Spandau Citadel

Spandau Citadel by A.Savin (Wikimedia Commons · WikiPhotoSpace) – Own work, FAL,

Berlin is finally emerging from the pandemic lockdown we’ve been in with increasing forms of severity since mid-December.

The biergarten are open, so I guess civilization won’t end just yet. 

We can go to shops now, too. And barber shops and indoor dining are open to those who show a same day negative rapid test. Such tests are free for Berlin residents, and there are test centres all over the city.

I took the opportunity to escape my desk last Sunday with a bike ride over to Spandau to have a look at one of Europe’s best preserved fortresses.

The citadel is one of Europe’s best preserved fortresses

The Zitadelle Spandau was built on the site of an older Slavik settlement on the Havel River near its confluence with the Spree, right at the gates of Berlin, beginning in 1560. 

The Juliusturm — the tall round tower — dates to the first half of the 13th century. It’s the oldest secular building in Berlin.

It was roughed up by the Swedes in 1675 during the Thirty Years War, but who hasn’t been menaced by them? If they aren’t going viking, they’re condemning you to an eternity of wandering through their dreaded Ikea maze.

Water moats were added around the end of the 16th century

The fortress was surrounded by water moats around the end of the 16th century, and battlements were added in 1838. Many of the buildings around the large central parade ground were added in the 19th century.

Despite the thick stone walls and earthworks — and plenty of early rising, stomping of feet and lots and lots of shouting — the closest the Citadel came to seeing actual conflict was when it surrendered to Napoleon without firing a shot in 1806.

To the battlements…!

Prussian forces took it back in 1813, shooting up the ramparts badly enough that it needed extensive restoration.

When France lost the 1870-71 Franco-Prussian War, the big pile of gold coins they were forced to pay in reparations were stored in the Julius Tower. Unfortunately, it’s gone. Otherwise I would have grabbed a handful for you.

The Italian courtyards

The citadel had another, much darker life as the Army’s Gas Protection Laboratory in 1935, when 300 scientists and technicians worked on chemical weapons, including the development of nerve gas.

Today it hosts a small museum and a scattering of artist’s workshops. 

It’s also the site of the open-air Citadel Music Festival, playing host to such artists as Patti Smith, Billy Idol, Toto, The Beach Boys, Björk and Manu Chao. 

I nearly went a couple years ago to see Toto, but I changed my mind when I realized I didn’t like any of their other songs, and I’d have to suffer through endless sets just to hear Rosanna and Africa.  Sorry, but I had to say “Nein!”

The Citadel was deserted when we rolled through…

The Citadel was deserted when we rolled through the gates on our bikes — or bounced through, rather. Those cobblestone streets are guaranteed to shake loose at least one filling and dislodge a random rib.

We’d seen a trickle of people pass through ahead of us, but they vanished without a trace. 

Views of the Havel River and Eiswerder

We had the battlements completely to ourselves, with views of kayakers on the Havel River, and the island of Eiswerder, whose red brick buildings once hosted the 19th century Royal Fireworks Laboratory for the production of powder, cartridges and ammunition.

Wildflowers clustered the battlements, and poppies drooped their heads in the breeze.

Poppies drooped their heads in the breeze…

I only figured out where the people had gone when we wandered to the base of the Juliusturm and found a Corona rapid test centre tucked away in the corner.

It’s a beautiful place to have a stick shoved up your nose, but thankfully we don’t have to submit to nasal rape just to drink a cold glass of beer outside.

Discovered a new brauhaus a short bike ride away

Where better to end our excursion than the nearby Spandau Brauhaus, where you can enjoy a nice cold unfiltered beer brewed in copper kettles.

Is there a better combination than draft beer and fresh pretzels?

About the author

Ryan Murdock

Author of A Sunny Place for Shady People and Vagabond Dreams: Road Wisdom from Central America. Host of Personal Landscapes podcast. Editor-at-Large (Europe) for Canada's Outpost magazine. Writer at The Shift. Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.

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