Berlin, at least as you know it today, is a rather young city.
It was only created in 1920, when several surrounding towns, villages and rural estates were incorporated into Greater Berlin, which became 13 times the size of the original Berlin (although still tiny by other standards).
Because of this, many districts of Berlin maintain a unique – sometimes even rural – character. Last summer, I explored Köpenick, Berlin’s easternmost district, for a day. Instead of explaining a lot, I guess I should just show you some photos, and you will get a better idea of what I am talking about.
With all the life taking place near or in the water, it almost felt like Venice.
That factory on the other side of the river is a brewery, of course. I mean, what else?
Köpenick even kept its own railway, which is connected to the German, European and global railway system at Wuhlheide station.
The train leads through an enormous forest, with restaurants, concert areas, playgrounds and yet more water. Here, you also find the stadium of FC Union Berlin, the football club, which has been playing in the first-division Bundesliga since 2019 and qualified for the UEFA Cup (or whatever they call that now) for the first time last year.
I guess there was a match that day, because I saw thousands of people in red UNION jerseys, as well as thousands of people in blue POLIZEI jerseys – the rival team, apparently. The blue team seemed a bit more aggressive, blocking all the roads and the tramway, but in the end, Union won 3-1.
Anyway, I really liked Köpenick.
And now, as luck would have it, I secured a house- and cat-sitting job in, you guessed it, Köpenick! In Müggelheim, to be precise, which is the easternmost part of the easternmost district of Berlin. And even more rural. In 1920, it was by far the smallest municipality to become part of Berlin. My hosts already warned me to look out for wild boar and foxes, whenever I open the door.
So, from next week, I will be in Berlin for two months. I just hope it will be as sunny and warm as it was on my last visit to Köpenick. And, if you are in the area, please say hello!
- More reports from and about Berlin.
- And more about football, if you are into that kind of stuff.
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Great photos! How did you get the first one of the football match (blue on red) with what looked like black-and-white film but with red added in? Filters, or some modern digital witchcraft? ;)
I’m intrigued by the prevalence of houseboats on rivers in Europe (including the UK, even if they don’t want to be in the EU). We only have houseboats in warm areas in the South, and on the West Coast, but nowhere near the numbers. Perhaps something I need to research a little… :)
On my camera, I can choose settings like “red only”, “green only” etc. Usually, though, I choose the “simple mode” for people who can’t be bothered about focal length and stuff.
I absolutely love the houseboats everywhere in Europe! Each of them looks a bit different and often very colorful, cozy and with a personal touch. In London, I also had the impression that many people live on a houseboat without ever traveling, just because the rent is cheaper. Maybe they feel somewhat confined, but I would still like the idea that I could sail away any day I wanted. (If I knew how to operate a boat and how to navigate the waterways.)
I am absolutely impressed by the system of canals that crisscrosses the continent, mainly its central and northern part. They usually go back to the time of industrialization, sometimes to earlier times.
More on canal history in this episode of my history series: https://andreasmoser.blog/2021/12/29/rmd-canal/
And the canals are wonderfully interconnected. I was once house-sitting for a couple who had a houseboat on the continent and they went there twice a year for three months each. They had been doing this for many years already, and they still hadn’t explored everything by far.
You can start in France, explore that huge country, then go through Belgium and the Netherlands, cross Germany and Poland all the way to Belarus, for example.
(No idea why there are hardly any canals in the south of Europe. I mean, obviously there are none crossing the Alps and the Pyrenees, but between the Italian city states, there was a lot of trade and commerce, as well, just as in Flanders. But they ain’t got no canals. Except in Venice, of course.)
Come to think of it, I should try to hitchhike houseboats instead of cars and trucks!
Don’t forget that Italy is also a recently (fairly) united country, and the city-states did a LOT of warring among themselves. Canals in the north might have been possible (I don’t know the geography that well), but down the boot you get into the Mountain/river valley thing that makes Italy look like a fish skeleton. Made life for the Allies absolutely miserable as they worked their way north in 1943/1944 – when they weren’t blowing up treasures like Monte Cassino….
I think houseboats are cool, too. I just don”t get why Americans don’t do them. Northeast Illinois has a LOT of population and a lot of rivers of all sizes, most of them feeding into other, larger waterways, but the only place I’ve heard of houseboats is Florida and Washington/Oregon. I understand the problems with freezing waters, but I would think that (especially in the South) there’s be a demand for them, like in Louisiana or inland Florida, not just the Florida coasts. Another thing about my country that mystifies me.
Ah, the photograph WAS digital magic. Sorry, my camera toting days go back to the days of film, when autofocus was a big deal. Jeez, I’m old …..
But then, Germany only became a unified country even after Italy, and there are plenty of canals.
On the other hand, maybe all the canals are in what used to be Prussia, which explains the good connections into Poland.
Sometimes, it just takes one person to get a houseboat and start a trend! ;-)
And if the rivers are connected, you could even leave the freezing zone during winter.
I don’t see a future in houseboating. America’s not organised enough to have many canals, and the thought of drifting into far-right territory without a full broadside of 12-pounders doesn’t appeal to an old fart like me. :)
Seriously, how friendly were the Germanic provinces prior to unification? (Briefly, please, I’ll burden other sources with trying to shovel knowledge into my faulty brainpan.) I thought that they got along fairly well, at least in the 19th century. I haven’t worked my way backwards in German history any further … yet.
Hope your weather is going okay. We’ve got a deep-freeze coming in a few days. Joys. (Sorry, can’t find the “immense sarcasm” emoji.) ;)
Immediately before unification, there was the German-German war in 1866. In English, it is usually referred to as the Austro-Prussian War, but if you look at the list of warring parties, you will find mostly German principalities and territories on either side:
This war led to the dominance of Prussia, which forced even the reluctant principalities and kingdoms (especially in the south, like Bavaria) to sign treaties of mutual military support.
And then, when Prussia fought a war with France in 1870, all the German territories were drawn into that war. As the Germans won, they soon forgot how reluctant they had been to fall into line behind Prussia’s leadership, united as the German Reich and appointed the Prussian King as Emperor of Germany in 1871. – Which is why his family, the Hohenzollern clan, are still pestering us today: https://andreas-moser.blog/2021/10/04/hohenzollern/ (I still have to write the English version of that article.)
That was pretty short and succinct, wasn’t it?
In the first Covid summer, I walked across Bavaria, and that 9-part story has – between beautiful photos – quite a lot about the history of the Kingdom of Bavaria and the German unification under Bismarck – and how he killed King Ludwig II of Bavaria:
I’d heard about the Prussian-Austrian war, but thought it was a new empire vs. old empire sort of war. I never worked my way earlier than the Franco-Prussian war, and that only as a lead in to WW1. (I’m more of a tanks and planes 20th century historian, less a cannon and cavalry 19th century one. Hm – Cannons and Cavalry – a 19th century RPG kinda like Dungeons and Dragons, but with less magic and more musketry … Nah, it’s probably been done already. ;) ) Yes, you did an excellent job in combining breadth and brevity. We have to get you teaching at a college somewhere, make people actually ENJOY history classes, rather than suffering through them like root canal dentistry!
Thanks for the links, too. That’ll give me an entry point when I start working my way into 19th century German history. Right after I get through fighting my way through 21st century American medical bureaucracy! 8O
Un encanto koepenick, aprendí que Venecia esta sobre valorada, luego de leer y ver las fotografías, revise la pequeña ciudad en este app: https://satellites.pro/mapa_de_Alemania#52.405142,13.654633,13.
Todo este sector esta rodeado de un muy complejo sistema de humedales. Langer See lago largo me aparece en la traducción. Quede impresionada, muy complejo todo el sistema metropolitano al rededor de Berlín … se percibe mas sano que los entornos metropolitanos latinoamericanos … muy verde. Ya me dispare en otra dirección, disculpa. Aprendí que backerei es panadería. Adore las Hayas rojas en koepenick.
Si, es muy verde y hay mucha agua: lagos, rios y canales.
Ya he descubierto que es un poco dificil (o interesante) para orientarse. Porque hay lugares que son muy cerca, pero no hay una conexion por tierra. Entonces caminando o tomando el bus hay que hacer un gran rodeo.
En verano hay barcos de ferry, incluso uno con bote de remos – incluido en el billete del transporto publico: https://www.berlin.de/tourismus/dampferfahrten/faehren/3902835-1824660-faehre-f24-rahnsdorf-mueggelheim.html
I have been following the articles on your blog for years and continue to derive great enjoyment from them.
I am wondering, on your very many travels, what cities or towns have you encountered that have an unusually strong intellectual or cultural vibe, where the interest in culture, literature, classical music, etc. extends beyond a small subgroup into a large part of the general population, such that this is visible and feel-able on a regular basis, as a part of ordinary everyday life in the city?
I seem to remember you describing Tbilisi and Iasi as such cities, if I remember correctly? On my own travels, I remember Valparaiso and nearby towns in Chile, where posters could be seen advertising public lectures on the “relevance of ancient Greek philosophy to everyday life” and where there was a bookselling stand at a random outdoor market, at the very front of which a (Spanish-translated) copy of Heidegger’s “Being and Time” was displayed prominently.
I’d be very curious to hear your experiences!
Thank you very much for your comment and for a question which will linger in my mind for days. I am not sure I have a good answer, not least because in many places, I didn’t stay long enough to find out. Or I didn’t speak the language, and thus didn’t even understand what was going on.
An obvious answer would be Vienna, where I really was not disappointed.
Although tourist hotspots are often not good for intellectualism, maybe because tourism relies on presenting a folkloristic version of one’s country/city and of telling the same story every day. But then, Vienna doesn’t really depend on tourism that much and its approach to the many visitors is more one of grudging acceptance.
Another connection I have observed is one between commerce and intellectualism. The two don’t always go hand in hand, it seems. In places where a large part of the population is occupied with work and jobs and earning more money and buying more stuff, there is not much time and mental capacity left for intellectual pursuits.
That’s why most places in North America disappoint me. Of course they will have one or two great museums, with the names of the benefactors proudly displayed, but that’s it. I mean, even the students aren’t relaxed enough to put up cultural or social or political events if they have to think about paying back their loan.
Having said that, I experienced one notable exception in Canada: the city of Winnipeg. There was so much happening, also grassroots- or neighborhood-based, with posters for interesting events on every lamppost, with social initiatives, celebrating the workers’ history of the city, etc., I was really impressed.
(I had come there after spending a winter in Calgary, which was a cultural disappointment. It’s a city which is so obviously about commerce and oil and real estate and careers, it’s depressing. Of course, there are quite interesting people there as well, but they don’t dominate the discourse. In Calgary, I once wanted to go to a book presentation, and they wanted to charge 20 $ for it – and you would have needed to pay extra to buy the book. First time I ever saw someone charging for a book presentation.)
The most pleasant surprises have been small or unknown cities with a surprisingly vivid cultural life for their size. Targu Mures in Romania comes to mind. Not a particularly large city, in the midst of Transylvania, but several universities, multi-ethnic (this often helps, I have found, because you have everything double: a Romanian theater and a Hungarian theater, Romanian bookstores and Hungarian bookstores, etc.), and I never met so many people who were painting, writing books, putting together environmental groups, organizing public lectures. There, it could happen that I sat at a café and at the next table, teenagers were discussing the poetry they had written. Or I was sitting on a beautiful boulevard in a warm summer night, and through an open window, I would hear beautiful piano play. Then, someone would come up to me and ask what book I was reading, we would get into a conversation and the gentleman would reveal that he had written several books himself. And this happened again and again.
Generally, I find Eastern Europe a better place for culture than Western Europe. Even when I don’t speak the language, I look at little things, like the number and type of bookstores. Or the posters announcing what looks like cultural events, especially small, self-organized events.
And I look at how many people read books in the metro or on the bus. Kyiv is a city I remember fondly for that aspect. In many metro stations, there would be the obvious bakery, but also a flower shop and a small bookseller, open until late into the night.
In South America, Bolivia stands out, and within Bolivia it would be Cochabamba. It’s not obvious on first sight, because there are not that many bookstores, and you really need to look for the libraries, but the city has (or had) a great civic atmosphere, with many social movements, protests, and generally people who were very interested in everything that’s happening around the world. Very open and curious, and I felt I could have much better conversations there than in Peru, for example.
Even within Bolivia, it was striking to see the stark difference between Cochabamba and Santa Cruz, for example. It shows that if you just visit one or two cities in a country, you might get a totally wrong impression. (Like the difference between Calgary and Winnipeg. Or in Ukraine, the counter example to Kyiv might be Odessa. A strikingly beautiful city, but clearly based on tourism, beach holidays and hedonism. This may be a very broad generalization, but I have noticed that places inland are usually more intellectual than places by the sea.)
I don’t know if you are from Europe and/or if you are familiar with the concept of the European Capital of Culture. Each year, 2 or 3 cities, and by now it’s usually smaller ones, are selected as capital cities of culture.
While this position is only held (and financed) for one year, it often changes the cities to the better in the years before and after. (I wrote about this a bit in my report about Plzen, unfortunately only available on my German blog.)
These would be good places to check out if looking for lots of activities and a great many creative people getting together:
Of this year’s culture capitals, I think that Timisoara certainly won’t disappoint. I’ve actually been thinking of moving to Chemnitz, which will be culture capital in 2025. It would be interesting to observe how a city and its people prepare for that big year. (And after all that moving around, I am looking for a bit of stability and to live in the same place at least for a few years.)
Thank you for this fabulous answer so rich in observations and reflections — it too will be lingering in my mind for some time. My apologies that I am only answering now, since I just changed countries myself (I am leading a similar lifestyle to yours, and in fact, many years ago when I was reflecting on embarking on such a lifestyle, you offered some important support for my decision). Thank you for your observations about individual cities, as well as about general principles that seem to apply; I read everything you wrote with great interest.
Interesting as well that you are planning to stay in one place for a while after so many peregrinations — I can very much relate to this at the moment!
So, from where to where did you just move?
And what towns/cities met your expectations? Where didn’t it work out as expected?