Little Venice – or Tiefwerder – is a Berlin secret. The one-time fishing village among the Havel reed beds lies fifteen minute’s drive – and a century’s time travel – away from the Brandenburg Gate. In this leafy, watery enclave of 19th century ‘settler’s houses’ and sleepy weekend cottages, water laps at the foot of overgrown lawns. Sunday gardeners snooze beneath their open newspapers. Pike breed in the shallows. It’s a place of remarkable quiet where almost no work seems to get done – apart from the dipping of paddles in the cool waters.
Berlin’s many waterways are awash with paddling, puffing, tacking traffic for three season a year. Luxurious Stern und Kreisschiffahrt tour ships ply between 80 landing points from the Berliner Dom to Potsdam and Köpenick. BVG public ferries scoot across the Havel and Kleiner Müggelsee. Bright white sailing boats skim over the Wannsee. Heavy coal barges chug along the Hohenzollernkanal into Westhafen. And on hot summer days an armada of small craft flood the central Landwehrkanal.
In days gone by the Landwehrkanal – a six mile long urban canal which runs parallel to the Spree – was a popular spot for dumping both rubbish and corpses. Murder victims were often found floating in its murky waters, most notable among them the Communist activist Rosa Luxemburg whose body was dropped through the ice in January 1919. Today instead of corpses, the city waters abound with dinghies and inflatable rafts. Families, friends and lovers drift alongside Paul-Linke-Ufer, enjoying the breeze, pulling ashore to picnic or restock their cool boxes. Balconies along the canal often double as boathouses for canoes and windsurfboards.
But for me the loveliest waterways are in the Tiefwerder. Last weekend we rented with friends a ‘Canadier’ canoe and a kayak from the friendly folks at Der Bootladen. At the end of a leafy lane off Heerstrasse we cast off from their dock to idle along the narrow canals, pottering between lily pad beds and flotillas of ducks, drifting under huge weeping willows and foot bridges.
For a bit of excitement (and to increase the heart rate) we then joined the Havel to vie with vast barges and Stern und Kreisschiffahrt tour ships through the narrow Pichelssee channel. Beyond its lighthouses the river opens into a lake, dotted with sailing boats and other pleasure craft. Here the shore offers dozens of sandy beaches, and we paused on Schildhorn to picnic and swim.
(Come winter most of rivers and lakes become skating rings and, when the ice is thick enough, skaters speed around the Havel and along the Landwehrkanal.)
Given the city’s history of division, it’s no surprise that Berlin also boasts an eastern Little Venice. At the edge of the Großer Müggelsee, a second Klein-Venedig (or Neu-Venedig) is tucked away near Rahnsdorf S-Bahn station. But whether in east or west, there are few better places in northern Europe to let than days drift away than on Berlin’s waterways.
Donnerstag, 20. September 2012
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