Travel Articles




The Best Way to See Berlin

Swans on the Spree--enjoying Berlin from the waterBerlin is a big city. There's no way around that. Actually, there's a perfectly wonderful way around it: the Spree. The river that curls peacefully through the city allows you the luxury of seeing the city from a swan's point of view. Swans don't waddle down busy streets, precariously among beggers and drug addicts; they float down rivers and nibble at crusts of bread that tourists so irresponsibly throw at them. Swans don't spend hours in Starbucks checking to see how many people have liked their Facebook page (cough cough); they sip wine and listen to the tour guide telling them all about the historic buildings and who lived here and there and such. OK, swans don't drink wine, but you get the picture. It's that one over there.

Three weekends ago, we took yet another trip on the Spree. I've been on these boat tours in Berlin so many times that I could probably play tour guide myself. I'd get much of the information wrong, but it would be entertaining. Our tour was in German this time, but we've been on tours where the guide spoke in German and English.

The government buildings. The middle one is called Die Waschmachine (The washing machine) by the Germans because, well, it looks like one. It's where Angela Merkel has her offices.

The first time I visited Berlin, I didn't even know there was a river running through it. So naive, yet so adorable. I arrived late in the evening without a hotel reservation. I got out of the U-Bahn somewhere--no idea then or now where I was--and just started looking for HOTEL. When I found one, it turned out to be too expensive, so I put on my helpless tourist face.

"Oh, that's too much. Despite my expensive-looking haircut and my designer clothes, I don't have that much." I think it was 100 DM, about 50 dollars.

"How much can you pay?" Ah, the woman was flexible, or maybe she didn't like my haircut after all?

I thought about saying 10 DM, but I really had no intention of wandering back into the streets of Berlin at that hour. "Seventy," I said.

"We have a single room I can let you have for that."


The single room was only a bit larger than a broom closet, but there was a bed and a bathroom." That's really all one needs.

The next day, I left the hotel and, with my large backpack--I will never travel this way again; really, enormous backpacks are so last decade--I set out to explore Berlin. Remember: I had no idea there was a peaceful river, from which I could have seen the city without actually having to fight my way through crowds of people. I don't like crowds of people; that's why I like to hike up steep mountains. Crowds of people don't usually like to hike up steep mountains.

My first contact with the people of Berlin was rather rough. I was walking up an escalator. At the top of the escalator I stopped to see where I was when the woman behind me rammed me out of the way. Yes, I was blocking her path. I had stopped at the top of an escalator, something I would never ever do now.

Nowadays, being much older yet still as adorable as I was back then, I would tour Berlin on a boat, tooling up and down the canals, sipping white wine and snacking on wieners and potato salad, waving at the junkies mooning us from the banks of the river. I didn't take a picture of this, because I thought I'd look like a perv doing so.

This is the most sprayed wall on the Spree according to our guide. Near the Eastside gallery.
Now I have a question for you. Do you know the significance of 1973 New York? Most of these mention New York. I'm always interested in graffiti, and this motif comes up in lots of places on the Spree. If you have an idea what this means, please fill us all in.

I must be off,

There are lots of Spree Boat Tours, from 1.5-hour tours to half day trips. Lots to choose from. Here are some links:

Spree River Cruise -- Sightseeing in Berlin
Visit Berlin
berlin.de (This site is in lots of languages.)


Christopher Allen is the author of Conversations with S. Teri O'Type (a Satire), an episodic adult cartoon about a man struggling with gayspecations--avialable from Amazon Anything.

Tell us your story

We'd love to hear you stories from wherever you happen to be.

Share a story