Berlin is a proud city, as Germany is a country. Modern-day Berlin is a far cry from a place once consumed by two world wars and decades of the infamous Berlin Wall. Today’s Berlin features magnificent glass and metal architecture and a seamless division between what was once East and West Germany. And if you really want to experience this fascinating historic city, and would rather not drive in circles, circumvent traffic and one-way streets, then take a self-guided bicycle tour to anywhere your heart desires.
Biking is omnipresent in Berlin. You will not be alone by a long shot. Because of its popularity, there are bike rental shops throughout the city from which to choose, as well as bike sharing options on virtually every corner. You will usually need to download an app for bike sharing access.
We picked up our bicycles on Pflatzburgerstrasse in the Wilmersdorf section, located in former West Berlin. Heading south, we made our way over to Embassy Row, where some of the myriad embassies are located. From there we biked down the Tiergartenstrasse on the edge of the 520-acre Tiergarten, Berlin’s version of Manhattan’s Central Park. Next, we stopped at nearby Potsdamer Platz Arkaden, an elaborate three-story glass and steel structure home to shopping, restaurants, cinemas and the SonyCenter.
Nearby we spied the U.S. Embassy, located across from a site at which you must disembark —the Holocaust Memorial, just south of the circa 1791 Brandenburg Gate. Also called the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, you are met with a field of various rectangular, smoothed concrete slabs planted in rows like a cornfield. And that is what the memorial is supposed to encapsulate. A sense of helplessness, of no way out. That same experience if you have ever found yourself lost in a cornfield.
After emerging from various edges of the stone field, we headed west toward the Mitte Center, the heart of Berlin. Close by you’ll eye the Reichstag, where Parliament meets. The inscription on the front of the edifice reads “Dem Duetchen Volke,” meaning “[To] the German People.”
A few blocks away is the spot of Hitler’s underground bunker, Führerbunker, where he lived for months before taking his own life in 1945. It is now a parking lot. Around the corner on Reinhardtstrasse, a Nazi-era bunker remains, riddled with machine gun bullet holes for all the world to see.
On your travels, don’t miss the labeled bricks at your feet traversing through the city where the Berlin Wall once stood. The path serves as a remembrance of the dark days of division in this European city. In fact, you will encounter constant reminders of the past speckled in Berlin, such as a bombed-out church still standing in the middle of the city. The people of Berlin refuse to forget the atrocities of its past. That is evident everywhere.
Getting a little thirsty, especially after riding by so many biergartens, we made a plea to our host for some lunch and an ice-cold German beer. But in order to get to the one they had in mind, we needed to make two more must-stops: Checkpoint Charlie and a section of the Berlin Wall itself, still purposely standing for tourists and locals alike to regard in a disturbing awe. Grand displays surround the area detailing the plight of those who tried to climb the wall; many, as you can imagine, were shot in the back and killed. Documented stories of those who successfully and unsuccessfully passed through Checkpoint Charlie are hard to comprehend.
A word of caution: On our way over to the Berlin Wall remains and Checkpoint Charlie we traveled down Leipzigerstrasse; beware of growing traffic on this main thoroughfare. Following our hosts, my wife and I were squeezed off the road by an over zealous bus driver.
Unscathed, it was time to raise a glass at our hosts’ biergarten of choice. Our final stop. There we reveled in the laughter and camaraderie with hundreds of locals and visitors, young and old alike, drinking the world’s finest beer, eating delicious fresh pizza, and enjoying the cultural soundtrack as it filled the air. It is a scene we will not soon forget. These days, Berliners sure know how to relax.
Guest Author: Kevin Fritz
My specialties lie in travel and feature writing with an innate ambition to experience the world first-hand. This year, I traveled to Saudi Arabia for research and last year spent Christmas with my wife, Christi, in Brussels and Paris. We love to travel and have explored Germany, Italy, France Poland, Costa Rica, Canada and most of the United States. A journalist for 30 years, I authored the fiction novel Crossover and received my BS in Journalism from Ohio University. Check out Kevin’s portfolio.