After arriving in Berlin via overnight train, a shower and breakfast were required and then it was time to bike. I knew that Berlin was a vast city and would require a strategy for covering a lot of ground in only two days. I made the decision to bike Berlin with Fat Tire Bike Tour after some research and it was a fantastic find. Our guide, Sophie, was knowledgeable, enthusiastic and helped to make our 4.5 hour tour more enjoyable. After meeting in the Alexanderplatz, Max and I hopped onto our creatively named “The Hunter from Bambi” and “Joni Mitchell” bikes and were ready to go.
Our first stop was at the Neptune Fountain for an overview of the division between East and West Berlin during the post-World War II partition. The TV Tower looming in the background was built in the 1960s and heightened the fear of East Berliners that they were perpetually being watched.
Next stop was Humboldt University in the Bebelplatz where the 1933 book burning of 20,000 volumes by the Nazi Party took place. The symbolic empty library beneath the glass panel (with room for 20,000 volumes) serves as a reminder of the literary destruction that occurred. Albert Einstein acknowledged his opposition to this book burning (which included many of his books by his own students) and never returned to Germany.
We continued to the French and German Cathedrals. Damaged during World War II, these cathedrals did not always look as grand as they do today. It was not until 1977 that they began to be restored to their original likeness.
Next we found ourselves at two of the most powerful reminders of the aftermath of World War II – the remnants of the Berlin Wall and Checkpoint Charlie. While the Berlin Wall may have fallen almost 24 years ago, remnants of the structure still stand. Reminders of the 28 year divide are vividly illustrated in the in the area where Checkpoint Charlie used to be. The stories along the former Checkpoint could keep you enthralled for hours. The tour stops for a few minutes, but it is worth going back to see at your own pace.
Biking to the Memorial of the Murdered Jews of Europe, this perplexing memorial to one of the most ghastly parts of world history has many people angry, confused and unsatisfied as to how this point in history is remembered. Long, gray slates of varying sizes are lined side by side and fill the entire block.
With a solid understanding of the division between East and West Berlin following World War II, the next part of our ride was incredibly symbolic. Riding into the Tiergarten was first time we had crossed from East to West Berlin, a nearly impossible feat in the decades when the Checkpoint existed.
A short ride through the Tiergarten brought us to lunch at the beer garden, Schleusen Krug. This was a nice chance to socialize with our interesting and well-traveled fellow bikers as well as refuel for the rest of the ride.
Lunch was followed by a ride to the Berlin Victory Column, originally located across from the Reichstag and designed to commemorate Prussian victories in the second half of the 1800s. It was moved to its current location in 1939 at the direction of Hitler as he eventually thought it would be the center of the world.
The Reichstag was our next stop and unlike many of the buildings that were bombed and destroyed during World War II, it was the victim of an extensive fire as one of the early acts of Nazi propaganda in 1933. Parliament did not return to the Reichstag for 66 years as the reconstruction was not planned until after the German reunification in 1990.
The last stretch of our bike ride was the prettiest as we biked along the canal to the Brandenburg Gate. Now a symbol of freedom and unity, the Brandenburg Gate was inaccessible once the Berlin Wall was erected until its fall in 1989.
Bikes were a great way to cover the sprawling city of Berlin as its flat landscape and bike friendly paths made the ride enjoyable. As a city teeming with sights and history, Berlin is a place to take advantage of some type of guided tour. If not, there is too much information and history you have the potential of missing. Fat Tire Bike Tour provided a comprehensive first day in Berlin as well as a great idea of what to prioritize for day two. Additionally, they let you keep your bikes until they close at 8pm for those who want to keep biking.