Changing Berlin – A boat excursion along the Spree river

Maybe there is no area in Berlin that shows the changes in the urban landscape of the last 20 years more than the banks of the river Spree. Industrial ruins stand between open, wild spaces and glass-fronted office buildings. Parts of the old wall remind visitors of the history, or become incorporated into the art work of modern housing developments and loft apartments. Empty green strips alternate with lively hang-outs. Seen from the water, gliding along the river in the Berlin Boot by Jan Sputnik, these different trajectories of urban development are starkly visible. This was the setting for the Spreeperspektiven Tour by Creative Sustainability Tours Berlin, led by Thomas of ID22. The excursion took us from the Spreefeld, a current example of how open spaces can be used by neighbourhood projects, to the Allianz tower, once intended to be the symbol of a “new Berlin”.

Along the way, evidence of the conflicting interests in the city is written on the walls and buildings, calling for “Kiez statt Profitwahn” and a river bank accessible to everyone. Projects like the Kater Holzig (an arts and night club), or the Badeschiff (a floating swimming pool) have put these ideas into practice. In other parts, things have gone a different way, and the music studios and creative industry headquarters of the Media Spree present a closed front to our view. The architecture is an eclectic mix of old an new, sometimes united, sometimes in a confusing juxtaposition of styles and approaches.

The river also tells a story – of the water pollution that spills over from the canals, and attempts to counter this; of the bridges that connect and at some points divided the city; of the role of waterways in urban transport. What connects all these impressions is the question of what development means in a city: how to make connections to the past, work with spontaneous initiatives and still have visions for the future. There is a need to tie these aspects together in a meaningful way, and to remain rooted in a city for the people. Taking the perspective from the Spree is a good way to consider these themes in an unusual way.