|Distance in km||176.6|
|Elevation in m||664|
|Amount of newly ridden kms from wandrer.earth||53.1|
With the Grand Tour de Öffentliche Verkehrsmittel complete, it’s time for new cycling challenges in and around Berlin. What could be more appropriate than following in the wheels of Tilda Swinton and cycling the Berliner Mauerweg (Berlin Wall Path)?
I knew beforehand that at over 170 km in distance, it would be the longest ride that I’d ever completed. For such a ride, I wanted optimal cycling conditions – not too hot but sunny with little wind. I also preferred a weekday to the weekend so I could avoid other cyclists – some sections are very popular!
The perfect opportunity cropped up sooner than I expected (only 2 days after completing the final Stage of the Grand Tour de Öffentliche Verkehrsmittel), and looking back I’m glad I took it. Summer and a long heatwave of temperatures over 30°C was just around the corner and I wouldn’t want to spend such a long time in the sun!
I headed out towards the closest (and probably most iconic) part of the former Berlin Wall from home – Brandenburger Tor (Brandenburg Gate). I had my usual breakfast of porridge and coffee, reduced both my bolus and basal insulin before getting on Flash, our cyclocross bike.
After starting at Brandenburger Tor, I headed towards Potsdamer Platz. Nowadays this is full of modern skyscrapers, shopping malls and embassies – completely changed in the 30 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall. When Potsdamer Platz was being built up into the modern square that it is now, it was called the “largest construction site in Europe” – this was prime real estate in the middle of one of Europe’s capital cities after all.
Checkpoint Charlie was next – this was the most famous border crossing between East and West Berlin. In 2020, it is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Berlin where many people pose with the replica of the sign at the border crossing. Actors used to dress up as border guards for tourists to pose with, but this was banned in 2019 as the local senate ruled this was exploiting tourists as they were routinely asked for money.
After weaving through the streets bordering Kreuzberg, I crossed the river Spree using the Schillingbrücke (Schilling Bridge). Here I cycled along the longest still-standing section of the Berlin Wall – the East Side Gallery. The concrete slabs are full of incredible artworks, many of which have messages of tolerance and ensuring that such divisions never happen again.
The East Side Gallery has also been heavily developed in recent years – even over the years that I have been in Berlin (since 2011). This area is also prime real estate in Berlin overlooking the Spree and in a very hip area too. Many corporations, such as Mercedes-Benz and Zalando, constructed huge modern office blocks and new blocks of apartments were constructed after removing part of the East Gallery despite large protests from Berliners – with one even including David Hasselhoff.
The Berlin Wall crossed over the Spree along the Oberbaumbrücke (Over Tree Bridge). My favourite bridge in Berlin and also one of the most iconic sights in the city. It is also included on the coat of arms of each district of Berlin.
I cycled along the Neukölln district before reaching an amazing stretch for cyclists. The section of the Berliner Mauerweg that runs between the Autobahn and the Teltowkanal (Teltow Canal) is brilliant – smooth tarmac and lots of space for cyclists, inline skaters and pedestrians.
The next section was the easternmost section that runs along the district of Rudow. Here the Berliner Mauerweg is also a fantastic cycling trail that passes through some nice parks that also house water buffalo! They were too far away for me to take a photo unfortunately.
After this long stretch away from traffic, I had to cross the Waltersdorfer Chaussee – a major road used to reach Flughafen Schönefeld (Schönefeld Airport). Quite a contrast from the previous idyll. Once I crossed this road, I came across a chicken that had escaped its coop! I stopped for the first food break not long after this encounter. I ate the first of my homemade flapjacks in the shade of the Südpark (South Park) in Rudow. My blood glucose was doing well so I didn’t need to inject any bolus insulin.
I was now along the southern section of the Berlin Wall heading westwards. There were some highland cattle around and now the trail was getting bumpier to cycle on. The whole section between Rudow and Teltow was along uneven concrete blocks, rooty tarmac or sandy trails. Definitely not for a road bike!
The worst was yet to come with the Mauerweg section that borders Lichtenrade. After the fall of the Wall, the major B101 road took precedence over the cycling trail so a detour along some horrendous cobbled streets are necessary. These roads were so bumpy, I cycled on the uneven pavement as that was better than the road surface!
Things got better once I reached the Teltowkanal (Teltow Canal) and the town of Teltow. Here the trail was recently paved and so much more cyclist-friendly. My bum and back were very thankful for this smoother surface.
After cycling through Zehlendorf, I reached the Königsweg (Royal Path) which includes a bridge crossing over the Autobahn. This was also where Checkpoint Bravo was located and the major crossing for West Berliners driving back home from West Germany. A large service station was built at this checkpoint as there were typically long queues waiting to cross the border. This fantastic pop-art building was built by Rainer Rümmler who also built the whimsical Fehrbelliner Platz U-Bahn station.
I turned off the trail to get to the watchtower of Checkpoint Bravo. This is next to the Autobahn but the modern industrial buildings catch your eye more than the plain white watchtower! Tours can be booked but are not currently available due to COVID-19 induced restrictions. There are some very informative placards that have some great pictures and stories of how East Germans tried to smuggle into West Berlin (like hiding in cars).
After this informative detour, I carried on through the Düppler Forst (Düppel Forest) on the gravelly Königsweg. The West Berlin enclave of Steinstücken (Stone Pieces) is further along on the purposefully built road to connect Steinstücken to West Berlin (making it no longer an exclave). Before this road, helicopters were used to transport American soldiers to and from Steinstücken and the residents had to deal with multiple guard checks when leaving and re-entering.
The next section of the Berlin Wall ran along Griebnitzsee (Griebnitz Lake) which is part of Potsdam. I was feeling pretty hungry and a bit weak by this point, so I was on the lookout for a nice place to rest. I continued through Babelsberg and after crossing the Teltowkanal, I stopped at an outdoor Cafe.
I enjoyed the stereotypical cyclist break of coffee and cake – plus a bonus flapjack too (I was really getting hungry). I didn’t inject any insulin as my blood glucose was a little on the low side for cycling and I was definitely in need of a large carb boost for energy! I had to strongly defend my Rhubarb-Red-Currant-Meringue from wasps and sparrows but I prevailed in the end.
The next section of the Mauerweg took me across the iconic Glienicke Brücke (Glienicke Bridge). Many spy exchanges between the Soviet Union and the USA took place here so the bridge was nicknamed the “Bridge of Spies”. This was also the name of a Tom Hanks film that was filmed at the bridge when I worked in Potsdam not far from this bridge. The shooting closed this major road and I had to cycle back to Berlin the long way round. The nerve! 😉
I cycled through the Neuer Garten (New Garden) park which also houses Schloss Cecilienhof (Cecilienhof Palace). This was the location of the Potsdam Conference in August 1945 where Joseph Stalin, Winston Churchill and Harry Truman met to discuss the future of post-war Germany.
The Berlin Wall ran along the banks of the Jungfernsee (Maiden Lake) and Lehnitzsee (Lehnitz Lake). This initially meant cycling along a major road but then through the Königswald (Royal Forest). This beautiful gravel section brought me back around to face the Glienicke Brücke – meaning I was now on the northwards section of the Mauerweg.
Before continuing on, I made a point of admiring the Heilandskirche (Church of the Redeemer) on the banks of the Jungfernsee. The church was cut off from West Berlin by the Berlin Wall, it was only possible to reach by crossing the lake. However, this would have been too dangerous due to the church’s proximity to the Berlin Wall, so the church was left to visibly rot. Negotiations in the 1980s between West Berlin and the East led to some restoration works being completed. Once the Wall fell, the church was immediately restored with difficulties since some statues and artworks were beyond saving.
I cycled up to Kladow (part of West Berlin) and then took a left turn to get to the town of Groß Glienicke. The border between East and West Berlin ran through the middle of the Groß Glienicke Lake and was marked by buoys in addition to the concrete wall running along the banks. This is a popular swimming lake but during the Cold War only West Berliners could swim up to the buoys.
I am very familiar with the next stretch of the Mauerweg up to Spandau – it’s a great cycle path that runs along the Gatow fields. What was new to me, was the section up to Hahneberg (Rooster Mountain). From the Grand Tour de Öffentliche Verkehrsmittel, I was aware of the Fort here but I was pleasantly surprised by all the fields and even inclines!
Before crossing Heerstraße, I needed to inject some insulin. I had overshot the carb boost from the lunch stop so now my blood glucose was running too high. I injected bolus insulin to help bring it down.
I could then continue northwards through the district of Staaken and then briefly cycled in the neighbouring town of Falkensee (Falcon Lake). The next section of the Mauerweg passed through the Spandauer Forst (Spandau Forest) – I was surprised at how lumpy this was. For Berlin standards, there were some short but steep inclines along the way to Eiskeller (Ice Cellar).
Nadja and I had visited Eiskeller during our first NinJa Cycles expedition. It’s hard to describe just how isolated this area of West Berlin must have been, since it is surrounded by forest and bordering the Berlin Wall too! I imagine it would’ve been quite a stressful life.
This amazing section of the Mauerweg is also the only way of seeing the Laßzinsee (Laßzin Lake) before reaching the banks of the river Havel. I have cycled the section of the Mauerweg between Spandau and Hennigsdorf many times but I never noticed the border tower on the way! This border tower is open to the public but in the interests of time and being unable to lock up Flash, I carried on towards Hennigsdorf.
I was now at the northernmost section of the Mauerweg that bordered the West Berlin district of Frohnau. I was prepared for a pretty steep climb before reaching the Invalidensiedlung (Invalid’s Settlement) – my legs were not happy with this climb but it was conquered! Our friends who live in the Invalidensiedlung were not home so I had to eat an energy bar on a random bench without company – the nerve!
On the way to the Hubertussee (Hubertus Lake), I passed another border tower. This tower hosts events and has a lot of information about the Berlin Wall fortifications, escape attempts and how spies passed between East and West Berlin (there were secret doors away from the border towers).
Around the Hubertussee (Hubertus Lake), there are cobbled paths in the middle of this forest. This is not where cobbles are usually found and definitely wasn’t fun to cycle on! The reason for the cobbles was that the settlement of Frohnau was to be extended all the way to the Hubertussee, however the First World War interrupted this. So all that is left of the Frohnau extension are the cobbles!
In the overall scheme of the Mauerweg, I had now turned southwards meaning that reaching my starting point at Brandenburger Tor was getting closer! I cycled along the Tegeler Fließ (Tegel Stream) and up another climb near Lübars. This was not what my legs were after, as I was starting to feel pretty tired but at least I could stand up on the pedals and stretch my back. Being jolted about over all the uneven surfaces of the trail was really making my back hurt.
The next section was another uneven trail running parallel to the train tracks that I was also familiar with during the Grand Tour de Öffentliche Verkehrsmittel. This continued until I reached the Bornholmer Straße station and the famous Bösebrücke (Evil Bridge). It was here that the Fall of the Berlin Wall began. I also think it’s a pretty lovely bridge too.
This Bösebrücke also meant that I was back in central Berlin. I cycled through Mauerpark (Wall Park) and reached Bernauer Straße. This is now a large memorial site, with many buildings commemorating the numerous escape attempts. The BBC Tunnel 29 podcast is a well-told story into one of the tunnels built for East Germans to flee.
The Mauerweg then followed the Berlin-Spandauer Schifffahrtskanal (Berlin-Spandau Shipping Canal) passing Berlin Hauptbahnhof (Central Station) and up to the current government area. The Reichstag was not used during the Cold War and only fully restored after reunification where it once again housed the German parliament.
Just a stone’s throw from the Reichstag was my starting point – Brandenburger Tor. I had completed the 160 kilometers of the former Berlin Wall! All that was left was for me to cycle back home satisfied that I had completed my longest single ride so far. I was also very pleased with my blood glucose management throughout the ride too. These long days can be difficult but I coped very well.
The ride was a real reminder of a notorious piece of modern history. The trail is well marked and there are plenty of information markers commemorating the known victims who were killed trying to flee East Germany. For a brief history of the Berlin Wall plus information on how long it actually took to create this official trail, you can read my summary here.