs. But the border wasn’t only on the mainland. Parts of the river Spree and a canal, the Landwehrkanal, also marked the border between the two parts of Berlin. The waterways belonged to the East and thus served as the border wall.
The East Side Gallery is located at the Mühlenstraße, very close to the river Spree and is what’s left from the inner wall. Thus, all the murals (facing the land) and the graffiti (facing the river) were added after the East German socialist regime fell – nobody would have been able to come near the inner wall with a brush and a bucket full of paint back then (and spray cans were not a staple in the German Democratic Republic anyway). And, it’s not a Berlin Wall museum or memorial, but an outdoor art gallery. For information about the wall, check here.
The artists started their work in spring 1990, the old regime had barely collapsed and a democratic GDR government prepared the unification with the West. It was an international project: 118 artists from 21 countries painted murals reflecting the political changes in Germany and the world. The most famous one is by Dmitri Vrubel, a Russia-born Berlin artist, reproducing the famous photography of the kiss between the former head of the Soviet Union, Leonid Brezhnev, and the leader of the German Democratic Republic, Erich Honecker, during the celebration of the anniversary of the East German state. The caption says: “God, help me to survive this deadly love”.
The artwork, as recent as it is, has already needed renovations. First of all, some segments of the wall were removed during construction works. The paintings had to be replaced by copies. Worse even is the damage by weathering. In the year 2008/2009, the paintings were restored and received an anti-graffiti coating. The artists don’t always agree on these measures. They were asked to repaint their own work, and some felt they weren’t painted according to their efforts. The graffiti on the murals are also a point of discussion: Some of the artists have their origins in the street art movement and see graffiti as a kind of dialogue, others don’t like them at all on their own work.
In 2013, there was another threat to the East Side Gallery, as some segments had to be removed to secure access to a new construction site: a luxury apartment house between the all and the river. During the protests, the American actor and singer David Hasselhoff expressed his support for the East Side Gallery. At the moment, there is a moratorium: the East Side gallery will remain untouched until further notice.
Whenever tour guide Gundula is not leading a tour, researching for her next endeavor or exploring the streets of Berlin, she might be inside a museum. Here are her five favorite Berlin museums:
“The Egyptian Queen Nefertiti, Greek and Roman statues or famous paintings – that’s what you find on Museum Island or at the “Kulturforum” next to Potsdamer Platz. But today, I suggest some smaller museums, more often than not created on the initiative of private citizens. Follow me into the world of Currywurst (the iconic Berlin fast food), daily life in the GDR (the former socialist German state) or into the history of Jewish life in Germany, incidents at Checkpoint Charlie or the fascinating Museum of Technology.”
For Trains Spotters and Wannabe Pilots: The Museum of Technology
Is there a young boy who doesn’t want to become a pilot or a railway engineer? Check out the Museum of Technology! Aerospace, navigation, rail transport, road traffic and photo technology, to name just the most important departments. Learn more not only about technical innovation in itself, but also what it meant to the people and the development of society. The museum has an important outdoor space as well and outside of the entrance you are greeted by a DC 2, one of the aircraft the US Air Force used for the airlift in the years of 1948/49 when supplies were flown into landlocked West Berlin.
The building from 1998 is an attraction in itself: You enter by the so-called “Kollegienhaus” from 1735 that is used for temporary exhibits and by an underground walkway you access the basement of the new museum. The building has the shape of a thunderbolt and some interesting aspects like the Garden of Exile, the Holocaust Tower and the Voids – empty rooms symbolizing the loss that the Holocaust and the history of pogroms caused in Germany.
There is an exhibit about the Holocaust, but the focus is on 2,000 years of Jewish life in Germany. The Jewish Museum has an extraordinary collection of religious objects, pieces of art, maps of the Holy Land and the autobiography of “Glickl von Hameln”, a successful businesswoman and mother of twelve of the 17th century, written in Yiddish.
Would you like to know how it felt to be a citizen of the German Democratic Republic (GDR – DDR in German)? Then come and visit the “DDR-Museum”. It is a journey back in time: cars, clothes, furniture, TV shows, recreation, food … Almost everything can be touched and tried. In order not to become too nostalgic, the museum covers the Stasi (secret police) and the political opposition as well and offers guided tours for (school-) groups. For more visit our post on the museum…
Celebrating Iconic Fast Food: The Currywurst Museum
A Currywurst is a pork sausage, sliced and served with a hot sauce and curry powder. Some fast food stands also offer a beef version. The museum is only 100 m (yards) off from Checkpoint Charlie and tells you everything you always wanted to know about Berlin’s favorite snack. Feel like a Currywurst chef behind a fast food counter, learn about the woman who invented the Currywurst or follow an American film maker from Currywurst to Currywurst in Berlin and finish your visit in the museum’s own Currywurst Café. Currywurst fans might find this blog on Berlin currywurst interesting.
How to escape from East Berlin: Haus am Checkpoint Charlie
In 1962, only a year after the Berlin Wall was built, a group of concerned citizens opened a museum about the Wall, escapes from the East and non-violent struggle for human rights worldwide. You can see the original vehicles people used to escape. The museum grew organically from a small apartment to the present large exhibit in three connected buildings at Checkpoint Charlie which makes it a little chaotic. The legends are in German and the languages of the allied forces: English, French and Russian.
Haus am Checkpoint Charlie, Friedrichstraße 43-45,10969 Berlin, Mon thru Sun, mauermuseum.de
+Tip: To save money when visiting Berlin’s museums, you might want to check out our blog on Berlin’s city passes.+
At the intersection of Wilhelm- and Leipziger Straße there is the “Platz des Volksaufstandes von 1953” (Square of the Uprising of 1953) at the forecourt of the huge building that used to be Hermann Goring’s Ministry on Aviation during the Third Reich and is now the German Department of Finance. What was that uprising about and why is there a memorial here?
Economic difficulties in East Germany
While West Germany received money from the “European Recovery Program”, a.k.a. Marshall Plan, an American initiative to help rebuild the European countries after World War II, the East Germans had to pay reparations to the Soviet Union. This and other economic difficulties, e.g. the brain drain to the West, led to measures such as higher consumer prices, higher taxes and the rising of the so-called work norms (in short more work for the same salary) to come into effect June 30th.
June 16th, the workers of a prestige construction project at the Stalinallee (today Karl-Marx-Allee) went on strike and marched down the Stalinallee. The next morning, June 17th, around 40, 000 protesters gathered in East Berlin and marched to the Eastern part of Potsdamer Platz, to the Brandenburg Gate and to the governing quarter at the Wilhelmstraße. The former Ministry on Aviation then housed the “House of the Ministries”, ministries or departments of different industrial branches as it is the case in a Socialist economy.
A three-days uprising in the whole country
The Uprising of June 17 was an uprising not only in East Berlin, but also in many towns and cities in the German Democratic Republic (GDR). And it lasted until June 19th. Even though the government decided to withdraw the raising of the work norms, people continued to strike and march. It was an uprising against the regime, not against a single aspect of its politics.
The Soviet forces and the East German police suppressed the uprising. As the Soviet troops in the GDR had been on a manoeuver anyway, they could easily direct their tanks and trucks into the cities. The most iconic picture of the day shows East Berlin youths throwing stones at a Soviet tank.
The blood toll was high: Over 500 people killed in the uprising, 116 of which functionaries of the leading party, 106 executed under martial law or condemned to death later, over 1,800 injured and more than 5,100 people arrested. West Germany honored the uprising and the victims by making June 17th the national holiday until unification in 1990. The broad avenue in the (former West Berlin) park Tiergarten is called “Straße des 17. Juni”.
Let’s go back to the “Platz des Volksaufstandes von 1953”. You’ll see two pieces of art at and near the building. At the wall, behind pillars is the huge mural “Aufbau der Republik” (build-up of the Republic) made of Meissen porcelain tiles (a very precious material) from 1952. It is a typical piece of “Socialist Realism” with optimistic, happy working class people with a uniform smile and a marching pose. And there is the memorial for the uprising.
Since June 2000 the memorial is located on the forecourt of the building in view of the mural. It is made of glass and shows an enlarged and rasterized black-and-white photo of the marching strikers on their way to the House of the Ministries. It is in many ways a contrast to the idealized people on the colorful mural. At the pillars, you find more information on the uprising of 1953 and its consequences for German history.
Craft Beer excites us.
But not only us: many other people, too. Beer having character, handcrafted beer, honest beer. Beer from the underground, wicked beer.
This is the motto of Berlin’s Braufest, a craft beer festival that was held in the capital in May 2014, an event poised to become an annual tradition in this city obsessed with artisanal, locally produced brews – the hoppier the better. The organizers of Braufest have tapped into (no pun intended) a massive international trend: craft beer of all varieties, from bitter triple-hopped India Pale Ales to sultry smoked porters, fruity saisons to crisp, flavorful lagers. Berlin, long a pilsner town, is experiencing a craft beer explosion as brewers compete to see who can produce the tastiest, most complex offerings.
Historically, Berlin was a city of hundreds of competing independent breweries offerings their own take on favourites such as wheatbiere, bocks, pilsners and lagers. However, over the course of the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s, large conglomerates (including Dr. Oetker) purchased many of these smaller breweries and homogenized the offerings to a few brands of (arguably) flavorless, watery pilsner. That is all starting to change, as the craft beer revolution that is sweeping the world takes hold in the German capital. Read more »