Bridge Tours, trip on Spree & Landwehrkanal, Rederei Riedel
Use of the Berlin rivers today
The served purpose of the Spree and its tributaries has consistently evolved over centuries. In particular under the confines of the Iron Curtain, when the waterbodies were sat exactly in the centre of the confrontation thus serving as potential war front and a natural separation of East and West Berlin. Since the fall of the Wall, the Spree is mainly a route for transporting goods and other forms of shipping. But in recent years the transport use of the Spree as a trade way has decreased dramatically. According to the Berliner Zeitung, only 1472 vessels passed through Berlin in 2017. One third of the goods was coal which will cease to be relevant after 2030. Plus, the total amount of goods decreased by 60% from 8,98 million tonnes in 1993 to only 2,61 million tonnes in 2017 (Knoblach 2018). Today, most of the traffic seen on the Landwehrkanal and the Spree are tourist boats by “Stern und Kreis”; one of the biggest companies in Berlin. By their own account, they host more than one million passengers each year (Stern und Kreis 2018). In total there are around 100 sightseeing boats in Berlin. The company recently came under fire as their mostly old diesel motors are operating without filters meaning they are producing a high amount of nitrogen oxygen, CO2 and fine dust. Especially in reference to the recent discussions about diesel cars in German cities, this creates double standards for shipping companies if they should be allowed to pollute the inner city air and car owners are not, says Nabu‘s leader of transport policy, Dietmar Oelinger (Oelinger 2018). In addition, long term rental contracts between the „Wasserstraßen und Schifffahrtsverwaltung des Bundes“ (eng: federal water administration office) and the shipping companies for the landing stages prevent any competition and displace smaller, private users. In Berlin “Reederei Riedel” and “Stern und Kreis” occupy most spots and can decide over the slots for their competitors and the price they have to pay. Thus smaller companies or muscle driven alternatives with more sustainable offers such as Kayak rentals are prevented from entering the market (Loy 2018).
Furthermore the tickets for sightseeing trips are very pricey and are almost exclusively used by tourists who wish to see the city in a comfortable way and simultaneously learn about its history. While that in itself is understandable, tourists might not be aware that their consumerism is taking space away from the local population by preventing the use of water sites for public recreation and leisure. The thought of swimming in the canal, with huge passenger ships passing by every few minutes, is rather intimidating plus it’s prohibited. In today‘s post-industrial era, the Spree boasts bathing quality throughout the city and hydrologist Heiko Sieker, Professor for Urban Hydrology at the TU Berlin, advocates swimming everywhere in the city but not all the time. After heavy rainfall he urgently advises not to bathe in the water, due to the capacity overload of the sewer network, resulting in an emergency dumping into the waters. This contaminates the water for at least a week and bears a high risk getting an infection (Herold 2016).