Today was the day I was going to start my Berlin Wall circumnavigation.
The Wall is a shade over 100 miles and, knowing how slow city cycling can be, I decided to split it into two. I had wondered about making it a three day tour but I felt that would take up rather a lot of my cycling days.
Because of the shape of the Wall, and the location of my apartment, there was a very obvious ‘halfway point’ where I could split the route and not have to do especially long journeys to get to and from the start of the second section. This meant that one route was 52 miles and one was 72 miles. So today was the 72 mile version.
Here is a map of the GPS Track I was working from.
I set off very early (9:30am) knowing I’d need a fair bit of time. It was also a hot day so I thought that might slow me down a bit.
My plan was to do the route clockwise but I got a bit confused coming out of the apartment and ended up heading west, which meant I would be doing the ride anticlockwise. Upon further reflection I thought this was a good idea – it might make me less likely to pack up early as the end of the ride would be carrying me homewards reasonably directly.
On my way through Westend I saw these signs regularly – not the top one, the small R1 sign. That’s the European Cycle Route that goes from Leningrad (I think) through Berlin and ends up at Calais. That’s next year’s long ride…
So off I pootled and after eight miles I reached my chosen start point for the wall tour.
A random road, the occupants of which, in 1961, would have found themselves just inside West Berlin. Phew! But those on the other side of the road…
So my GPS track sent me down that road. I looked left to right but couldn’t see any signs of the Wall. Presumably there was a large no-man’s-land area so perhaps one side of the road’s houses were new (since 1989) but I couldn’t tell.
Then the GPS sent me off to the right… through this lot!
OK, I decided to give it a go. It got a bit better, and then we had this:
I was getting stung by nettles and scratched – and all in the first 400 metres of the Wall Route. Not encouraging.
Blow this for a game of soldiers, I thought, I’ll ride instead on the main road parallel to the fields across which the Wall route zigzagged (I had studied my Garmin a bit closer).
Once I got to the main road I saw this sign:
Aha, light dawns. My GPS track is the track of the actual route of the wall (this was confirmed a bit later when it went straight down the middle of a canal – not somewhere I can easily cycle). I had thought it was the route of the Berliner Mauer Radweg, but I was wrong.
So I now needed to rely on the Radweg signs. Except they were pretty hopeless. Firstly they were mounted miles up various poles – about 3 metres high or something. That’s a long way up from a recumbent trike! Secondly, as I discovered over the course of this ride, the signage rather assumes you’re doing the route clockwise; the signs are all on the side of the road that you would be on if you were doing it clockwise, and aren’t always visible from the other side of the road (and in Germany you’re supposed to use the cycle path on the correct side of the road for the flow of traffic). Can you guess who was doing this route anticlockwise???
Needless to say, I had quite a few times when I missed the route and had to do my own version – thank goodness my Garmin had very good maps! I actually feel a letter coming on to Berlin’s tourist department about their signage; if they put it up, it ought to be reliable enough to use. No way would I have ever found the way if it weren’t for having the SatNav also. Secondly, I think they should provide an alternative not-off-road option for parts of this route; I’ve done more off-roading today than I usually do in a year, and neither I nor Alfie appreciated it.
Anyway, enough of that, back to the route.
Due to the off-road nature of the route, plus crossing roads etc, my average speed was a woeful 8.4mph. This was slightly perturbing for a 72 mile ride, which was already increasing in distance due to my wrong turns. However there were still some interesting things to see, like this dilapidated building.
The route went under that arch and then we were on, YET AGAIN, cobbles. Berlin seems to like ’em, and I don’t – well, not for cycling on. I feel like I’ve shaken half my fillings out today. Seems odd than an official Radweg would be on cobbles, but hey ho.
About 100 yards down the cobbly road I came across a single piece of Wall.
And then suddenly we were alongside a most beautiful lake, which I now discover was Wannsee (home of the famous Wannsee conference). It has some beaches and of course people were swimming there – there was lots of skinny dipping going on as well.
What was less good was that the Mauer Radweg didn’t always quite work out. Since it has been built, people who own the land either side (i.e. posh houses on the lakeside) have decided to join up their land so they can pootle straight down to the water without having pesky cyclists pass by. So I twice came across obstacles such as this.
I couldn’t get around this blockage at all so had to retrace my route about half a mile, at which point I gave up with the Radweg and went on the main road through Groß Glienicke. Where there were a whole bunch of people sunbathing starkers. Random. Well, not so random, as this is East Germany where the FKK reigned supreme – about the only freedom people had was to go unclothed.
I carried on along the lakeside at Wannsee. It was hot outside but cool in the woodland but the horseflies and mozzies were having a field day with me, plus the often gravel or worse track meant that quite a lot of dust was getting kicked up and my hands felt gritty. Alfie was beginning to look less shiny as a film of dust settled on mudguards and metalwork.
The I rounded a corner at Sacrow and found this – a beautiful church which was built for sailors. When the Wall went up the church was on the lake side of the wall, entirely cut off from the land. This meant that it was in the West, however, which was undoubtedly an improvement.
Inside the church was quite plain, but it had beautiful brickwork outside. The tower was covered up.
By now I was tired, hot, dusty and a bit concerned about how long this was all taking, plus I realised I had left the anthisan at home in Great Bromley. So time for a stop at Café Charlotte which was on the roadside at Neu Fahrland. I had a rather nice slice of cake:
And this was the choice I had:
I felt refreshed after the cake, tea, water and a chance to freshen up and wash some of the dust off.
Soon I arrived in Potsdam which is a very attractive town. It was fairly busy with cyclists and dog walkers so I didn’t stop to take pictures except this one – and I then felt a bit embarrassed as there was a bunch of people naked sunbathing just out of shot and I wondered if they thought I was photographing them.
Here’s a pic for James – looking back across the Wannsee to the church I visited earlier, and a nice boat with spinnaker. Sorry it’s fuzzy, it was super zoomed in.
After a good ride through Potsdam I found myself skirting the edges of Zehlendorf. Now this is the place to live in you’re in Berlin – beautiful houses, many with wonderful waterfront views. However there was a random bit of house demolition going on across the cycle path. But never fear, you can just wheel your bike through madam. Health and Safety would never allow that in the UK!
Somehow just after this point I once again got a bit lost. Well, I was following the GPS track, but clearly the official Radweg went somewhere else at this point. I found my way barred, couldn’t work out where I’d one wrong, and in the end squeezed through a gap in a fence to follow the route as the Garmin didn’t seem to have any other possibilities that weren’t a huge diversion. It included crossing this rickety bridge.
This was apparently the area (Dreilingen) where a German chap in a sports boat was killed by the East German border guards when he accidentally strayed into East German territorial waters. His girlfriend turned the boat round and was back in West German waters but the East German guards continued firing and killed the man, seriously injuring the woman (she never fully recovered). This was where the busiest border checkpoint was – it was just a weed-infested bit of flat concrete with trees all round it now.
Once again I was having trouble with the route – I ended up having to drag Alfie up a sandy slope. This is looking back down it.
I was now feeling rather tired and as it was 2:45pm I thought it time to stop for some food. I found a supermarket and bought a sandwich and some water.
I continued on through Zehlendorf, then various other places including a very cobbly section which then turned into a barrier 1cm narrower than my trike, which led straight to a narrow sandy bridge over a ditch and a steep slope. Here is the view back at that lot. And whilst taking this photo I got two nasty mozzie bites on my leg.
Now I was in more built up sections of the Berlin outskirts which made the journey easier. These were interspersed with well-asphalted tracks so my average speed picked up, as did my confidence that I could finish before dark. I had 24 miles to go but when I checked the direct route back to my apartment it was still 10 miles so didn’t seem worth cutting it short.
There was another annoying long section of narrow track in grass which slowed me down once again. I do wish I knew when these bits were coming so I could do a diversion!
At one point I saw a random guard tower.
I had to do a bit of creative navigation around the Rudow area (almost at Schönefeld) as the Mauer Radweg signs had disappeared. I took a bit of a short cut and got myself onto some faster roads.
There were still things to see at times, such as this bit of paint by the Wall stones on the floor – showing that I was standing in the East.
You can tell I’m fairly near to the centre of Berlin now as the flagstones marking the wall route have reappeared – I hadn’t seen them at all so far on this journey, having expected them to be all the way round! This is the start of the touristy bit of the Wall.
Here the Wall crosses the road.
And here are some people having a booze up on the river/canal. All very jolly.
I now arrived at the East Side Gallery. I’d heard about this many times but never visited it. I wish I had now as it was brilliant! Unfortunately, due to doing the route anticlockwise I was on the wrong side of the road to see these properly; I shall have to go back.
And a mini version of the O2 arena:
I had a few issues following the signage for the Wall route again, despite now being on roads. I was getting frustrated with this but knew I was only eight miles from home. I went through a pretty seedy bit of Berlin which magically transformed into Zimmerstraße, at the end of which is Potsdamer Platz. Before you reach Potsdamer Platz you can see, if you pay attention, the memorial for Peter Fechter, the first person to be shot crossing the wall. This is just east of Checkpoint Charlie.
I zoomed home from here, loving the fast and straight route along Straße des 17 Juni.
I got back to my apartment at 7:30 having done 73 miles in 8 hours 4 minutes. I have topped up my cyclist’s tan and feel quite nicely tired.
I’ll do Part 2 of the route (i.e. the rest of it) on Tuesday probably. I will do Part 2 in a clockwise direction to make life easier for myself.
This evening I had to do my first dishwasher run – this is what it looks like with one person on their own self-catering!
Oh, a couple more points from today. I saw a lizard run across the road in front of me, plus what looked like a dormouse.
Statistics for this ride:
Distance – 72.57 miles
Time – 7 hours 56 minutes
Moving average – 9.13 mph
Average heart rate – 118
Max heart rate – 176
Maximum speed – 28.8
Calories burned – 3081