Berlin to Prague
by: Bob Braban - Editor - Travelwatchdog.com
In these days of spin and advertising hype, there is a serious over-use of superlatives to describe products that are, in essence, really quite ordinary. The consequence for independent reporters is that there is a natural reluctance to use them even when they are fully justified and this is such an occasion. However, the temptation is too great and superb is really the least one can say about PETER DEILMANN's excellent cruise on the Elbe aboard the MV Katharina Von Bora.
Operating each year from the end of March until the beginning of November, the Katherina Von Bora is a luxury river cruiser with a maximum capacity of 79 passengers and travels on the Havel, Elbe and Moldau rivers between Potsdam (Berlin) and Prague, taking seven days to complete the journey in each direction.
The cruiser was built as recently as 2000 and is named for the wife of Martin Luther. Cabins are luxurious, comfortable and very well appointed, with en-suite shower-rooms, a mini-bar, tv, security safe and excellent wardrobe facilities in each. Everything about these cabins 'shouts' quality and is reflected throughout the boat. Catering is of a standard that I have seldom experienced, even in the finest hotels. 'Nouvelle Cuisine' is perhaps the best description for dinner, but this does not, as is often the case, mean that the hungry stay hungry. Eight courses make up dinner and each is a testament to the absolute expertise of the 'Chef de Cuisine', Matthias Sonntag and his staff. At some stage during the journey, most passengers declared an evening of abstinence in protection of their waistline, but a glance at the menu most often destroyed their resolve. Breakfast and Lunch are of a similar quality, with a wide variety of dishes on offer. Very often, vegetarians are treated as an afterthought; not on this trip where their menu matches that of other diners, who not infrequently choose to go vegetarian for the day.
A major element of any travel experience is one's treatment by staff, whether it is airline, ship, hotel or restaurant. The Katherina Von Bora is superbly staffed in every department. Thomas Ullrich, the Hotel Director is, from the viewpoint of the passenger, undoubtedly the most important member of the crew and is unrelenting in his quest to achieve perfection. A man of considerable personal charm, he seems to be ever present, making certain that all is running smoothly. He is also entertaining and, with a lot of passengers being fairly senior, it was reassuring that on the excursions he paid particular attention to the "not so good going passengers". Thomas and his staff accompany all of the excursions, accompanied by very high quality local guides whose expertise matches that of the boat's staff.
A real point of interest is that Katherina Von Bora offers the chance to visit several of the great cities of the new Germany, that were formerly a part of the DDR.
MV Katherina von Bora
These include Potsdam, Magdeburg, Dresden and Meissen. During communist times, very little progress to modernity was made in these cities and although massive investment is changing the face of the East, there is still the opportunity to get a glimpse of the harsh conditions suffered during the circa half-century under communism when time almost stood still. A visit to Dresden in 1990 revealed collapsing streets, crumbling apartment blocks and a sea of sad faces. Today, the city has been substantially restored to the days of glory when Antonio Canale (called Canalletto (1697 -1768)) found it every bit as appealing to his brush as his beloved Venice. Of great interest is that during the restoration, not only did the architects and planners use the original drawings to ensure technical accuracy, but they also studied the paintings of some of the great artists to guarantee sympathy with the pre-war aesthetics. The results are stunning and it is a city that is well worth a visit. Meissen also offers the chance to look at 'old Germany' as well as the famous Meissen porcelain works where one discovers why each piece costs a small fortune. It also tempted on American pasenger to spend US$30,000 on two large porcelain elephants for his garden just north of San Diego!
Prague, the beginning or ending of the journey, is a most beautiful city, that lives up to its reputation as a very desirable place to visit and offers the tourist eye-catching vistas at every turn. However, over the past fifteen years it has gone from relatively inexpensive to high cost as the tourist industry cashes in on Prague's popularity; prices have probably increased ten-fold over the period. If anyone tells you that Prague is inexpensive, they have not visited for some long time!
To make the best of this experience we recommend arranging one's own flights and starting from Potsdam. There are several budget airlines flying to Berlin and one can spend a few days in this most interesting city. Hotels are inexpensive and it is to easy get around using the underground or taxis. The cruise mooring at Potsdam is also accessible by use of the underground, but given the distance and importance of the arrival deadline, a taxi at around £25 seems good value. Whilst in Berlin, make sure you eat at 'Restaurant Georges' which is situate opposite the Tiergarten entrance off Budapesterstrasse, at the rear entrance of the Europa-Center, just behind the Berlin Royal Palace Hotel. Its not famous and is inexpensive, but it is traditional German food in a traditional German ambience that is rarely found and cannot be faked.
At the Prague end of the journey, hotels are also good value, but most other things are not. A word of warning if you are a non-smoker; choose open air restaurants in Prague; however good the air-conditioning all others have heavily smoke laden air and it seems that even the dogs smoke!
Note: PeterDeilmann ceased operating river cruises in early 2010. We are told by James Hill of Malvern that the boat was bought by a German company: Nicko Tours and can be booked on the occasional charters by Noble Caledonia through James's website at www.gorivercruise.com
Give me the luxuries of life and we will dispense with its necessities.
John Lothrop Motley (1814-1877)