Visiting the city on the Spree River: waterway of Berlin, capital of Germany
A free-flowing metaphor?
The Spree River is both historically and psychologically significant. Wherein lies some of the Spree's significance? Compare the Spree with the great rivers of other capitals: Washington, DC's leaders overlook the Potomac; the river's course running between Arlington on the Virginia side and the District of Columbia (formerly Maryland) side is of deep note in historical memory. France's royal, imperial and republican leaders have for centuries ruled beside the Seine River. London, England's monarchs and governments have for well over 1000 years ruled overlooking the Thames River. The very location of Canada's Federal capital, Ottawa, upon the Ottawa River (French: Rivière des Outaouais ) is historically and psychologically significant.
So to return to the Spree, this is the river which unified Germany's governing class overlooks. However, only since 1990 have its waters flown freely, so to speak, from a psychological perspective. Until 1990, a coercive barrier intersected its waters. The machinery of state in the German Democratic Republic was in some ways among the most repressive in the world. It was to East Berlin that a formidable network of agents reported to Markus Wolf, until 1986, long-serving head of East Germany's foreign intelligence service. Soviet troops acted as a guarantor to the writ of the Socialist Unity Party, as the communists were pleased to call themselves. But the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, and now the waters of the Spree and their river traffic flow freely. In a manner of speaking, in the city, now undivided, coercion is supposed to be a thing of the past. But before 1945 the city was not divided, and yet was the hub of an immensely coercive régime, the tentacles of which extended far, even to the coast of the United States. (I have visited the coast of South Carolina, where German U-Boats would be regularly spotted and reported to the authorities near Hobcaw Estate, where Bernard Baruch hosted F D Roosevelt during World War 2, from where the U-Boat commanders in turn would report back to Berlin.) This city's military and coercive network was once extensive. Well, this was Nazism, people might say. Well, yes. Remember also, that the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbour was damaged by German explosives. In World War 2? No, it was in World War 1, (after the sinking of the Lusitania). The fact is that the waters of the Spree flowed freely during World War 1 also.
So what I am suggesting? It would be that the mere absence of a divided Germany and a divided Berlin has not historically meant an absence of coercion. A free-flowing Spree in itself has not necessarily signified a moral and psychological freedom. Moreover, when one speaks of freedom, does this uniquely mean freedom from coercion? What about freedom from unemployment? some longstanding residents of the (fomerly East German) upper reaches of the Spree might ask. Or freedom from bureaucratic harassment because some people are culturally different? When one gets to examine closely and honestly some of the deeper issues that may affect us all, we will see that the historical experience of Germany over the past several decades is hardly unique in terms of the underlying human condition.
I walked along the bank of the Spree and crossed some of its bridges. Such exploration on foot in central Berlin can be memorable and thought-provoking.
Spree boat cruise opportunities include those which depart from the bridge known as the Schlossbruecke .
The historical and cultural sights which Berlin offers the visitor are too numerous to mention here adqueately, but a few of these include the following (distances from the Schlossbruecke ):
Charlottenburg Palace (Schloss Charlottenburg ; distance: 0.5 kilometres); this magnificent 17th and 18th century castle in baroque and rococo style is a former royal palace and has been used in recent years for receptions by the President of Germany.
The Reichstag building (distance: 6 kilometres), has been beautifully restored; it forms part of the Bundestag (Parliament complex). It has the inscription Dem Deutschen Volke (To the German people) displayed prominently.
Humboldt University of Berlin (Humboldt-Universitaet zu Berlin ; distance: 7.7 kilometres) is one of the world's leading academic institutions, and was founded in 1810. Associated with the university have been 40 Nobel prizewinners, including Albert Einstein (later forced to academic exile at Princeton, New Jersey). After 1933, many of the university's books were burned by propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels. The fine, pillared stonework of its entrance at 6, Unter den Linden has been restored in recent years.
Berlin Cathedral (Berliner Dom ; distance: 8 kilometres), is a huge, domed landmark, just off Unter den Linden .
The TV Tower (Fernsehturm ; distance: 8.6 kilometres), Germany's tallest structure. The Tower was a major architectural achievement — if a controversial one — of East German leader Walter Ulbricht . Previously seen as a symbol of the German Democratic Republic, it is still regarded as a symbol of Berlin.
How to get there: United Airlines flies from New York Newark to Berlin Tegel Airport (Flughafen Berlin-Tegel ), where car rental is available. Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information.
MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.
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