Several cities exist that are of global renown but few possess – besides outstanding economic and cultural significance – a unique character, an image, a feeling that even people who’ve never visited them before associate with them. Paris is one such city, New York definitely, Berlin perhaps even more so when the wall ran through it than it is today – and certainly London, the capital of the United Kingdom.
London has something outstanding to offer in all areas: with more than eight million people living there (Greater London), it’s the city that boasts the densest population of all cities found within the borders of the European Union. The city is one of the world’s most important financial and commercial centres, it’s home to countless museums, theatres and other cultural institutions and is a true heartland for sports. But what we spontaneously think of when we hear London is usually this: red double-decker buses and telephone booths, Tower Bridge, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Madame Tussauds, Westminster Abbey with Big Ben, the Thames, the ‘Tube’, soldiers wearing towering bearskins standing motionless to attention – a London of postcards that is both a cliché and something that actually exists. And that’s a good thing.
But we should approach this city of global importance from a slightly different angle. Both in regard to subject and geography. So instead of starting at a very central point, for example, the London Eye, we will depart from somewhere that’s around 30 kilometres to the west. And take a small boat from there. This boat will take us slowly down the Thames and past a few well-known and many other less well known but typically English landmarks. Take a seat! Have you got your mac? It rains a lot here …
Where better to start a boat trip to London than in Eton? The Thames is still quite a narrow river here that meanders through the typically English green countryside. This is also the place where Dorney Lake can be found. It’s an artificial body of water that’s 2,000 metres long and just 200 metres wide. It was built at the initiative of the neighbouring elite school of Eton for the purposes of providing its students with the best conditions to practise the traditional sport of rowing. The school itself raised a total of € 21 million to realise it. With school fees of around € 40,000 per pupil and year, its immediately clear where the funds came from and secondly what the ‘elite’ prefix is all about. The school has, after all, produced 19 prime ministers, including David Cameron. People who attended the school call themselves ‘Old Etonians’ and reveal themselves to each other by way a black and turquoise striped tie. As former students of Eton, Princes Harry and William are also likely to have this item of clothing hanging in their wardrobes. (Bild: Eton College by BasPhoto/fotolia)
A German royal family: Windsor
Princess Diana’s two sons didn’t have far to go to get to school: Windsor Castle is located just on the other side of the Thames and is only a 10-minute walk away across the pedestrian bridge. But whether the two potential heirs to the throne also spent any time at Legoland, which is also one of Windsor’s attractions, is not that certain. But one thing that is known for sure is that the two can look back on German ancestry; the British royal house is, after all, German. The royal family still bore the name of ‘House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha’ until 1917. But the mood in England turned against the Germans during World War I, and when German fighter bombers – called the Gotha G.IV of all things – started to bomb London, King George V who was on the throne at the time decided to cast aside his German surname and establish the House of Windsor. (Bild: Thames with Windsor Castle by Chris Lofty/fotolia)
By land, water and air
We’re now leaving the royal family behind us and are drifting at a leisurely pace down the Thames Valley as the region is informally called here; somehow that sounds really great in English…Something else that has a great sound is the M25, which passes over us shortly before we get to Staines-upon-Thames … well, great sound is one way of putting it, noisy because of the heavy traffic is another. The M25 motorway draws a huge circle around London and, at a length of 188 kilometres, it’s the second longest ring road in Europe – the longest being, by the way, the Berliner Ring. The stretch we’re about to pass is one of the busiest and the motorway here has ten lanes. The reason for the heavy traffic is Heathrow Airport, which is not very far away. (Bild: Thames near Oxford)
“Thames versus Ems
Those who are able to see the Thames in their mind’s eye usually think of a massively wide river with the Houses of Parliament in the background. This image creates the illusion of size that in reality doesn’t exist. Compared with the River Ems, the Thames is – at 346 kilometres long – 25 kilometres shorter and its slower currents convey around only half the volume of water. Both rivers derive their names from the same Indo-European source, which is ‘Tamesis’ (dark river), and both rivers are home to Kampmann, i.e. Kampmann in Lingen and Kampmann in London.”
While the Thames has guided us so far through lovely countryside, the medium-sized city of Staines-upon-Thames marks the start to a more urbanised region. Although this city is not part of the Greater London administrative region, London does act as a magnet by which everything aligns itself. It’s still 30 kilometres by road to the city centre. Thorpe Park, a large theme park south of Staines, is still popular with visitors from London. The park boasts seven roller coasters, including the ‘Colossus’ (not to be confused with the ‘Collossos’ in Heide-Park Soltau), a ride with 10 inversions, which was a world record for several years. It’s also home to a white-water ride but we prefer to continue enjoying the gentle gurgle of the Thames under our hull, which is now taking us past a place that’s significant in the history of film. (Picture: Colossus roller coaster at Thorpe Park)
Even though London is packed with cinemas – from small ones to Europe’s largest IMAX – the city is not really known for making films. But, in fact, such classic films as ‘Alien’ (1979), ‘Gandhi’ (1982) and ‘The Crying Game’ (1992) were made just outside the gates of London, namely at Shepperton Studios. Ridley Scott, the director of ‘Alien’, and his brother Tony (‘Top Gun’, ‘True Romance’) headed the consortium that took over the troubled Shepperton Studios in 1995 with the intention of providing a boost to the British film industry. So films continue to be made in the small village of Shepperton on the Thames. (Bild: Shepperton Studios by A. Williams CC-BY-SA 3.0)
Kampmann UK Ltd., which also calls Shepperton home, doesn’t make big films but it is big on creating a good climate. It was only established as a limited company on 1 January 2013, but Kampmann has been operating in the United Kingdom since 1983. The spin-off means that the team in Shepperton is closer to customers – not only in the UK, but also in the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand – and that it is thus able to respond more rapidly to market requirements. Nine employees have maintained important contacts to the London offices of such global players as Norman Foster, Happold and Arup for years and even travel as far as Scotland and Ireland to do business. Kampmann UK Ltd. is managed by Seb Cairns and Thorsten Niehoff in a division of labour based on close cooperation: while Seb is the commercial manager, Thorsten is responsible for technical operations.
The Haunted Gallery at Hampton Court Palace
Our river journey continues. A light rain has set in – well, I say rain, it’s more like the air’s wet. Fine droplets. More mist than rain. But terribly wet. And so typically English. As English as Hampton Court Palace, which, surrounded by extensive parks and swaddled in a mist of drizzle, evokes the medieval age. Times when Henry VIII roamed this mighty palace. The then King of England was not only very involved in the business of politics and, among other things, embroiled in an ongoing dispute with the Church in Rome – which eventually gave rise to the Protestant Reformation in England – he also married six times. His fifth wife, Catherine Howard, was accused of adultery. Henry had her arrested to be beheaded at the Tower of London. She tore herself away from the guards and rushed down a corridor to beg the king for mercy. But Henry remained unmoved and Catherine was taken away screaming. It is said that, since then, her ghost haunts that same corridor – which is today called the Haunted Gallery. The question is whether Catherine stops for tea with the other two ghosts that are also supposed to inhabit Hampton Court Palace after giving everybody a fright. Many people in England still believe in ghosts. (Bild: Hampton Court Palace by A. Balaraman/fotolia)
“Surrey versus Middlesex
Kampmann UK Ltd.’s official address is Govett Avenue, Shepperton, Middlesex. Which is interesting because Middlesex no longer exists as an administrative region. It was actually dissolved in 1888. Shepperton has been part of the county of Surrey ever since. But, always conscious of their past, the English still use the old county names as if nothing had ever changed.”
Rugby – a sport that’s not so prominent in Germany and that the media there unfortunately doesn’t pay a lot of attention to – is also very popular in the UK. It’s said there that football is a sport for gentlemen played by ruffians and that rugby is a sport for gentleman that is also played by gentlemen. A statement that anyone who has ever watched a rugby match would probably confirm. The Rugby World Cup, which takes place every four years, is one of the largest sporting events in the world. The matches are broadcast to more than 200 countries. England’s biggest rugby hero is Jonny Wilkinson, who almost single-handedly led his team to its first and to date only World Cup victory in 2003. Wilkinson is venerated in England as a great sportsman and was made a member of the Order of the British Empire in 2004. He grew up in the county of Surrey where Shepperton is also located and therefore didn’t have far to go to get to the centre of international rugby – which is Twickenham. Twickenham, already part of Greater London, one that we’re currently passing, counts around 52,000 residents. They could all easily fit into the grounds at Twickenham which, with a capacity of 82,000, is, after Wembley, the second largest stadium in the United Kingdom. It’s the ‘Home of Rugby Union’ and was the venue of the 2015 final when England hosted the World Cup. (Bild: Jonny Wilkinson by Léna CC-BY-SA 3.0)
Jagger meets stag
Right on time: the clouds begin to clear and warming rays of sun start to break through. Perfect for a stopover in Richmond-upon-Thames. The Thames here is still a winding little river, far removed from the massive width it reaches when it arrives in the centre of London. Richmond is a genuine gem. A pretty little town with small alleys, noble villas and a very relaxed character. No wonder many people travel here from London at the weekend for a quiet stroll. And they often like to get here by boat – privately owned ones or ones run by tour operators for day trippers – because there’s a jetty there where they can moor. Where it’s so pleasant and so close to the centre of London, it’s expensive. Mick Jagger, Daniel Craig, Keira Knightley… they all have homes here. We come upon Richmond Park just after Richmond-upon-Thames. It’s more than 10 square kilometres in size, which makes it the largest park in London. It’s large enough for 630 deer to roam the meadows and forests and for the Royal Ballet School, where world-class dancers are taught, to be based here, in the historic White Lodge in the middle of the park. (Bild: Richmond Riverside by David Iliff CC-BY-SA 3.0)
Palms on the Thames
But now it’s back to the boat! We’re approaching our destination! Just two or three bends in the river to go and we’ll at last be entering the pure urbanised setting. We pass Kew Gardens, which spreads out to our right, just before that. The Royal Botanic Gardens are among the oldest botanical gardens in the world and are certainly among the most impressive. The ‘Temperate House’ and the ‘Palm House’, which were built to house plants from all over the world, including a 16-metre-high honey palm, during the Victorian period, are outstanding. The Chinese pagoda, which was already built in 1762 and reaches a height of 50 metres, is no less outstanding. The entire complex was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2003. (Bild: Palm House by David Iliff CC-BY-SA 3.0)
Mooring where pigs might fly
Where the Thames widens, we encounter more and more boats – bigger ones at that – travelling on it and the banks on both sides of the river are becoming increasingly built up. Single-family houses, parks and meadows have given way to multi-storey residential high-rises and industrial landscapes. It becomes apparent at this point just how big London actually is. A world-famous industrial monument marks the point where we must leave our boat behind: the Battersea Power Station. The former power station, one of the largest brick buildings in Europe, is in itself a remarkable colossus. It became an icon when Pink Floyd used its striking chimney stacks as the backdrop for the flying pigs on their ‘Animals’ album. (Bild: Battersea Powerstation by G. Lee CC-BY-SA 3.0)
London versus London
London on Thames. There’s only two of them! Two? Yes; the southernmost tip of Canada, surrounded by the Great Lakes, is home to London (Ontario) through which the Thames also flows. Not a coincidence, of course: the location and river were named after their English forebears in 1793 by John Graves Simcoe, the then Vice-Governor of Canada. That also explains why London (Ontario) is located in the county of Middlesex.”
Art and climate
So we leave our boat behind and walk for just 2.5 kilometres northwards. To our left is the huge and exclusive Harrods department store; so if anyone still wants a souvenir…If not, we’ll simply walk on for a few more metres and into Hyde Park and the neighbouring Kensington Gardens. The two parks are separated by the Serpentine, a lake that is sized 11 hectares and on whose banks the Serpentine Galleries are located. The old tea pavilion on the south bank has been used as an exhibition space since 1970. Such important artists as Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons have shown their works here in the past. The Serpentine Sackler Gallery, which is located directly opposite on the other side of the lake, and which may be reached by a bridge, was opened in 2013; an old gunpowder magazine that was extended by a futuristic, tent-like new building designed by the renowned architect Zaha Hadid. The sweeping white roof and the huge window front form a clear contrast in their transparency and dynamics to the angular classicism of the old powder magazine. A project for which Kampmann’s Katherm trench heaters were almost invented. They’ve been discreetly fitted into recesses behind the floor-to-ceiling windows and have been tailor-made to precisely accommodate the curve of the front. Air-conditioning can also be an art. (Bild: The Magazine by Serpentine Gallery)
This brings us to the end of our journey. We’re now in the centre of London. It’s easy to visit a whole range of other sights from here. We hope that the river trip to London has provided new insights into this exciting city of global renown. Take care!
Interested in visiting? www.visitlondon.com