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SEEN: Landwehrkanal, Berlin

On the Landwehr Canal, which runs along my street in the formerly industrial neighborhood of Kreuzberg, tourist boats fill the narrow and shallow channel. The banks are dotted with people watching them float by, feeding swans, having a nap, having a smoke. Above the Art Deco Admiral Bridge, the city’s landmarks are quaintly displayed, as if on a postcard.

Constructed in the mid-19th century, when Kreuzberg did not even exist, the canal was an answer to the problem of water in Berlin. Formerly a swamp (the word berl meant swamp in 12th-century Polabian Slavic), this landlocked city is surrounded by lakes, and flooding was always an issue. The Landwehr provided much-needed drainage in an area that at the time was outside the boundaries of the city. It also lightened congestion on the Spree River by redirecting ships carrying wood and other construction materials to various sites, much like a railroad.

Today, the canal is chiefly a way of seeing Berlin and its surrounding landscape from the unique angle provided by boats of all kinds — from canoes and kayaks to rubber rafts and cruise ships — and of being seen by others. While many industrial canals in other cities have become abandoned wastelands, due to polluted waters and toxic soils, this former drainage ditch continues to make Kreuzberg one of the most sought after places to live.

Selected sights on the Landwehr Canal. Photos: Jeanne Haffner.

A tourist boat crosses under the Admiral's Bridge, across the street from my apartment.
The Admiral's Bridge, with its iron Art Deco gate, is a favorite meeting place in the evening.
Bicycles parked on the canal, near Maybachufer. The Ankerklause bar/restaurant in the background is known for being open late.
A young girl feeding swans.
Having a smoke on a Sunday afternoon.
This fall was especially warm, allowing for many long walks along the Landwehr canal on weekends.
Sunset on the Landwehr.
In the 19th century, the canal was used to transport wood and other materials to different construction materials, much like a railroad.