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Biking the Berlin Wall

Three decades ago, if you wanted to cross from the east of Berlin to the west, you ran the risk of arrest, imprisonment, or even death, as it involved scaling the 13-foot high Berlin Wall.  Erected in 1961 by the East German authorities to close the border between the east and west sectors of the city, the Wall ultimately grew to 96 miles, zigzagging throughout the city.  27 miles of the Wall separated East and West Berlin, while the rest of the Wall ringed the enclave of West Berlin from surrounding East Germany.  5,000 people managed to escape to West Berlin over the Wall, and 192 died in the attempt.

You’re not in Berlin long before you realize the enormous significance of this edifice, which divided the city and the world for decades, even though very little of it remains today. The surreal contrast of the austere east and the bustling west was the most preeminent metaphor for the Cold War, and its fall in 1989 was the clarion call for the break-up of the Communist Bloc. 

With their signature post-war determination to directly confront the darker aspects of their recent history, Berliners have deliberately left just enough of the Wall and its trappings to enable the modern-day visitor to grasp what it must have been like.  Today, at the moving Gedenkstatte Berliner Mauer or Berlin Wall Memorial, visitors can view observation towers, ghost U-Bahn stations, and a replica of the infamous “Checkpoint Charlie.”  In recent years the most popular way to tour the Wall is via the Berlin Maurweg or ”Wall Trail,” a 100 mile bike and hiking trail, which is part of Berlin’s extensive 390 miles trail for walkers and cyclists.  This is a delightful way to experience what remains of the Berlin Wall and to tour the German capital.

Berlin is very bike-friendly: the municipal DB-Call-A-Bike program offer hourly rates for bike rental with convenient pick-ups and drop-offs at major railways stations. Numerous private bike rental agencies offer hourly rates and escorted half-day cycling tours of Berlin of various distances and routes.  U-Bahn and S-Bahn trains have dedicated doors and zones for cyclists and their bikes.

Hats off to the Berliners!  Full marks for innovative urban renewal and a moving reminder of just how easy it is these days to pass from east to west.

Alexander+Roberts offers a number of ways to visit European cities like Berlin, from flexible independent Private Tours to Berlin to our small group escorted Grand Capitals of Eastern Europe by Rail.

Posted: 6/5/2015 10:24:18 AM by Alexander + Roberts