Woken rudely by the alarm at 6.45 a.m. in time for me to put our suitcases outside our room to be collected by 7 a.m.
Blearily got ourselves ready to leave the room, aided by the usual lemon and ginger tea, and descended to find chaos on the ground floor. Loads of luggage had been collected, but ours, plus everyone else’s on the second floor, hadn’t been.
First things first. I managed to reserve our seats right at the front of our coach by strategically placing backpacks and jackets. Worked a treat.
Alan, our cruise director, was massively stressed, as the luggage collection was way behind schedule. I actually went back and brought our cases down myself, just to save time.
Finally, all luggage was loaded onto the coach and off we went, under the tender care of Lothar, a native Berliner who kept up a narrative continuously throughout virtually the whole journey. However, the vast majority of what he had to say was very interesting.
Our first stop was the Glienicke Bridge or the “Bridge of Spies”, which connects the Berlin area with Potsdam, of which more later.
I vaguely remember the Gary Powers/Rudolf Abel spy exchange in 1962, when the former, a USA surveillance plane pilot shot down by the Russians, walked across the bridge in exchange for Rudolf Abel, a Russian spy captured by the Americans, who walked in the opposite direction.
Powerful stuff, bearing in mind that the Cold War was in its infancy.
Next up was the Palace of Sans Souci (Without Sorrow), the home of King Frederick the Great of Prussia.
Lothar then took us on a walk round the Palace. It was very cold, and getting back on the bus became a priority. However, one could get a sense of how enormous this park was, based as it was on vineyards originally.
The palace was built in 1745.
We were dropped off near the pedestrian area of Potsdam, a town nowadays of around 150,000 people spread over a wide area, with an hour and a half to look around and find some lunch.
Lothar recommended a restaurant called Loft. We managed to find it reasonably easily, but it was pretty full. We were lucky that a couple were just leaving, so got seated fairly quickly.
Service was a little slow, but we managed to get a very nice soup and main meal down our necks before having to high-tail it back to the bus.
On we went through some nice, if not spectacular, countryside, until we reached the Cecilienhof Castle.
This was far more recent – built in 1914 – but its supreme importance is that it was here that Churchill, Truman and Stalin met in 1945 to determine how Germany was to be divided. In the event, it was almost a non-decision, as once the borders had been agreed, the governing authority could do pretty much whatever it liked with its territory.
Three years later, in 1948, Stalin started the process of separating the Soviet partition from the Western Allies, leading to the Cold War. The response from the USA was Marshall Aid – provide the Western side with what they needed to prevent the spread of Communism.
As it was still cold, Lothar kept the talk on the short side. We didn’t go into the castle itself, which was a shame.
Next stop – the ship, the Viking Astrild.
We were relieved to see that the Elbe river appeared to be full as we entered Wittenborg, our starting point for the river cruise part of this journey. We’d heard rumours that the cruise might have to be cancelled, in all or in part, if the river level was too low.
Got to Stateroom 201 with minimal fuss, with luggage delivered 15 minutes later. Very efficient.
The ship has a capacity of 98 people, a few more, I seem to recall, than the ships on the Rhine and Danube cruises. Certainly, the cabins seem to be a bit smaller than those on other river cruises we’ve been on, but appointed to Viking’s very high standards.
Nice views from the balcony:
Next, to the lounge for a drinks reception and to be introduced to the captain and senior staff members.
As we had had a big lunch earlier in the day, I couldn’t do justice to the excellent dinner, but we met some nice people anyway. As usual, most passengers seem to be Americans.
Final visit to the lounge, then bed.