The River Spree as a Prohibited Zone

Canoe trips along the former Spree border. Appointments by request from August to October 2011.

How can the building of a wall be commemorated? What is left of the Berlin Wall and how can political history be made tangible in the urban environment away from museums or monuments?

In research based on the current urban environment, the former border on the River Spree will be researched and retraced from the perspective of canoeists who will examine inconspicuous details such as drain openings, marks on the walls of the riverbank, and unmarked border installations at the Osthafen (harbour).

Birgit Binder and Caspar Pauli from the artists’ group “Varsity of Maneuvers” will devote themselves to these questions and tasks in the Prohibited Spree Zone project from April to October 2011, in cooperation with the Museum of Friedrichshain and Kreuzberg and Circus Schatzinsel. Starting in August, the artists and their team will offer canoe trips for young people to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the Berlin Wall’s construction. 

The Varsity of Maneuvers project will research the Spree in the context of its political dimensions and paddle along the former river border between Friedrichshain and Kreuzberg. The canoeist’s perspective is of particular importance here, as its slowness and flexibility allow a very close look at where the “events” took place, at riverbank walls and former border installations, revealing a greater level of detail than what passengers on larger boats would be able to observe. 

This enables a close encounter with the history of the former border, as the groups will paddle past riverbanks where children from Kreuzberg used to play and fall into the border waters. The canoes will go under the former border crossing point at the Oberbaumbrücke and participants will be able to imagine the route taken by a group of people who managed to escape by boat to the West. Participants will take a close look at dusty old customs points on the Spree, use binoculars to inspect surveillance points and discuss the mysteries of the sewage pipes in the Osthafen. 

The guided tours will be conducted along the principle of learning by research, which means researching, interpreting and discussing the traces discovered with the help of explanations by experts. Mobile “research units” in the form of four Canadian six-person canoes will be the material basis of the project. The pooling and discussion of the results of the inspection, as well as their joint integration in historical, current and personal contexts, will play a major role during the research tours. 

Research tours will be held from May to July 2011 in cooperation with experts, teachers, children and teenagers from schools in Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain. From August 2011, trips will be open to interested youth groups or adults. 

Information about dates and costs for interested youth groups and classes is available from Mr. Trent, Museum of Friedrichshain and Kreuzberg, tel. +49 (0)30 – 5058 5246.

Further information:

Kanuclub zur Erforschung der Stadt:

Museum of Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg:

Binder and Pauli in front of the Oberbaumbrücke on the Kreuzberg side of the River Spree, Photo: Thomas Gieße
credit: Thomas_Gieße_Sperrzone_Spree_Recherche.jpg
Interior view of the old GDR customs poin
Caption: Binder and Paul conducting research in the Osthafen on the River Spree, Photo: Thomas Gieße