Britain's queen takes breezy boat trip in German capital

BERLIN - From dyed-in-the-wool fans to curious passersby, Berliners turned out to cheer and wave Britain's Queen Elizabeth II Wednesday, as she kicked off a state visit viewed as symbolic if apolitical.

Both Germans and tourists braved leaden skies to line the banks of the Spree River where the 89-year old queen and her husband, Prince Philip, 94, took a brief boat trip though Berlin's political district.

As the "Ajax", an open-air boat, came into view with its German flag fluttering frantically in the wind, cheers rippled along the river bank from crowds patiently waiting for a glimpse of the royal couple, who waved back.

The queen - dressed in an elegant white dress coat with a brimmed hat and gloves - went on to meet Chancellor Angela Merkel at her ultra-modern offices. Later in the day Merkel will also hold talks with British Prime Minister David Cameron as he seeks support from the eurozone's top economy for his EU reform wish list.

Merkel's spokesman released a short video showing her welcoming the queen and pointing out where the Berlin Wall ran through the formerly divided city until its fall in 1989 and behind which she used to live.

"Where the train goes there, there was the Wall," Merkel tells the queen, pointing into the distance, adding: "And I lived in East Germany, just 200 metres behind this..."

Newspapers in Europe's top economy have played up the timing of the state visit, the queen's fifth to Germany in just over 50 years, as recently re-elected Cameron heads towards an in-out referendum on Britain's EU membership.

While stressing the queen's role is not a political one, German commentators have homed in on the political symbolism of the visit's timing.

"Every gesture, every word of the queen in the coming days has meaning, for Germany, Britain, Europe," Handelsblatt business daily said, adding: "It is the politics of the apolitical."

The Bild mass daily, which ran several stories in the run up to the royal visit, described the queen as "the secret weapon of British diplomacy" on a visit to "remind everyone of how poor Europe would be without the UK".

"Her charisma, her discipline and the lovely clothes," enthused Berlin resident Roswitha Meiritz, 76, who said she had a fascination with the queen and had also gone to see her on her first state visit in 1965.