Kevin Braddock ponders the infographic and the psychogeographic during a stroll along the Landwehr Kanal at –15˚C…
A Berlin mate of mine happens to be a very successful illustrator known for composing colourful infographics and tiny, pixelated portraits of popstars. We often spend evenings in the bars around Kottbusser Tor pontificating on life, on the whole agreeing with each other.
One day though we happened upon a quite intractable difference in our views. It crystallised around my proposal to do a walk along the full extent of the Landwehr Kanal. The following Saturday was expected to be frosty, it was late December and there was nothing else to do and there was no-one else about.
Being a compulsive cartomaniac, I have spent many hours poring over maps of Berlin in search of interesting walks, rides and runs. The Landwehr Kanal is by far the most obvious. It bisects the entire lower half of central Berlin, running from Charlottenburg, between the southern fringes of Tiergarten and the Zoologischer Garten before floating on through befronded Kreuzberg, finally executing a sharp 90˚ left-hand turn to emerge back onto the Spree’s eastern stretch just after the intersection with Pushkinallee.
All in all, it seemed the perfect Saturday walk – six or seven miles from west to east, and no need for a map.
I proposed the walk to my friend along with an ETD. He agreed to it. Then, studying the map more closely I noticed a possible prologue in the form of a stretch of the Spree connecting from Westhafenkanal near Jungfernheide with the beginning proper of the Landwehr. An extra mile or two. I was up for it. My friend wasn’t. He argued, quite correctly, that the Kanal officially starts near the Bangladeshi Embassy close to Dovestraße. I carried on advocating for the extended route, but he was having none of it.
“I like the purity of the Kanal walk,” he said. I could see his point. The infographic sensibility, as he had once pointed out, is concerned with imposing order, making the confusion of modern life explainable. But I was in psychogeographic mode: Forget the route. Walk. See what we see.
Our breach could not be bridged and consequently I walked it alone. It was –15˚C the entire way, and while it was an anonymous, silent and perhaps even lonely walk at times, it was full of sights: Llamas and peacocks were overlookable in the Zoologischer Garten, while ducks and swans skittered across the frozen surface of the Kanal. Berlin’s runners are hardy as hell, and I saw plenty all the way along the route. The Schloss Charlottenburg twinkled prettily in the dry winter sun.
The architectural morphology at the western ends of the walk is prettier and more open than that of the central leg: As you gain upon Lüztow Ufer and Schöneberger Ufer, Berlin closes in, the road snaking hard by the Kanal. The Neue National Gallerie is a stone’s thrown to the right and the suspended Dakota transport aircraft at the Deutsches Technikmuseum at Gleisdreieck is similarly imposing.
It’s only as you hit the Urbanhafen deep in Kreuzberg that the walk once again opens out, the shallow grassy banks sloping in to the huge basin where a derelict party boat is moored. You cross Kottbusser Damm, then continue along Paul Linke Ufer and onto the final stretch. Cross again to the eastern bank as the Kanal diverts to the Spree, and you’re walking the old line of the Mauer, parallel to Lomühlenstraße. In all it’s about eight miles, and took me around three (exceedingly chilly) hours at a brisk, blowing-into-the-hands pace.
I rejoined my mate later at the Coffee Corner, a cute café on the intersection of Kottbusser Damm and Graefe Straße run by a gregarious chap called Enrico (now closed), and we speculated that it would be possible to return east along the Spree, all the way back to the beginning of the walk or beyond. That really would be a psychogeograhic project, a journey with no destination. Doubtless it would make for a nice infographic treatment too.
An agreement was finally reached.