An Overview from West to East
This is a route from the “Berlin Erfahren (auf dem Rad durch die Hauptstadt)” book and the map above is the GPS track which I decided to follow this afternoon.
Firstly, however, I decided not to go to the very start (Zoo station) as I had been there this morning, seen the Kaiser Wilhelm Gedächtniskirche etc, and as I didn’t set off until 3:30pm and the book said the tour takes 3-4 hours I thought it worth cutting off the beginning. It’s only about 10 miles but there would be a lot to look at, plus I’d have to get back from Schönhauser Allee (about 5 miles from my apartment).
So… I set off, guide book in hand, and made my way to the Siegesäule where I would join the route.
I’ll do a bit of translating from the guidebook here and there so you know what these pics are of.
“The Siegesäule (Victory Column) doesn’t stand where it was originally placed and isn’t its original height either. the 70 metre high column was erected in front of the Reichstag in 1873 by Heinrich Strack as a memorial of the wars against Denmark (1864), Austria (1866) and France (1870/71). The victory goddess Victoria, also known as Goldelse, was created by Friedrich Drake. For the Nazis this victory memorial wasn’t important enough and wasn’t in the right place. As part of Albert Speer’s plan for “Reich Capital Germania” the statue was moved before the 2nd World War into the middle of the Großen Stern (a roundabout in the Tiergarten) and was raised up a bit…” Makes quite an attractive roundabout decoration!!!
This is Schloss Bellevue, the home of the German President. Can you name him? I think not!
The route then went onto a rather lovely path alongside the river Spree through the posh government district. Lots of impressive shiny buildings, including the Haus der Kulturen der Welt/ehemaligen Kongresshall (House of World Culture, formerly the Congress Hall) which has the local name Schwangere Auster (pregnant oyster), and I can see why. Didn’t take a pic of it, sorry.
Then I went over a little bridge and lo and behold there were scores of Germans sunbathing on deckchairs!
And here we are at the Reichstag/Bundestag, the German House of Parliament. I’ve been round the interior previously – it still has bullet holes from when the Soviets took it in 1945. According to the guidebook, “This parliament building is a tourist magnet, particularly the 800 tonne dome made of steel and glass.” No mention there that it was designed by Sir Norman Foster, a Brit.
The route then went past the Brandenburger Tor (again), the Holocaust Memorial, and then arrived again at Potsdamer Platz. Because I was on the other side of the road I saw this bit of Berlin Wall that I hadn’t previously noticed (and I’m sure wasn’t there a few years ago).
Slightly randomly, behind the wall there were four people in green bodysuits presumably advertising something. I got a photo of two of them.
Then the GPS track provided by the author of the book went inside Potsdamer Platz’s Sony Centre. Seemed a bit odd that bikes would be allowed in, but I gave it a go at walking speed. This is the roof:
And this is just one random view from inside:
My poor Garmin got very confused when in here which meant I faffed about a bit finding my route when I exited the Sony Centre. The Garmin has occasionally struggled in Berlin as there are so many tall buildings.
I pottered along a little way and then came across one of the “Doppelspurige Großpflastersteinreihe” (I had to learn that phrase for my AS level German oral), a double row of flagstones set into the floor marking the former route of the Wall – except I think they are being built over and taken up, etc. Anyway, here was one.
Shortly afterwards I arrived at “Topographie des Terrors” which is an exhibition about the former headquarters of the Stasi and Gestapo etc which was based here in the former Prinz-Albrecht-Straße. I assume they changed the name of the road as it had so many bad connotations. Anyway, I’d looked at the exhibition previously and due to a lack of time I carried on cycling, having a quick look at some more bits of Berlin Wall before I left. Oh, and taking a photo of Alfie on the wall…
and just as I was leaving I passed a Beer Bike in full swing!
Followed by a row of six or seven Trabants. I only managed to snap the last two.
Onward again on quiet roads that I know very well. In the first few years of visiting Berlin I tended to stay at the Hilton am Gendarmenmarkt (they often did good deals) and Checkpoint Charlie was just down the road. That was the next place that I reached.
As I was waiting to cross the road to continue on my way I heard a voice shouting “Great Britain!!!” I realised they were referring to me (because of my union jack flag) and waved back at a pack of Brits sitting outside a bar with lots of glasses of beer. And carried on.
And now to the Gendarmenmarkt; as the guide book says, “It is doubtless one of the most beautiful Platzes in Berlin” (a platz being a square or open space or something). It’s beautiful because it’s got two cathedrals and a concert hall all fairly close together. “the Platz is dominated by three monumental buildings: The Französische Dom (French Cathedral) 1701-1705, the Deutscher Dom (German Cathedral) 1701-1705 and the Schauspielhaus (Playhouse) 1818-1821…. The Gendarmenmarkt was significantly damaged in World War 2 and was reconstructed in the following years.”
This is the Französische Dom:
And this the Schauspielhaus (now Konzerthaus). I’ve attended a couple of concerts here in the past and it’s great inside.
I carried on, finding myself at the end of some kind of cycle tour group. They were all riding a bit erratically so it was difficult to get round them – I lurked at the back instead. We soon arrived at Bebelplatz.
The name Bebelplatz might not be familiar, but you’ll probably have seen pictures of it – or perhaps a reconstruction of events in one of the Indiana Jones films. It’s where the Nazis did the book burning. As the guide book says: “In the middle of Bebelplatz you can find a memorial plaque with a foresighted quotation from Heinrich Heine from the year 1820: “that was only a prelude. There where people burn books, in the end people also burn people.” On the 10th May 1933, under the direction of Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels, students in SA Uniforms came to Bebelplatz and burned 20,000 works of ‘ungerman’ writers, scientists and philosopher. These included works by Heinrich and Thomas Mann, Heinrich Heine, Karl Marx, Kurt Tucholsky, Bertold Brecht and Erich Kästner.”
“Since 1995 a memorial “Sunken library” has remembered the book burning. The memorial is a 50 square metre large room with empty bookshelves set into the floor.” You can just about see this in my photograph – it took me a while to find the place in the floor of Bebelplatz as there were lots of groups of people standing around and I couldn’t remember quite where it was.
A German museum on Schlossplatz (can’t remember which museum though!)
And not something you see/hear every day, a man playing a digeridoo!
The Berliner Dom (Cathedral)
I was now in very familiar territory. When I studied for a month with the Goethe Institut in Berlin in 2007 it was based in a building near Hackescher Markt, which is where I next went.
There was a slight delay whilst some kind of protest march went past – something to do with options for children at school or playgroup I think – which was lots of noisy singing and colourful banners followed by police vans. It soon passed though.
I then went into the Hackesche Höfe, somewhere I only went into a couple of times before – and never realised went on and on. It’s a whole series of little courtyards surrounded by buildings in which there are shops and cafés and places like that. It wasn’t ideal by trike due to lots of pedestrians and sharp corners, and I found myself at a dead end once, but it was good to see around.
According to the guide book: “The area of the Hackescher Markt was established over centuries by the Jewish people of Berlin… The Hackescher Höfe are Germany’s largest Hofanlage [can’t translate that, it’s these courtyards in buildings that interconnectt] and were built in 1906/7 as living and work buildings. Manufacturing, shopkeepers, service personnel and various art and food places as well as the art scene have never left. People live, work and spend their free time in these buildings.”
I continued on, finding that a lot of the roads were rather cobbly here, and the traffic was also getting much heavier (it was half past five). Still, cars are always very careful around cyclists and left room for me. I was thinking about how much I dislike cycling in London and do it as infrequently as possible, but in Berlin I enjoy it and don’t feel at all scared. It’s partly because Berlin’s roads are much wider so there’s room for cycle paths, and also because most Germans are also cyclists so understand things from a biker’s point of view. However, I have been surprised how many German cyclists jump red traffic lights. I know London cyclists are notorious for this (all tarred with the same brush) but as German pedestrians usually wait for the green man I’ve been surprised that the cyclists don’t.
After a mile or so more, with a couple of diversions to see things that the guidebook recommended, I arrived at the Kulturbrauerei. I’d been here one Christmas with James as they had a Weihnachtsmarkt (Christmas Market) there. It’s, I suppose, a German version of Snape Maltings – a former brewery turned into a cultural centre with cinema, theatre, shops, food places, clubs etc.
What was amusing was that as I went through the main gate into the Kulturbrauerei a German chap shouted “Hey England, England.” I realised he was talking to me so cycled over to where he was (he was in a uniform and with another chap – some kind of security I suppose). “You’re not allowed in here,” he said in German.
“Because you have a Union Jack Flag, they are Verboten.” His eyes were twinkling so I knew he was pulling my leg. “No English people are allowed in,” he continued.
“But I was born in Germany,” I replied.
At this the chap with him said “she’s not English then.” (I hasten to point out that of course I didn’t have the England flag but the Union Jack, a distinction I felt wasn’t particularly important).
“Well I am British,” I said. “It says so on my passport.”
“British people are forbidden from entering,” the first man said again. “Only Scottish people can go in.”
“I’m not Scottish,” I said. “In fact, I’ve only visited Scotland once.”
“So have I, only once,” he replied. “That’s why Scottish people are allowed and English not.”
We clearly weren’t getting anywhere so I said “Oh well, I’d better get on” and pedalled off into the Kulturbrauerei. No-one ejected me for not being Scottish so I think I got away with it.
From here I was once again in familiar territory, the Schönhauser Allee area of Prenzlauer Berg which is where my friend Ines (who I saw this morning for tea and scones) used to live. James and I had a holiday where we stayed in Prenzlauer Berg so I was riding down many of the roads I had walked through. The official route stopped at the Schönhauser Allee S-Bahn station, so I got my Garmin to work out a route back to Dovestraße in Charlottenburg and headed home, a five mile trip. Fortunately they were fast, straight roads and although the setting sun meant it was quite bright in my eyes I had a good ride back, getting to my apartment at 7:30pm having done sixteen miles. The average speed was only 8mph as I kept stopping to look at things – and for everlasting traffic lights.
Tomorrow I plan to do Part 1 of the Berlin Wall – the GPS track is 72 miles so I’m a little bit unsure of whether I’ll manage it in one day, knowing the pace that I seem to be able to go in Berlin. But it looks like we have good weather and if I start early enough I ought to manage it! Watch this space…
Oh, random footnote – I was passed by a DeLorean car today, just like the one in Back To The Future (but without the plutonium).
Statistics for this ride:
Distance – 16.55 miles
Time – 2 hours 10 minutes
Moving average – 7.59 mph
Average heart rate – 95
Max heart rate – 130
Maximum speed – 29.91
Calories burned – 587