The first time I visited Berlin in 2009, my resident friends took me not to a bar or club, but down to the Landwehrkanal. It was a warm spring evening and we sat by the water drinking a beer, catching up and eating a borek from an Imbiss on Kottbuser Brücke. I fell in love with Berlin that day, and the canal and the general atmosphere along it was part of the reason why.
Having lived here for two years now, the canal has always been one of my favourite places, especially in the summer. Recently, on a beautiful autumn day, I decided to walk its whole 11km stretch – past areas I knew well but on into areas of Berlin I’d never even visited…
Built between 1845 and 1850, the canal connects the Eastern part of the Spree in Friedrichshain with the Western part in Charlottenburg. After jumping off the U-Bahn at Schlesisches Tor, I walked a short way down the road to find the start of the canal, at the Schleusenufer (Upper Lock).
After a while the canal opens up, as it meets the northern end of the Neukölln Shipping Canal at Lohmuhlenbrücke (seen in the distance in this photo) and starts to head West through Kreuzberg.
After turning West, the canal follows Paul-Lincke-Ufer, a quiet and picturesque street featuring cafes and restaurants. I highly recommend a flat white from Concierge Coffee, one of the best in Berlin.
Further along comes an area with gravel courts full of people playing pétanque on the weekends; it’s also a popular place for people to sit in the sun and chill out with friends. On the other side of the canal is the Maybachufer, part of the Neukölln district. Here you can find the flohmarkt “Nowkölln” every other Sunday. I’d say it’s the best one in Berlin, and a far cry from the overcrowded, overpriced tourist trap of Mauerpark.
Even though it was late October it was extremely warm. By this point I was walking along in just a tee-shirt, and after spotting these sunflowers it felt like summer again. According to a nearby sign, the flowers were planted by some local residents, who invited others to join them the weekend after to plant wild roses.
Continuing along Paul-Lincke-Ufer, I reached Kottbusser Brücke, from where I could either head north up to Kottbusser Tor, or south towards Hermannplatz. Since I was only a quarter of the way along my walk, I pressed on westwards through Kreuzberg.
Anyone who lives in Berlin will know the Admiralbrücke. On a Monday afternoon in October it’s quiet, but in the summer it’s transformed into a social hub, as people stay up long into the warm nights chatting and drinking with friends.
After a while I reach the Urbanhafen, where another canal – the Luisenstadt Canal – once joined it and ran northwards to the Spree. Although it was filled in around 1932 you can still see its path on a map. Afterwards, the canal was turned into a sunken garden, with a filled section retained for use as an ornamental pool.
An elevated section of the U1 line (probably one of the most scenic U-Bahn lines) follows the Landwehr for about 1km, stopping at Hallesches Tor and Möckernbrücke stations, which sit directly on the water.
Here, a small pedestrian bridge crosses the canal to the U1 tracks above, while the Deutches Technikmuseum looms the background. You can see a glimpse of the US Air Force C47-B “Raisin Bomber” which sits on top of the building. The C47-B was one of the aircraft used to bring in supplies to West Berlin during the Soviet blockade of 1948-49.
A bit further along the canal leaves Kreuzberg and crosses into the Schöneberg and Tiergarten districts. With Potsdamer Platz visible to the north, you start to see a lot of construction work around.
The walk along the Landwehrkanal is full of interesting architecture, from 19th century “altbau” houses to modernist buildings such as Mies ran der Rohe’s striking Neue Nationalgalerie (pictured here).
Another famous modernist building is the distinctive Shell Haus, designed by German architect Emil Fahrenkamp in 1932.
The walk takes me right past the Bauhaus Archiv, which was built in 1979 by Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius to showcase a range of pieces related to the Bauhaus movement of the early 20th century.
Suddenly, all of the architecture, museums and traffic are gone as I am plunged into Tiergarten park.
In 1919 Rosa Luxemburg was murdered by the right-wing Freikorps who had orders to dismantle the revolutionary left. After being shot her body was thrown into the Landwehrkanal and wasn’t discovered until over four months later. This memorial marks the place where she was found.
Here is the Unterschleuse (Lower Lock), with the Stadtbahn railway passing over the canal and through Tiergarten. Before this line was built in 1880, Berlin had eight main lines, each with their own terminal station at the edge of the city. After the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-71, the state of Prussia realised it had to connect the lines to improve military mobilisation, and so the Stadtbahn came to fruition. After reunification in 1989 it also became an important line connecting Berlin with other cities in Germany.
As the sun starts to set I reach Charlottenburger Brücke, with the two porticoes of Charlottenburger Tor silhouetted against the sky. This Neo-Baroque gate was built in 1907 by the (then) independent city of Charlottenburg, which didn’t become a district of Berlin until 1920. It’s a beautiful piece of architecture to walk past, or to drive through when heading up Straße des 17. Juni, especially with the Victory Column glinting in the distance.
Soon I reach (by my count) bridge number twenty; Dovebrücke, and the end of the canal. In this picture you can see the Spree come into view as the Landwehrkanal rejoins it. From here it goes on to join the river Havel in Spandau, itself joining the Elbe and eventually flowing into the North Sea. But though the water may end up journeying vast distances, the 11km stretch of the Landwehr will always be the most important to me.