Take Her to Sea, Mr Murdoch
When it comes to lakes, Berliners are truly lucky as they have plenty of options in and around the city, which is especially refreshing during a hot and almost tropical summer when many people seek to cool off. I was never much of a swimmer, neither in pools nor in open water. But I do enjoy walking on the beach or by the lake, digging my toes into the sand and dipping my feet into the water.
I also take great pleasure in boat trips. The World Heritage Tour from Stern + Kreis Hegemann Touristik, from Wannsee to Potsdam and all the way back again, takes three hours and passes by islands, bays and several history buildings, while a bilingual audio guide readily gives background information on the places of interest. It seemed like a great alternative way to explore Berlin and Potsdam and its surrounding lakes and rivers.
When I arrived at Wannsee harbor, a gorgeous boat caught my eye - sleek and sophisticated, the deck was filled with sun loungers, and I couldn't wait to relax on one of these chairs, iced coffee in hand while enjoying a fresh summer breeze. That was, however, wishful thinking, as my ride turned out to be the smaller boat right next to the pretty one - to be fair, though, it was rather charming as well.
After boarding with the other passengers, settling down at a table on deck and indeed ordering an iced coffee, the adventure began. As always when I find myself on a boat or ship, I hear the words "Take her to sea, Mr Murdoch" in my head, remembering the famous Titanic movie quote, but hoping for a less watery and tragic end (although I wouldn't mind running into Jack Dawson).
We chugged down the lake past Strandbad Wannsee, Berlin's oldest lido with beach chair rentals and water slides. Although it remains the city's most popular lido, visitor numbers have declined over the years due to the stiff competition from similar venues in Berlin.
Afterwards, we reached the river island of Schwanenwerder, where wealthy Berliners had and still have their residencies, including German actor and film director Gustav Froehlich and journalist Axel Springer. In fact, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt were rumored to be interested in acquiring some property on the island - but since the divorce and all, I think it's safe to say that these rumors will remain just that, rumors.
Moving past Kaelberwerder - an island where between the 18th and 20th century farmers brought their cattle to graze - and the harbor of Kladow, we reached the Pfaueninsel or Peacock Island, a World Heritage Site set romantically in the river Havel. It's a popular destination for many Berliners looking for a quiet place to take a stroll or have a picnic among the majestic birds strutting around the well-manicured gardens - cars and bicycles are not allowed here.
On the left, I could spot the onion dome of the Ss. Peter and Paul Church, which was built by King Friedrich Wilhelm III in 1837. The king's daughter Charlotte was married to the later Tsar Nicholas I of Russia; to make his son-in-law feel welcome, the church was built in Russian style. Unfortunately, the audio guide then revealed, Nicholas never made it to - but the church is lovely nonetheless. Another church we passed on the way was the Sacrower Heilandskirche, famous for its Italian Romanesque Revival architecture and extremely popular for weddings.
Soon after, we reached the Cecilienhof Palace. Modeled after an English Tudor manor house, the palace gained worldwide fame in 1945 when it was used to host the Potsdam Conference, when leaders of the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom and the United States came together to decide on how the post-World War II world should look like.
The Glienicke Bridge, also commonly referred to as Bridge of Spies, was the next point of interest on our journey. Connecting the state capital of Potsdam with the federal capital of Berlin, the bridge is mostly famous for being a point of exchange for secret agents of both political systems who had been taken prisoner until 1989. The 2015 historical drama "Bridge of Spies" directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Tom Hanks put the Glienicke Bridge into the spotlight once more.
After passing the bridge, we had a great view of Babelsberg Palace in its green and leafy surroundings, replete with fountains, sculptures and elegantly arranged flower patches. The picturesque building is the brainchild of Karl Friedrich Schinkel, the famous Prussian architect and city planner who has left quite a mark in the city of Berlin and neighboring areas and towns.
It wasn't long until we landed in Potsdam and the so-called Friendship Island - isn't the name just lovely? - that houses an open-air stage, playgrounds, cafes and of course idyllic and serene gardens. From here, we turned around to leisurely go back to our starting point.
The boat tour, which costs 15 Euros, is a wonderful way to relax and taking in sights from the comfort of your seat on the deck of a boat at the same time. For more information on the World Heritage Tour and other options as well as the complete schedule, visit the website of Stern + Kreis Hegemann Touristik.