Most visitors are a bit disbelieving when they are told that Berlin has almost as many miles of waterway and canal as does Venice. And until you take a boat tour along some of the quieter and leafier canals you would have no reason to believe it. Yet once you do, your whole vision of Berlin is transformed.
There are three major Berlin boat tours that you can take.
The short Spree boat tour
The first, and probably most popular, is simply to take a short ride up and down the Spree. It is a great way to get a different view of the city and to see some of the major sights, such as the Reichstag and the new government district. But make no mistake, this is not a boat trip along the Seine. It is one of the more pleasant ways you can spend an hour on a warm summer afternoon, but you won’t disembark completely blown away by the experience.
The Landwehr Canal Boat Ride
The next step up, however, is a delight, even for seasoned Berliners. That is to take 3 hour trip that cuts through the back of Berlin along the Landwehr Canal and then rejoins the river. This really is spectacular as it takes you through leafy and gritty suburbs, past abandoned and seemingly squatted riverboats and round the Tiergarten and Zoo. You get to see some of Berlin’s most beautiful buildings as you chug slowly along. One piece of grisly history is that this canal was also supposedly the site where the body of Rosa Luxemburg was dumped after she was murdered by the Nazis.
This is not a tour aimed at foreign visitors and most of the people on it are German. Many Berliners take the ride as it is a relaxing and beer-drinking way to spend an afternoon. There is a commentary given by a guide but for large parts of the trip they drop the English translation and just hand out little guidebooks for you to read up on the sights on your own. If they do that to you be sure to moan loudly and not tip the guide as it is particularly unfriendly to anyone but German-speaking visitors.
The other thing to note is that unless you have a built-in Germanic predilection for eating sausages with mustard, then come well fed. Apart from the beer there is not a huge variety of food served by grumpy Frauleins in the restaurant on the boat. They are offered by a couple of companies and you can catch the boats at a couple of places, the easiest of which is probably just nearby to Markisches Museum U-Bahn station.
A boat ride to Potsdam
The third sort of boat tour you can take is a really long trip that goes all the way out to Potsdam or beyond. These will require a real commitment of at least half a day or more. As such these are probably not the best ones to recommend to time-pressed visitors. But if you have a summer afternoon and want a real sense of how green Berlin is, and how it is surrounded by forests and lakes, then slowly cruising along the river by boat is hard to beat.
There are several options for taking a tour by boat.
Reederei Riedel is one of the main companies offering regular boat trips. Their website is in German and you can find out more at http://www.reederei-riedel.de/ Or I have a short write-up about Reederei Riedel boat rides on this site.
Stern und Kreisschiffahrt is the other major shipping company offering tours along the Spree. They have more than 30 ships and have regular departures from several wharfs. You can see where to pick up one of the regular departures on the map below. For a full timetable check out their website. They usually depart every half an hour or so in summer from any of the spots marked below in Blue.
You can also contact Stern und Kreisschiffahrt on 030 – 536360-0 or email them on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Other Berlin Boat Tours
A fun option could be to hire an eco-friendly solar-powered boat from http://www.solarwaterworld.de/
If you are a phyically fit sort, try renting a kayak to cruise around on the waterways under your own steam at http://www.derkanutourist.de/
And then there is always the Eastern Comfort, a hotel/hostel that is on the bannks of the spree and is a well known meeting point for Berlin’s English-speaking expats. You can find more about it at http://www.eastern-comfort.com/
The Berlin Love Boat
For something a little more intimate and private there is always the Berlin love boat. It is a beautiful small wooden boat that can take you on a romantic tour of Berlin’s quiet canals.