1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

In Berlin, A River Remade

Tamsin WalkerJuly 24, 2004

Berlin's river Spree was long slighted by the city's inhabitants, who saw it as little more than a murky cradle of industry. Now this jaded jewel is being dusted down and polished to a state-of-the-art sparkle.

The Molecule Man sculpture has become a feature of the SpreeImage: AP

When pitched against the likes of the river Thames or the Seine which uncompromisingly cut through the hearts of their respective cities, dividing the rich from the poor and the 'in' from the 'out', the Spree is a serene waterway, which seems to seep rather than snake its path north. But if planners and architects get their way, it's only a matter of time before that serenity is replaced with glittering architecture and an altogether busier life.

Berliners have long been at pains to get passionate about their river, which has never been given much significance in the overall landscape of the capital. "Berlin has turned its back on the Spree. Take the Berliner Dom, for example, it's back side faces the water," Mr. Rainer Milzkott, Public Relations Manager for urbanPR told DW-WORLD. And his example is not the only one, there are countless significant old buildings in Berlin, which although located on or near the banks of the river, were built with their entrances facing away from the water.

Waterside media city

MTV geht nach Berlin
MTV's waterside officesImage: AP

Heads are now firmly turned towards the city's liquid assets, which is still a blank enough canvas to enable the creation of entire little worlds. Three years ago, a group of private investors got together with the express intention of turning a 3 km stretch of the Spree into a media landscape. The area, aptly dubbed media spree has already witnessed the conversion and creation of an eclectic mix of buildings which now accommodate the city's growing media scene. "The main aim is to attract media companies, and to continue developing that field." Christian Meyer, Managing Director of media spree told DW-WORLD.

It's an ambitious plan, but so far it's working. No sooner were MTV and Universal ensconced in their waterside homes, than other companies, such as Meidalynx and the service trade union, Verdi were following suit. But it doesn't stop there. The media spree project has grand plans to create a number of little canals leading inland from the Spree. "The idea is to create more waterfront property and more office space. It could have a touch of Amsterdam, or of the London Docklands," Meyer said.

Visualisierung 2 BA. Spreeport
A possible future face of the SpreeImage: www.mediaspree.de

But the fact is that neither Amsterdam nor London seem to have the same troubles shifting their waterside office space -- something Berlin has had an excess of ever since reunification almost 15 years ago. Meyer, however, is not worried about filling empty space. He believes the media aspect of the location will be enough to hook those in the industry. "We've had a lot of enquiries for converted flats from people in the music business, or in fashion, television and film. The combination of the water and industrial backdrop offers them a particular flair," Meyer said.

Great views for relatively little

If other European capitals are anything to go by, that waterfront flair is a luxury reserved for the wealthy. But Meyer can't see Berlin falling victim to such a cliché. "People are afraid that everything will be gentrified, but there are enough places, enough little niches for everyone, at prices people can afford." They may be affordable, but Rainer Milzkott doesn't believe Berliners are really ready to take this new found appreciation of the river seriously. "The potential is definitely there, but I am not convinced that it is the right time."

Floating Home
"Floating Home" design by Architects Förster Trabitzsch.Image: Förster/Trabitzsch

Whether the time is right or not, the pace of change is gathering momentum and the Spree is being systematically primed for its new post as the glistening face of a truly modern city. With art, glass houses, warehouse conversions, bars and beaches lining the river banks, and plans for canals and futuristic floating homes, the Spree is finally getting the attention it lacked for so long.