Print

Day by Day Itinerary

Bookended by stays in Berlin, Germany’s capital and the second-largest urban area in Europe, and Prague, the capital of Czech Republic, our Essence of the Elbe River Cruise Tour is punctuated by memorable stays in Western Europe’s riverside gems. Spend three nights in Berlin, with time to explore this historic city on your own and on an included tour. Along the Elbe, you'll witness one of the largest treasure collections in Europe at the Royal Palace's Historic Green Vault in Dresden. You'll also visit the Wittenberg church where Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses ... explore charming Woerlitz Park, the largest English-style garden in continental Europe ... witness Dresden’s stunning renewal—still in progress since the end of World War II ... sail through the dramatic sandstone mountains to Swiss Saxony ... and round out your trip with two nights in Prague, featuring an included city tour. You can also enhance your Elbe River Cruise with our optional extensions to Hamburg, Germany; Warsaw & Krakow, Poland; and Munich, Germany.

  • hidden

    Fly from one of several U.S. gateway cities to Berlin, Germany.

  • hidden

    View the Brandenburg Gate while touring Berlin

    Depending on your departure city, you will arrive either this morning or afternoon. A Grand Circle representative will meet you at the airport and assist you to the hotel, where you'll enjoy an introduction to the lively surrounding neighborhood during a vicinity walk with your Program Director.

    Meet your fellow Grand Circle travelers—including those joining us after their pre-trip extensions to Hamburg, Germany—for dinner in a local restaurant this evening.

  • hidden

    See Checkpoint Charlie while exploring Berlin

    This morning, after an included breakfast at your hotel, it's time to set out on your first full day of discovery with an included city tour of Berlin.

    The second-largest urban area in Europe, Berlin is an enormous city, but most of its most iconic sites are relatively close together. Divided at the end of World War II, blockaded by the Soviets during the Cold War, riven by a cruel grey wall, and finally delivered by the sledgehammers of freedom fighters, Berlin is once again a united city. The city's lakes and forests provide bucolic retreats in an urban setting, while the city's divided history has led to a truly unique collection of architectural styles. If you find yourself in the old Soviet sector of the city, keep your eyes open for extant Ampelmannchen, the “little traffic light man” who adorned East German traffic lights. The Reichstag, site of the final defense of the Third Reich, was rebuilt after World War II and now features an enormous glass dome, emphasizing the transparency and openness of the new Germany. Like so much of Berlin, the future and past are inextricably mixed.

    After lunch on your own, use your new-found knowledge of Berlin to explore the city during an afternoon at leisure.

    Tonight, enjoy dinner on your own.

  • hidden

    After breakfast this morning, you'll be presented with an included city pass for public transportation around Berlin. With an entire day of independent exploration ahead of you, Germany's iconic capital is yours to discover. Perhaps you will visit historic sites such as Checkpoint Charlie, which was once the main gateway for Allies, non-Germans, and diplomats between East and West Berlin during the Cold War. Or you could stroll through Gendarmenmarkt, the city's most elegant square, which is graced by a pair of domed 18th-century German and French cathedrals.

    Lunch and dinner today will be on your own.

  • hidden

    After breakfast this morning, you'll transfer to Potsdam, where you'll enjoy a guided tour of Cecilienhof Palace—which is part of the Palaces and Parks of Potsdam and Berlin UNESCO World Heritage Site. Originally the last palace built by the Hohenzollern dynasty, and constructed between 1914 and 1917 for Crown Prince Wilhelm and his wife Cecilie von Mecklenburg-Schwerin, Cecilienhof is now a museum, as well as a hotel. It was here that Winston Churchill, Josif Stalin, and Harry Truman hammered out the details of the German surrender in World War II.

    After lunch, you'll transfer to Magdeburg, where you'll board your private ship to begin your river cruise.

    This evening, gather for a Captain's Welcome Drink and crew introduction, followed by a Captain's Welcome Dinner.

  • hidden

    While you sail this morning, enjoy an exclusive Discovery Series event—a German language lesson. The words and phrases you'll learn will help you to better connect with the local people you'll encounter.

    After lunch, you will disembark in Wittenberg and transfer overland to the charming town of Woerlitz. With a history dating back approximately 1,000 years, Woerlitz made its mark in the second half of the eighteenth century when it became home to Woerlitz Park, one of the first and largest English-style gardens in continental Europe. Also known as the Garden Kingdom of Dessau-Woerlitz, this UNESCO World Heritage Site has always been open to the public—and you’ll experience it today on an included tour.

    You'll return to the ship this evening for dinner and settle in as you sail to your next destination.

  • hidden

    Discover the twelfth century city of Wittenberg

    This morning, enjoy an included tour of the twelfth-century city of Wittenberg. Officially known as Lutherstadt Wittenberg, the cradle of the Protestant Reformation is best known as the town where Martin Luther lived, preached, and began his philosophical dispute with the Catholic Church. You'll see Wittenberg's oldest surviving structure—the twin-towered Stadtkirche (“Town Church”) and visit the most important landmarks in the history of Protestantism, including the Augustinian Monastery where Martin Luther first became a Catholic priest and later lived with his family following his excommunication.

    Your tour will also take you to the All Saints' Schlosskirche (“Castle Church”) where the theologian first posted his 95 Theses criticizing the Catholic Church's practice of selling “indulgences” (Pope-sanctioned absolution for any sin). As an academic who taught theology at the University of Wittenberg, Luther challenged local church authorities to a theological debate—but the Bishop never responded. By the time Luther's 95 Theses reached Rome, the document had been seen all over Europe. Due to his continuing theological criticism of the papacy, Luther was officially declared a heretic and effectively sentenced to death. He escaped arrest and returned to Wittenberg in secret, where he developed the tenets of Lutheranism. The Church never got its vengeance—30 years after writing 95 Theses, Luther died of natural causes. He had successfully started a new denomination of Christianity and inspired others around Europe to do the same.

    You'll have the remainder of the morning to follow your own agenda before returning to the ship for lunch.

    Early this afternoon, you'll join a local family in their home for a special Home-Hosted Kaffeeklatsch—featuring an enjoyable taste of German hospitality and culture over coffee and cake.

    Afterwards, you'll re-embark your river ship and enjoy dinner onboard.

  • hidden

    Explore the town center of Torgaue

    After a morning of sailing and lunch aboard your ship, you'll disembark in Torgau, where you'll discover this port on an included tour. You'll visit the town center—restored since the German reunification—and see the town hall built in Renaissance style. You'll also witness the monument along the Elbe that was built in honor of the meeting between U.S. and Soviet soldiers during the invasion on April 25, 1945—coined "Elbe Day," in honor of the monumental event. The meeting of soldiers signified an important action towards the end of World War II, with the allied powers avowing to complete the dissolution of the Third Reich.

    Enjoy some time on your own to further explore Torgau before returning to your ship.

  • hidden

    View the famous porcelain produced in Meissen

    Today, you'll step ashore at Meissen for a walking tour—encompassing its historic market square, Renaissance architecture, and Church of Our Lady (Frauenkirche)—of this ancient town straddling both banks of the river.

    While it's often called the “cradle of Saxony,” Meissen is internationally known for the high-end porcelain of the same name, which has been produced there for more than 300 years. During your tour, you'll pay a visit to the Meissen Porcelain Manufactory—Europe's first and oldest continuously running porcelain maker—to learn about its five-stage production process.

    Johann Friedrich Bottger, a purported alchemist who had been unable to create gold for Augustus II, may have saved his own life when he presented the porcelain recipe in 1709. Though it's unlikely that Bottger devised the recipe himself, it was regarded as “white gold” by the monarch, who opened the Meissen Porcelain Manufactory. Prior to this, all porcelain in Europe was imported from China. They began with simple tableware and quickly expanded into a range of exquisitely hand-painted products, ranging from figures to clocks.

    Spend the rest of the day exploring Meissen at your own pace, or join us for an optional tour of the Royal Vineyard at Proschwitz Castle, an 800-year-old vineyard and winery still in production today. Visit the picturesque vineyard, then enjoy a tasting in the castle's historic wine cellar.

  • hidden

    Today, immerse yourself in the remarkable city of Dresden. A flourishing artistic center until the rise of the Nazis, it was completely destroyed during World War II. Writer Kurt Vonnegut, himself a survivor of the controversial air raids that leveled the Baroque city, chronicled the events in Slaughterhouse-Five. Dresden has since risen from the ashes and been rebuilt from the ground up—reclaiming its place as one of Germany's intellectual and cultural hubs. You'll begin with an included tour past the city's historic sights, including the Church of Our Lady (Frauenkirche), Dresden Castle (Residenzschloss), the spectacular 18th-century Baroque Zwinger Palace, and the Semper Opera House—set in a large, public square along the banks of the Elbe.

    Discover the remarkable city of Dresden

    After lunch onboard, discover some of the world's most renowned treasures during an included visit to the Royal Palace's Historic Green Vault (Historisches Grunes Gewolbe), which still houses one of the largest collections of treasures in Europe—including the crown jewels and other royal trophies of Augustus II, the German monarch who turned Dresden into a cultural center. Afterwards, spend the afternoon at leisure and explore Dresden. Perhaps you'll delve further into some of the sites from the morning's tour, taking in the impressive 17th-century art collection at Zwinger Palace; or touring the Semper Opera House, which was first destroyed by a fire in 1869 and then again during Allied bombing in 1945, and has been meticulously restored for the second time.

  • hidden

    Discover the scenic view from atop the Bastei sandstone bridge

    This morning, you'll disembark in the spa town of Bad Schandau and transfer by motorcoach to the highlight of this region: the Bastei. Millions of years ago, these rocks were at the bottom of the sea and the evident water erosion still evokes the memory of an undersea wonderland. The Elbe Sandstone Mountains attract rock climbers from far and wide with their enticing 1,100 free-standing peaks. The Bastei sandstone bridge high above the green valley connects the series of rock promontories and overlooks the Elbe—an incredible vista from this perspective. The impossibly smooth cliffs and castle-like detailing of the bridge are straight out of a medieval fairy tale.

    You'll then return to your ship to set off to enjoy scenic sailing through one of the Elbe River's most beautiful regions—Swiss Saxony—accompanied by enlightening commentary from your Program Director. For panoramic views of the dramatic Elbe Sandstone Mountains, find a seat on the ship's Sun Deck.

    This evening, your final night onboard, join your fellow travelers in the ship's lounge for the Captain's Farewell Drink, followed by a Captain's Farewell Dinner.

  • hidden

    You'll dismbark this morning in Dresden and then drive to Litomerice, set at the confluence of the Elbe and Ohre rivers, and considered one of the oldest and most beautiful Czech towns. Here, you'll enjoy an informative stroll and an included lunch.

    This afternoon you'll transfer to Prague, and upon arriving at the hotel, you'll join your Program Director for a relaxing walk in the vicinity. This evening, enjoy dinner on your own.

  • hidden

    View the Charles Bridge while exploring Prague

    Prague's regal beauty spreads on both sides of the winding Vltava River, connected by 16 picturesque bridges. Like Rome and San Francisco, the city is built over a series of hills and its varied architecture spans many centuries. This morning, begin your exploration of Prague, “City of 100 Spires,” with a visit to the Charles Bridge, which has spanned the Vltava River since the 15th century.

    Then continue to Prague's historic city center, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Among the highlights of your guided walking tour is the Old Town Square, home to the city's famous, medieval Astronomical Clock—or Orloj—parts of which date back to the early 15th century. Every hour, crowds assemble below to watch Christ and the twelve apostles appear at two little windows above the clock face, followed by the skeleton of Death tolling the bell.

    Following lunch on your own, join this afternoon's optional Jewish Prague tour of the city's storied Jewish district, including visits to several local synagogues and the Old Jewish Cemetery.

    Or enjoy the remainder of the day relaxing or exploring independently. As you'll discover, Prague boasts many landmarks worth seeing. Perhaps you'll visit Stare Mesto, the Old Town, with its many wonderful Gothic and Baroque buildings. Or explore St. George's Basilica, with its tenth-century towers, or enjoy a stroll through the elegant Prague Castle Gardens—home to an impressive collection of marble monuments.

    On this final night of your trip, join your fellow travelers—and new friends—for a Farewell Dinner.

  • hidden

    • Meals included:

    After breakfast, you will be assisted to the airport for your flight home. Or, begin your post-trip extension to either Munich, Germany, or the Highlights of Poland: Warsaw & Krakow.

  • hidden

    Fly from one of several U.S. gateway cities to Prague.

  • hidden

    Depending on your departure city, you will arrive either this morning or afternoon. A Grand Circle representative will meet you at the Prague airport and assist you to the hotel, where you'll get to know the lively surrounding neighborhood during a vicinity walk with your Program Director.

    Once you've settled in, gather with your Program Director and fellow Grand Circle travelers, including those who took the pre-trip extension to Highlights of Poland: Warsaw & Krakow or Munich, Germany, for a Welcome Drink. Dinner will be on your own.

  • hidden

    View the Charles Bridge while exploring Prague

    Prague's regal beauty spreads on both sides of the winding Vltava River, connected by 16 picturesque bridges. Like Rome and San Francisco, the city is built over a series of hills and its varied architecture spans many centuries.

    This morning, begin your exploration of Prague, “City of 100 Spires,” with a visit to the Charles Bridge—perched regally over the Vltava River and offering stunning views of the city. You'll also explore Prague's historic city center, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Among the highlights of your guided walking tour is the Old Town Square, home to the city's famous, medieval Astronomical Clock—or Orloj—parts of which date back to the early 15th century. Every hour, crowds assemble below to watch Christ and the twelve Apostles appear at two little windows above the clock face, followed by the skeleton of Death tolling the bell.

    Following lunch on your own, join this afternoon's optional Jewish Prague tour of the city's storied Jewish district, including visits to several local synagogues and the Old Jewish Cemetery. Or enjoy the remainder of the day relaxing or exploring independently. As you'll discover, Prague boasts many landmarks worth seeing. Perhaps you'll visit Stare Mesto, the Old Town, with its many wonderful Gothic and Baroque buildings. Or explore St. George's Basilica, with its tenth-century towers, or enjoy a stroll through the elegant Prague Castle Gardens—home to an impressive collection of marble monuments. Tonight, enjoy a Welcome Dinner with your fellow travelers.

  • hidden

    After breakfast, you'll check out of your hotel and transfer to Litomerice, set at the confluence of the Labe and Ohre rivers, and considered one of the oldest and most beautiful Czech towns. Here, you'll enjoy an informative stroll and an included lunch.

    This afternoon, you'll head towards Dresden, where you'll board your private ship to begin your river cruise. This evening, gather in your ship's lounge for a Captain's Welcome Drink and crew introduction, followed by the Captain's Welcome Dinner in the dining room.

  • hidden

    Discover the remarkable city of Dresden

    Today, immerse yourself in the remarkable city of Dresden. A flourishing artistic center until the rise of the Nazis, it was completely destroyed during World War II. Writer Kurt Vonnegut, himself a survivor of the controversial air raids that leveled the Baroque city, chronicled the events in Slaughterhouse-Five. Dresden has since risen from the ashes and been rebuilt from the ground up—reclaiming its place as one of Germany's intellectual and cultural hubs. You'll begin with an included walking tour past the city's historic sights, including the Church of Our Lady (Frauenkirche), Dresden Castle (Residenzschloss), the spectacular 18th-century Baroque Zwinger Palace, and the Semper Opera House—set in a large, public square along the banks of the Elbe.

    After lunch onboard, discover some of the world's most renowned treasures during an included visit to the Royal Palace's Historic Green Vault (Historisches Grunes Gewolbe), which still houses one of the largest collections of treasures in Europe—including the crown jewels and other royal trophies of Augustus II, the German monarch who turned Dresden into a cultural center. Afterwards, spend the afternoon at leisure and explore Dresden. Perhaps you'll delve further into some of the sites from the morning's tour, taking in the impressive 17th-century art collection at Zwinger Palace; or touring the Semper Opera House, which was first destroyed by a fire in 1869 and then again during Allied bombing in 1945, and has been meticulously restored for the second time.

  • hidden

    Discover the scenic view from atop the Bastei sandstone bridge

    This morning, relax and settle in as we sail through one of the Elbe River's most beautiful regions—Swiss Saxony—accompanied by commentary by your Program Director. For panoramic views of the region's dramatic peaks and valleys, find a seat on the ship's Sun Deck.

    After lunch aboard your river ship, you'll travel overland by motorcoach through the dramatic Elbe Sandstone Mountains to the highlight of this region: the Bastei. Millions of years ago, these rocks were at the bottom of the sea and the evident water erosion still evokes the memory of an undersea wonderland. The Elbe Sandstone Mountains attract rock climbers from far and wide with their enticing 1,100 free-standing peaks. The Bastei sandstone bridge high above the green valley connects the series of rock promontories and overlooks the Elbe—an incredible vista from this perspective. The impossibly smooth cliffs and castle-like detailing of the bridge are straight out of a medieval fairy tale.

    Dinner will be aboard ship this evening.

  • hidden

    View the famous porcelain produced in Meissen

    The ancient town of Meissen straddles both banks of the river, and today you'll explore its highlights and discover one of its most well-known products when you visit the Meissen Porcelain Manufactory—Europe's first and oldest continuously running porcelain maker—to learn about its five-stage production process. While it's often called the “cradle of Saxony,” Meissen is internationally known for the high-end porcelain of the same name, which has been produced there for more than 300 years.

    Johann Friedrich Bottger, a purported alchemist who had been unable to create gold for Augustus II, may have saved his own life when he presented the porcelain recipe in 1709. Though it's unlikely that Bottger devised the recipe himself, it was regarded as “white gold” by the monarch, who opened the Meissen Porcelain Manufactory. Prior to this, all porcelain in Europe was imported from China. They began with simple tableware and quickly expanded into a range of exquisitely hand-painted products, ranging from figures to clocks.

    Later this afternoon you'll enjoy a walking tour of Meissen encompassing its historic market square, Renaissance architecture, and Church of Our Lady (Frauenkirche). Then continue your discoveries on your own in Meissen, or join us for an optional tour of the Royal Vineyard at Castle Proschwitz, an 800 year old vineyard and winery still in production today. Visit the picturesque vineyard, then enjoy a tasting in the castle's historic wine cellar.

  • hidden

    Explore the town center of Torgaue

    This morning, enjoy scenic views as you cruise to Torgau.

    After lunch, experience the town firsthand during an included tour. You'll visit the town center—restored since the German reunification—and see the town hall built in Renaissance style. You'll also witness the monument along the Elbe that was built in honor of the meeting between U.S. and Soviet soldiers during the German invasion on April 25, 1945—coined "Elbe Day," in honor of the monumental event. The meeting of soldiers signified an important action towards the end of World War II, with the allied powers avowing to complete the dissolution of the Third Reich.

    Enjoy some free time to explore before boarding the ship this evening.

  • hidden

    Discover the twelfth century city of Wittenberg

    This morning, enjoy an included tour of the twelfth-century city of Wittenberg. Officially known as Lutherstadt Wittenberg, the cradle of the Protestant Reformation is best known as the town where Martin Luther lived, preached, and began his philosophical dispute with the Catholic Church. You'll see Wittenberg's oldest surviving structure—the twin-towered Stadtkirche (town church) and visit the most important landmarks in the history of Protestantism, including the Augustinian Monastery where Martin Luther first became a Catholic priest and later lived with his family following his excommunication.

    Your tour will also take you to the All Saints' Schlosskirche (castle church) where the theologian first posted his 95 Theses criticizing the Catholic Church's practice of selling “indulgences” (Pope-sanctioned absolution for any sin). As an academic who taught theology at the University of Wittenberg, Luther challenged local church authorities to a theological debate—but the Bishop never responded. By the time Luther's 95 Theses reached Rome, the document had been seen all over Europe. Due to his continuing theological criticism of the papacy, Luther was officially declared a heretic and effectively sentenced to death. He escaped arrest and returned to Wittenberg in secret, where he developed the tenets of Lutheranism. The Church never got its vengeance—30 years after writing 95 Theses, Luther died of natural causes. He had successfully started a new denomination of Christianity and inspired others around Europe to do the same.

    You'll have the remainder of the morning to follow your own agenda before returning to the ship for lunch. Early this afternoon, you'll join a local family in their home for a special Home-Hosted Kaffeeklatsch—featuring an enjoyable taste of German hospitality and culture over coffee and cake.

  • hidden

    After breakfast, you will disembark in Wittenberg and transfer overland to the charming town of Woerlitz. With a history dating back approximately 1,000 years, Woerlitz made its mark in the second half of the eighteenth century when it became home to Woerlitz Park, one of the first and largest English-style gardens in continental Europe. Also known as the Garden Kingdom of Dessau-Woerlitz, this UNESCO World Heritage Site has always been open to the public—and you’ll experience it today on an included tour.

    In the evening, your final night onboard, join your fellow travelers for a Captain's Farewell Drink and Dinner.

  • hidden

    View Cecilienhof Palace on a guided tour

    After breakfast this morning, you'll transfer to Potsdam, where you'll enjoy a guided tour of Cecilienhof Palace—which is part of the Palaces and Parks of Potsdam and Berlin UNESCO World Heritage Site. Originally the last palace built by the Hohenzollern dynasty, and constructed between 1914 and 1917 for Crown Prince Wilhelm and his wife Cecilie von Mecklenburg-Schwerin, Cecilienhof is now a museum as well as a hotel. It was here that Winston Churchill, Josif Stalin, and Harry Truman hammered out the details of the German surrender in World War II.

    After lunch, you'll transfer to Berlin, where you'll check into your hotel, and enjoy an orientation walk with your Program Director to get better acquainted with the area. This afternoon and evening are at your leisure.

  • hidden

    See Checkpoint Charlie while exploring Berlin

    This morning, after an included breakfast at your hotel, it's time to set out on a full day of discovery with an included city tour of Berlin.

    The second-largest urban area in Europe, Berlin is an enormous city, but most of its most iconic sites are relatively close together. Divided at the end of World War II, blockaded by the Soviets during the Cold War, riven by a cruel grey wall, and finally delivered by the sledgehammers of freedom fighters, Berlin is once again a united city. The city's lakes and forests provide bucolic retreats in an urban setting, while the city's divided history has led to a truly unique collection of architectural styles. If you find yourself in the old Soviet sector of the city, keep your eyes open for extant Ampelmannchen, the “little traffic light man” who adorned East German traffic lights. The Reichstag, site of the final defense of the Third Reich, was rebuilt after World War II and now features an enormous glass sphere, emphasizing the transparency and openness of the new Germany. Like so much of Berlin, the future and past are inextricably mixed.

    After lunch on your own, use your new-found knowledge of Berlin to explore the city during an afternoon at leisure.

    Tonight, dinner will be on your own.

  • hidden

    After breakfast this morning, you'll be presented with an included city pass for public transportation around Berlin. With an entire day of independent exploration ahead of you, Germany's iconic capital is yours to discover. Perhaps you will visit historic sites such as Checkpoint Charlie, which was once the main gateway for Allies, non-Germans, and diplomats between East and West Berlin during the Cold War. Or you could stroll through Gendarmenmarkt, the city's most elegant square, which is graced by a pair of domed 18th-century German and French cathedrals.

    This evening, enjoy a Farewell Dinner and Drink with your fellow travelers.

  • hidden

    • Meals included:

    After breakfast, transfer to the airport for your flight home. Or begin your post-trip extension in Hamburg, Germany.

Extensions

Traveler Reviews

There's no better way to learn what a trip is like than from the firsthand experiences of your fellow travelers, and our Traveler Reviews are the real deal—unbiased and unedited—giving you an honest appraisal of the experiences that await you on this trip.

Have you been on this trip? Share Your Thoughts, Sign In

Please note: If you have taken this trip, please log into your My Account & return to this page. You will be prompted to post your review. Reviews are limited to 10,000 characters. Due to our moderation process, please allow up to 72 hours for your review to appear.

Striving for Excellence

Read about our goals »
Ship Excellence
93%
Program Director Excellence
88%
Overall Trip Excellence
84%
loading reviews

Questions and Answers

Want to know more about one of our vacations? Now, when you post a question, travelers who have been on that trip can provide you with an honest, unbiased answer based on their experience—providing you with a true insider’s perspective.

Sign in to ask a question

Questions and Answers

Want to know more about one of our vacations? Now, when you post a question, travelers who have been on that trip can provide you with an honest, unbiased answer based on their experience—providing you with a true insider’s perspective.

Sign in to ask a question

Weather & Regional

Before you travel, we encourage you to learn about the region of the world you'll discover on this trip. From weather and currency information to details on population, geography, and local history, you'll find a comprehensive introduction to your destinations below.

Visit our “What to Know” page to find information about the level of activity to expect, vaccination information resources, and visa requirements specific to this vacation.

Currency Cheat Sheet: Submit

What to Know

For more detailed information about this trip, download our Travel Handbook below. This document covers a wide range of information on specific areas of your trip, from passport, visa, and medical requirements; to the currencies of the countries you’ll visit and the types of electrical outlets you’ll encounter. This handbook is written expressly for this itinerary. For your convenience, we've highlighted our travelers' most common areas of interest on this page.

Download the Travel Handbook

What to Expect

Travel considerations for you and your small group of no more than 45, on Essence of the Elbe: Berlin to Prague.

Pacing

  • 13 days, with 7 nights aboard a private Grand Circle river ship, and 3 hotel stays
  • Return flights to U.S. often require departing from hotel in early morning hours

Physical requirements

  • Not accessible for travelers using wheelchairs or scooters
  • Travelers using walkers, crutches, or other mobility aids must travel with a companion who can assist them throughout the trip
  • You must be able to walk 1-3 miles unassisted and participate in 2-3 hours of physical activities each day, including stairs

Climate

  • Daytime temperatures range from 40-77°F during cruising season
  • June-August are the warmest months
  • March and November weather can be unpredictable and change quickly within a short period of time

Terrain

  • Travel over diverse terrain and uneven walking surfaces, including steep and unpaved paths, hills, riverbanks, 25-50 stairs without handrails, and cobblestones, which can be slippery in wet or colder conditions

Transportation

  • Travel by 45-passenger coach and 90-passenger river ship

River Cruising

  • Throughout the River Cruise season, weather conditions and tides affect European river depths; water levels may require adjustments to your itinerary

Cuisine

  • Meals will be a mix of local specialties and familiar American standards
  • Meals onboard feature a variety of entrée options, including vegetarian

Travel Documents

Passport

Your passport should meet these requirements for this itinerary

  • It should be valid for at least 6 months after your scheduled return to the U.S.
  • It should have the recommended number of blank pages (refer to the handbook for details).
  • The blank pages must be labeled “Visas” at the top. Pages labeled “Amendments and Endorsements” are not acceptable.

Visas

U.S. citizens do not need a visa for this trip.

If you are not a U.S. citizen, do not travel with a U.S. passport, or will be traveling independently before/after this trip, then your entry requirements may be different. Please check with the appropriate embassy or a visa servicing company. To contact our recommended visa servicing company, PVS International, call toll-free at 1-800-556-9990.

Vaccinations Information

For a detailed and up-to-date list of vaccinations that are recommended for this trip, please visit the CDC’s “Traveler’s Health” website. You can also refer to the handbook for details.

Before Your Trip

Before you leave on your vacation, there are at least four health-related things you should do. Please check the handbook for specifics, but for now, here’s the short list:

Step 1: Check with the CDC for their recommendations for the countries you’ll be visiting.
Step 2: Have a medical checkup with your doctor.
Step 3: Pick up any necessary medications, both prescription and over-the-counter.
Step 4: Have a dental and/or eye checkup. (Recommended, but less important than steps 1-3.)

What to Bring

In an effort to help you bring less, we have included checklists within the handbook, which have been compiled from suggestions by Program Directors and former travelers. The lists are only jumping-off points—they offer recommendations based on experience, but not requirements. You might also want to refer to the climate charts in the handbook or online weather forecasts before you pack. Refer to the handbook for details.

Insider Tips

Accommodations

Main Trip

  • M/S River Allegro

    The M/S River Allegro was ranked #3 in Condé Nast Traveler’s “Top 40 River Cruise Ships in the World” 2014 Readers’ Poll.

    While aboard, you’ll enjoy leisure time in the bar and lounge, library, and Sun Deck. Complimentary wireless Internet access is available in select common areas. Wireless Internet access is not available in cabins and connectivity is limited in certain locations on River Cruise itineraries. Your cabin features a flat-screen TV, radio, direct-dial telephone, individual heating and air-conditioning controls, twin beds that convert to sofas, and private bath with shower and hair dryer.

SEE THE ENTIRE GRAND CIRCLE FLEET

Main Trip

  • Maritim Hotel Berlin

    Berlin, Germany | Rating: Superior First Class

    Built in 2005, the Superior First-Class Hotel Maritim Berlin is located just steps from the famed Tiergarten in the heart of the city. Hotel amenities include two restaurants and a bar, as well as a pool, sauna, spa, fitness center, and dry cleaning and laundry service. Your air-conditioned room features satellite T.V., wireless Internet, a minibar, safe, telephone, and private bath with hair dryer.

  • Park Inn Prague

    Prague, Czech Republic | Rating: Superior First Class

    Nestled between medieval buildings, the Superior First-Class Park Inn Prague is located just a short walk from the Vltava River and local, historic sites. The updated Art Deco hotel is also convenient to public transportation and features an on-site bar, restaurant, and gym. Your air-conditioned room includes a flat-screen TV with satellite cable, minibar, Internet access, safe, and private bath with hair dryer.

Extensions

  • Radisson Blu Hamburg

    Hamburg, Germany | Rating: Moderate Deluxe

    Located in Hamburg City Center, Hamburg's tallest hotel, the Moderate Deluxe Radisson Blu is also one of its greenest: certified eco-friendly by an international panel. The Radisson Blu is centrally located next to botanical gardens, the convention center, and public transportation. Your air-conditioned room includes a flat-screen TV, complimentary Internet access, safe, and private bath with hair dryer.

  • Sheraton Munich Arabellapark Hotel

    Munich, Germany | Rating: First Class

    Just steps from beer gardens and walking trails, and ten minutes by subway to the city center, this hotel is the perfect location for discovering Munich. Spend your nights in one of 446 air-conditioned rooms, each featuring modern amenities and a private balcony. And after exploring Munich, relax in the hotel’s indoor pool and spa, or visit one of several on-site restaurants.

  • Park Inn Krakow

    Krakow, Poland | Rating: Superior First Class

    You’ll find Wawel Castle and the Wisla River within a ten-minute walk of this Superior First Class hotel, which boasts clean and colorful modern design throughout. Whether you want to explore the city or relax, Park Inn Krakow is convenient to public transportation and offers a restaurant, sauna, and health fitness center on-site. Your air-conditioned room features cable TV, coffee- and tea-making facilities, minibar, high-speed Internet, and a private bath with shower and hairdryer.

  • The Westin Warsaw

    Warsaw, Poland | Rating: Deluxe

    Located in the heart of the city, the Deluxe Westin Warsaw is within walking distance of Warsaw's Old Town, Market Square, and many verdant parks. Hotel amenities include a fitness center, spa, and restaurant, featuring international cuisine. Each air-conditioned room includes satellite TV, telephone, safe, and private bath.

Flight Information

Your Flight Options

Whether you choose to take just a base trip or add an optional pre- and post-trip extension, you have many options when it comes to personalizing your air—and creating the Grand Circle vacation that’s right for you:

Purchase Flights with Grand Circle

  • Work with our expert Air Travel Consultants to select the airline and routing you prefer
  • Upgrade to business or premium economy class
  • Customize your trip by staying overnight in a connecting city, arriving at your destination a few days early, or spending additional time in a nearby city on your own
  • Combine your choice of Grand Circle vacations to maximize your value

Make Your Own Arrangements

  • Make your own international flight arrangements directly with the airline
  • Purchase optional airport transfers to and from your hotel
  • Extend your Land Tour-only Travel Protection Plan coverage and protect the air arrangements you make on your own—including your frequent flyer miles

OR, leave your air routing up to us and your airfare (as well as airport transfers) will be included in your final trip cost.

Estimated Travel Times

Traveling to Berlin, and from Prague (or to Prague, and from Berlin), will involve long flights and some cities will require multiple connections. These rigors should be a consideration in planning your trip.

The chart below provides estimated travel times from popular departure cities. Connection times are included in these estimates.

Discover more of Germany and the Czech Republic with our FREE itinerary enhancements

Based on feedback from travelers who have sailed with Grand Circle Cruise Line on Essence of the Elbe—as well as recommendations from our regional offices and Boston headquarters—we have enhanced our itinerary to provide even more opportunities to immerse yourself in the historically rich destinations along the Elbe River.

“It was great that we had an extra day in Berlin. I was a student living in Berlin in 1973 when it was surrounded by the Iron Curtain, so it was interesting for me to return many years later.”
- Marjorie Russel, 14-time traveler from Merrick, NY

Three nights in Berlin

We’ve added an additional FREE day to your itinerary with an extended stay in Berlin, for a total of three nights. Take this extra time in Europe’s third-most visited city to experience its eclectic mix of historical treasures and modern highlights. You may choose to relish sweeping views of Germany’s capital from its glass-domed Parliament building—the Reichstag. Or perhaps you’ll uncover the city’s divided past with a visit to the preserved section of the Berlin Wall or Checkpoint Charlie.

Explore with ease

Berlin is the seventh-largest city in the European Union, but its cultural centers are surprisingly compact. You’ll be able to reach them quickly and easily with an included pass for Berlin’s extensive public transit system. And when we arrive in Dresden, you’ll see more of the city’s iconic sights—like the elaborate Church of Our Lady and magnificent Dresden Castle—on our new, included motorcoach tour, which we’ve added to our original walking tour.

Dine like a local

With more included meals off-ship than ever before, you’ll enjoy authentic dining experiences throughout your journey. Savor regional specialties alongside locals at restaurants in Berlin, Potsdam, Litomerice, and Prague.

Discover picturesque Woerlitz, Germany

During a stop in this charming town, you will visit Woerlitz Park—one of the first and largest English-style gardens in continental Europe, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Heralding as an outstanding example of a private estate from the Age of Enlightenment, the park includes landscaped gardens, a lake, and a private residence built for Duke Leopold III in the late 1700s. Here, you’ll enjoy a guided tour of both the park and the residence.

Enjoy better value

Don’t forget, in addition to the FREE inclusions outlined above, your total 2016 trip price also includes all port charges—a value of $125 per person—gratuities for local guides and motorcoach drivers on your main trip, and all wine, beer, and soft drinks during lunch and dinner onboard.

Find Your Departure Now

Photos From Our Travelers

On location in Europe

Here’s how Grand Circle travelers have captured moments of discovery, beauty, friendship, and fun on previous departures of our Essence of the Elbe: Hamburg to Prague vacation. We hope these will evoke special travel memories and inspire you to submit your own favorite Grand Circle Travel trip photos.

  View the remnants of Germany's Berlin Wall  

Among Berlin’s main attractions are remnants of the Berlin Wall, now a two-level, outdoor museum. Jim Wert, 3-time traveler from Hendersonville, North Carolina, stepped back for a wide-angle sweep of the scene, including the old East Berlin buildings behind the Wall.

Thumbnail 1 Thumbnail 2 Thumbnail 3 Thumbnail 4 Thumbnail 5

How to submit your photos:

Please submit individual photos in jpeg format to: GCTtravelerphotos@gct.com.

Please be sure to include the name of your Grand Circle vacation, along with the travel dates. Tell us where you took the photo and, if you’d like, tell us why. And don’t forget to include your name and contact information.

Please note: By submitting a photo, you (i) represent and warrant that the photo is your original work created solely by yourself and does not infringe the intellectual property rights of any party; (ii) grant to Grand Circle LLC and its affiliates a worldwide, royalty-free, perpetual, transferable, irrevocable, non-exclusive and fully sublicensable right and license to use, in any and all related media whether now known or hereafter devised, in perpetuity, anywhere in the world, with the right to make any and all commercial or other uses thereof, including without limitation, reproducing, editing, modifying, adapting, publishing, displaying publicly, creating derivative works from, incorporating into other works or modifying the photo and (iii) hereby release and discharge Grand Circle LLC and its affiliates, officers and employees from and against any and all claims, liabilities, costs, damages and expenses of any kind arising out of or relating to the use by Grand Circle LLC of any photo submitted.

The Lowest Price & the Best Value

You can explore {{data.Title}} from only $1793 per person—that’s only $128 per person, per day!

GOOD BUY PLAN

The earlier you reserve and pay in full by check or electronic funds transfer, the more you can save with our exclusive Good Buy Plan.

FREQUENT TRAVELER CREDITS

When you return from a trip, you receive a credit worth 5% of that total trip cost that you can apply to your next trip. On average, that’s $253 in savings.

VACATION AMBASSADOR REFERRAL PROGRAM

Earn $100 for your first referral—plus increasing CASH or credit rewards for each additional traveler you refer.

Refer more and earn more
Refer more travelers and see your rewards add up—earn up to $5900 or a FREE TRIP.

BEST PRICE GUARANTEE

We’re confident that our bottom line can’t be beat. If you think you’ve found a lower price on a comparable vacation, tell us: If you have, we’ll match it.

INNER CIRCLE BENEFITS

Our most loyal travelers—members of our Inner Circle—can now save even more:

  • Multiple Trip Credits
    Save up to $350 on your second trip reserved in a calendar year—and on any additional trips you take within the year.
  • 6% Frequent Traveler Credits
    You’ll begin to earn extra credit after you return from your fifth trip—and on every subsequent vacation.

See How Much You'll Save

Watch these savings add up using the tool below. Simply click the blue box on the scale below to drag to each month to see your potential savings. Remember, the earlier you pay in full prior to your final payment due date, the more you save:

Our Travel Counselors will help you find your savings.
Call toll-free at 1-800-221-2610. Or, start building the trip that’s right for you

Dates & Prices

*All figures and savings shown are examples only. Vacation Ambassador and Frequent Traveler savings shown are based on the average credits earned by Grand Circle Travelers. Good Buy Plan savings are calculated after Frequent Traveler Credits, Vacation Ambassador rewards, and multiple trip credits are deducted from your initial tour price; some benefits cannot be combined. For your specific savings, contact a Traveler Counselor. Every effort has been made to produce this information accurately. We reserve the right to correct errors.

History, Culture & More

Learn more about the history, art, culture, and more you’ll discover on this trip by reading the features below. These articles were collected from past newsletters, Harriet’s Corner, and special features created for Grand Circle by our team of writers.

Dresden Resurrected

Dresden has been engaged in a passionate campaign of reconstruction. Take a look at its emotional history.

Read More »

East Meets West

Find out how a handshake on the banks of the Elbe in Torgau turned the tide of World War II.

Read More »

String of Pearls

This quick sampling of cities and towns along the Elbe offers a window into almost 800 years of history.

Read More »

History, Culture & More

Dresden Resurrected

The emotional history of Germany’s “Baroque Pearl”

by Christian Gossmann, Program Director, Germany

For centuries, the city of Dresden has been an important European cultural capital, a Baroque metropolis on the cutting edge of European art, music, politics, science, and education. Its distinctive skyline, dominated by the massive, steepled dome of the Lutheran Frauenkirche, or “Church of Our Lady,” has inspired visitors with a sense of awe for generations.

However, Dresden’s glory was tragically almost extinguished in World War II. On the night of February 13, 1945, in the final months of the battle for Europe, British and American forces launched one of the most controversial raids in the history of the war. Under cover of darkness, Allied bombers filled the sky and dropped their incendiary payload onto the city below, unleashing a fiery maelstrom that swept through the streets of Dresden, causing almost unknowable death and destruction. 25,000 people were killed and the historic city center was almost completely annihilated.

But Dresden is an old, proud city, and its resilient people refused to allow 800 years of history to be erased overnight. Since the end of the war, Dresden has been engaged in a passionate campaign of reconstruction, determined to restore itself to its former splendor. Much of the city center has been rebuilt in the original style, including homes and businesses alongside historic monuments like the Semper Opera House and Zwinger Palace.

Perhaps the most inspiring effort, however, was the reconstruction of the Frauenkirche. In 1990, plans were put in motion to rebuild the famous church—architects pored over the original 18th-century structural plans and used modern technology to replicate the building’s original design as closely as possible. Builders and engineers sifted through the rubble and meticulously catalogued it to determine its place in the original design—in fact, as much as 45 percent of the material used was salvaged from the original stone. In 2005, the project was completed, and representatives from Dresden’s religious, political, and scientific communities came together to celebrate the new Frauenkirche’s consecration with the proclamation “Peace be with you!”

That’s not the only evidence of how far Dresden has come since World War II. For decades, there were scorched facades and vacant lots serving as painful reminders of the past, but the city’s unflagging rehabilitation efforts have erased these one by one. Last year, the remaining damaged lots were filled, and even many Dresden natives find it almost impossible to tell the old from the new. After six decades, the Baroque Pearl gleams once more.

History, Culture & More

East Meets West

How a handshake on the banks of the Elbe turned the tide of war

by Lyette Mercier from Currents

Torgau—an unassuming town of 20,000 on the Elbe, a river in eastern Germany—seems an unlikely place for a historical meeting. But, in the final days of World War II, it was the site of a spontaneous meet-up between American and Russian troops—one that would later become known as the Meeting at the Elbe. The encounter signaled that Hitler’s forces had been defeated from both the east and the west, but today it is best remembered and celebrated as perhaps one of the last occasions of fellowship between Russia and the United States before the onset of the Cold War.

Built along a bend in the Elbe, Torgau has been continually occupied since at least the tenth century, when the Holy Roman Empire built a stone castle there. During that time, the town was located along an important trade route: between the cities of Frankfurt-on-the-Oder to the northeast and Leipzig to the southwest. Before its role in World War II, Torgau was best known as a strong supporter of Martin Luther’s Reformation. A Torgau resident, Katharina von Bora, was Luther’s wife and is buried in St. Mary’s Church in the town’s center.

But it was Torgau’s housing of prisoners of war that led to its place in World War II history. In May of 1941, a small printing factory was transitioned into Stalag IV-D, which assigned foreign prisoners to work camps. At its largest, the prison held 800 captives. Hearing there was a possibility that Torgau held American prisoners, U.S. troops arrived there on April 25, 1945—the same day the Russian army had set up across the Elbe to shell the town, driving out its few remaining defenders and residents.

Disobeying protocol

Lt. William Robertson (a member of the 273rd regiment of the 69th Infantry Division) and three fellow soldiers were tasked with patrolling the Mulde—a tributary of the Elbe—in search of refugees coming from the east, then returning to their post in Trebsen. They were not supposed to move farther than five miles east of the Mulde, but Robertson and his men, in a Jeep equipped with just one mounted machine gun, continued on into deserted German territory, eventually straying more than 25 miles from the Mulde. The war was in its waning days and the risk of being attacked was relatively low, so when Robertson and his crew heard there may be American soldiers imprisoned in Torgau, they further disregarded orders and headed toward the German town.

Of course, they may have had ulterior motives as well, since the talk of the advancing troops had been centered around when, where, and most importantly who would be the first to encounter the Red Army advancing through Germany from the east. Through four long years of war, the Allied armies had never encountered each other and the Americans were surely enamored with the idea of being the first to meet the storied and exotic Russians.

There was protocol in place for the expected meeting of the Russians and Americans, put in place months earlier by Roosevelt and Stalin at the Yalta Conference, with the purpose of avoiding friendly fire between the armies. But four low-ranking grunts in a Jeep weren’t exactly prepared. The Americans were to have a clear sign of identity, such as a national f lag, and fire a colored shell (green for the U.S., red for the Russians). Robertson’s men had neither, nor did they have a radio to check in with their superiors.

Waving the flag

After liberating about 40 prisoners from Stalag IV-D, Robertson and his men heard gunfire coming from the banks of the Elbe. Robertson and his men commandeered a bed sheet from a local, figuring a makeshift white flag was better than none at all. A civilian told them the Russians were the ones across the river, but the party was fired upon nonetheless. It was unclear whether they were being ambushed by leftover Germans or Russians believing the four American soldiers were German.

Robertson and the three other soldiers broke into a local pharmacy and attempted to dye their “flag” with blue and red dye. Then they scaled the tallest building they could find and started waving their stars-and-stripes toward the opposite bank. The Russians, who had arrived just that morning and had shelled the village until the German army fled, were understandably skeptical (after all, their makeshift signal more closely resembled a dirty bed sheet than it did the American flag). Nonetheless, they fired up the agreed-upon red shell, and, when there was no green-shell response, they shelled the building where the flag-waver had stood. Robertson, luckily, had left.

An unforgettable encounter

The Americans persisted. The Germans had destroyed each bridge across the Elbe as they retreated, but Torgau’s collapsed bridge was still passable with some effort and care. Russian Lt. Alexander Sylvashko, following orders to remain on his side of the Elbe until the Americans arrived, saw four men in strange uniforms slowly making their way across the bridge. Robertson found a liberated American prisoner who spoke Russian and instructed him to shout that if they were Americans, don’t shoot.

Hearing that, Sylvashko and a small group of his soldiers crawled out onto the rickety remains of the bridge and met the Americans in the middle, reaching across the gap to shake hands, a moment later recreated by a different group of soldiers in a famous staged photo of what later became known as the Meeting at the Elbe. Taken by International News war photographer Allan Jackson, this photo became an iconic image around the world when it was attached to the joint American, British, and Soviet press release about the historic event (along with another photo of Robertson and Sylvashko embracing).

But before official word went out, the Soviet soldiers joined Robertson and the freed American GIs on the east bank of the Elbe for an impromptu party. Neither group spoke the other’s language, but that didn’t stop them from understanding the universal language of happiness. There were no Germans in front of them or behind them. The war was nearly over.

The Yanks meet the Reds

Robertson and his patrol eventually returned to Trebsen, accompanied by Sylvashko, who decades later told Germany’s Atlantic Times that the ride back was so long he thought maybe the Americans were taking him prisoner. Robertson’s commanders, unhappy with his decision to break orders, promptly threw him in detention, from which he was freed the next day when General Courtney Hodges, commander of the First U.S. Army, sent word he was pleased with the success of the meeting.

After a sleepless night, Robertson, Sylvashko, the assembled troops from both armies, and press members stationed in Trebsen drove back to Torgau on the morning of April 26, 1945 for the formal meeting between the armies. Since the meeting was anticipated, a swarm of reporters and cameramen had arrived to cover the event. One memorable report of the encounter appeared in the April 28, 1945 edition of Stars & Stripes newspaper, which declared “Yanks Meet Reds.” Describing the Russians, American war correspondent Andy Rooney said, “... along the Elbe in Torgau, the Russian soldiers are the most carefree bunch of screwballs that ever came together in an army. They would best be described as exactly like Americans, only twice as much.”

Rooney went on to recount how the Russian soldiers broke into Torgau’s abandoned accordion and harmonica factory and, along with a singer freed from the town’s prison camp, held an impromptu concert in the town square. Indeed, video footage of the day shows, aside from soldiers shaking hands and embracing, a Russian soldier playing an accordion and another dancing in traditional Russian style.

On April 27, 1945, the international statement pre-written in anticipation of the meeting was released simultaneously in Washington, London, and Moscow. In it, the Allied powers reiterated their commitment to destroying the remnants of the Third Reich. President Truman was quoted as saying, “This is not the hour of final victory in Europe, but the hour draws near, the hour for which all the American people, all the British people, and all the Soviet people have toiled and prayed so long.” Three days later, Adolf Hitler committed suicide. Twelve days after Robertson and Sylvashko shook hands across the Elbe, Germany signed an unconditional surrender.

The shadow of the Cold War

After the war ended, Robertson returned to the U.S. as a war hero. Sylvashko, who had disobeyed orders to stay on his side of the Elbe, didn’t fare as well. The NKVD, which preceded the KGB, detained and interrogated Sylvashko before releasing him from the service.

The end of the war in Europe also marked the end of American-Russian cooperation, and the joy and fellowship between the armies’ soldiers was buried underneath the tension of the Cold War. Elbe Day became a footnote in history as Germany was divided into East and West (with Torgau becoming part of communist-controlled East Germany). The Russian army did, however, erect a stone monument in the spot of the meeting, topped with carved granite flags of the Soviet Union and the U.S., making it possibly the only place in the old Eastern Bloc to feature the American flag during the Cold War.

In 1985, a month prior to the 40th anniversary of the meeting, a Soviet sentry shot an American liaison in East Germany and let him bleed to death rather than allowing him medical attention. As a result, Americans boycotted the celebration of Elbe Day—a stark contrast to the laughter and optimism of 1945.

Nonetheless, the boycott didn’t keep Bill Robertson from attending. Robertson, who at that time was a neurosurgeon in Los Angeles, reunited with Sylvashko, then the principal of a school near Minsk, Ukraine. No doubt hampered by the political climate when it came to speaking their minds on the day, Sylvashko still managed to note “with approval” to the Christian Science Monitor that, “I am in a peaceful profession, and Robertson is also in a peaceful profession.”

Détente and rejuvenation

Just three years later, relations between the two world powers began to thaw. One of the first joint U.S. Soviet publishing efforts came in 1988 with an oral history of the Meeting at the Elbe. Published in both Russian and English, the book was called Yanks Meet Reds, echoing the old Stars & Stripes headline. The book’s American editor, Russian scholar Mark C. Scott, also organized a trip to Disneyland for Soviet and American veterans present at the 1945 meeting.

And, of course, in the decade between the 40th and 50th anniversaries of Elbe Day, relations between the two countries changed dramatically. The Berlin Wall fell in November of 1989, East Germany and West Germany reunified in 1990, and the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991.

During a weekend of activities celebrating the 60th anniversary in 2005, visitors saw a reenactment of the meeting put on by citizens of Torgau dressed as American and Russian soldiers, using vintage vehicles to trace Robertson’s original route to the meeting spot. The town continues to celebrate Elbe Day during the weekend closest to April 25 each year, with events including photo exhibitions, lectures and discussions, concerts, fireworks, and historical reenactments.

And so, it seems, Torgau has made the event into the celebration the Cold War prevented it from becoming for half a century. It’s good to see that the iconic meeting between East and West along the banks of the mighty Elbe is finally receiving the recognition it deserves.

History, Culture & More

String of Pearls

800 years of history along the Elbe

by David Valdes Greenwood, for Grand Circle

Running for nearly 700 miles from the mountains of the Czech Republic through northern Germany, the Elbe is a river with many faces. Though fairly shallow and never very wide, its personality can change with each twist and turn, from a gentle stream flowing between marshlands dotted with egrets to a meandering waterway between working farms and onward downstream to a bustling commercial route. Just as the river reveals many sides of Germany’s geography, a quick sampling of its cities and towns offers a window into centuries of history and an influence that reaches beyond Germany’s borders.

Wittenberg: the birth of a movement

When Wittenberg was first settled in the twelfth century, it was a humble Flemish village nourished by the river. But by the 15th century, it was an elegant city and home to “Frederick the Wise,” the Elector of Saxony. A century-long building boom saw the rise of cathedrals, palaces, and bridges, crowned in 1502 by the launch of a new university—one of its students being a young Martin Luther.

Luther, of course, became famous not for what he studied, but what he wrote: a document known as 95 Theses, in which he attacked the practice of indulgences and outlined an overall vision of faith in which divine grace—not human action—determines salvation. Branded a heretic, he nonetheless launched the religion which bears his name, the Lutheran church.

His influence extended even further. He translated the Bible, wrote hymns, and, despite being a monk, got married—setting precedent for all non-Catholic ministers ever since. Luther is seen as not only the father of the Lutherans but of all Protestantism, now encompassing some 800 million Christians. A whole new way of seeing emerged from little Wittenberg, one man’s influence spilling over far beyond the banks of the Elbe.

Meissen: the magic of white gold

Religion was not the only Elbe export that made an impact on the world. In the 18th century, Meissen made its mark with the first successful creation of porcelain outside Asia.

Johann Friedrich Bottger had talked himself up as an alchemist able to make gold—a boast that got him put under house arrest by the King, who wanted Bottger to make gold for his own coffers. Of course Bottger couldn’t deliver, and the King had him supervised by a scientist named Ehrenfried Walther von Tschirnhaus, who was busy working on cracking the porcelain code. Tschirnhaus died suddenly and, within a week, Bottger announced that he himself had created porcelain. Bottger was given a place in the castle, production began, and hard-paste white porcelain was on the market by 1713.

The Elbe became the highway along which this good-as-gold export traveled beyond Germany and into legend. Meissen’s porcelain became desirable for heads of state and the elite of society around the world. From the Vanderbilts in the U.S. to the tsars of Russia, no house of prestige could do without at least a few pieces. According to royal biographers, a 1780 Meissen chocolate pot remains one of Queen Elizabeth II’s favorite wedding presents. To this day, the “white gold” of the Elbe is prized by collectors worldwide.

Dresden & Torgau: the legacy of World War II

Beauty on a larger scale defines the city of Dresden, the wealthiest city in Germany when it was the capital of the Electors of Saxony. In the 1800s, the Electors poured money into planning a city whose civic buildings would be treasures, including the elegant Japanese Palace and the Pillnitz Palace, with its sweeping staircase descending to the river. These gems and many dozens more were positioned amid carefully designed gardens and parks. The resulting glory earned the city the nickname “The Baroque Pearl.”

War honors no such distinctions. As World War II drew to a close in winter 1945, air raids leveled nearly the entire city in one terrible night (recounted in Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five). As the conflagration swelled, nurses dragged burn victims into the Elbe to try and cool them, watching as Dresden was reduced to ashes all around them.

But the Elbe also became the site of redemption and hope. Just two months later, Soviet and American troops, which had been marching from two directions, finally met at Torgau, 50 miles upriver from Dresden. When the respective generals were photographed shaking hands, it was the greeting heard round the world: The image made clear that the Allied forces were now united on the final march to Berlin. Adolf Hitler saw this as the writing on the wall— he killed himself within the week.

With Hitler gone and the war ended, Dresden could have hurriedly rebuilt, choosing the fastest path to regaining its infrastructure. But the city chose instead to take the long view: It meticulously restored the period buildings using original plans and materials (sometimes literally salvaged from the rubble). This meant that, during rebuilding, there remained significant gaps in the city for decades, an amount of time city leaders deemed small next to centuries of history.

The restorations were finally finished so that visitors today can see the city as it once was, a pearl among the many gems of German culture studding the unforgettable Elbe.