Osten Ungeschminkt – The Naked East, Berlin, Cycle Ride

Osten Ungeschminkt (my translation of this is something like “The Unvarnished East”, however Olaf Storbeck who knows rather more German than me suggests “the naked East”.

This is another of the routes in my “Berlin Erfahren” book, 22.4km and the book suggests you need 4 hours for it. At under 6km per hour average speed that seems a bit slow, but lo and behold that was a fairly accurate reflection of how long it took.

Originally I hadn’t expected to cycle today as the forecast was for mega rain all day. Although I have a decent waterproof jacket with me it’s not much fun cycling in such downpours and I thought I could maybe do something on foot instead (visit an indoor shopping centre?)

However, when I started to try and plan what non-cyling thing to do today I couldn’t rustle up any enthusiasm. As it didn’t seem to be raining when I looked out of the window, I decided to go out on the trike instead.

Down in the Fahrradgarage I had a look at the Alfine Hub, having researched on the internet how to adjust the cable if it’s stretched. As the instructions said, I put it into sixth gear and then looked at the yellow dots – which seemed to be lined up (they are supposed to be). However the adjuster barrel at the handlebar end didn’t want to move (which it’s supposed to) so I did wonder a bit about that. Never mind, I decided to just set off and see what happened.

So off I went on roads that were a little wet but it wasn’t actually raining. I started to think more about the Alfine hub issue – the trike was slipping gears a bit again. Perhaps I should pop into a bike shop if I pass one, I thought – and at that very moment arrived at Velophil. I went in and asked the chap if he knew about hubs and he told me to take it round to the Werkstatt (workshop) round the back, which I did, and a helpful chap came and had a good look at it. He said it was properly indexed and didn’t need adjusting. However he did tighten up my rear axle for me, saying that might help matters. This has been an issue for the last few weeks as I only have a multitool to undo the axle and was aware that I had to be able to undo it with the multitool in case I got a puncture. This chap now tightened it up significantly with a spanner and I realised that I would never get it undone with the multitool.

As the chaps in the shop had spent a good ten minutes chatting to me I decided to buy the relevant spanner from them so I could undo the axle in future. It means carrying a bit more metal around but was something I was planning to do anyway when I got home. They sold me a relatively lightweight one for five euros and I felt happy that they had got something for helping me out. They also talked a bit about the oil change for the hub gear, saying that might help matters, and that 95% of their customers could do it themselves. They didn’t have the gear oil in stock so I’ll order some when I get home.

Here is the shop – it had rather a lot of nice stuff inside… This is just a view through the back door from the Werkstatt side.


I carried on, the bike feeling a bit more solid now the back wheel is done up super-tight.

I was heading for the start of the Osten Ungeschminkt route which happens to be at Schönhauser Allee S-Bahn station, nearly five miles from my apartment. I pedalled over there on the wide streets that are so typical of Berlin, with only a few inconvenient cobbled streets to contend with on the route my Garmin chose.

On the way I passed this impressive bit of bridge/train in the district of Wedding – looking down towards the main station.


I eventually arrived at Schönhauser Allee, ready to start the tour. Here is the GPS route that I followed.

I set off along streets that were familiar from when I stayed at Schönhauser Allee on a previous holiday.

Passed this beauty salon shop – couldn’t resist photographing the name. Anyone fancy waxing a cat? Sounds a bit like a recipe to be scratched to pieces to me!


Went past the Kulturbrauerei again (visited it a few days ago). Here you can see the little cycling traffic light to assist in road crossing, plus the cycle path markings on the road where you cross. All very helpful.


The next notable sight was the Zeiss–Großplanetarium in Prenzlauer Allee which was opened in 1987.


It had a park around the back which was nice, but I very soon found myself in a rather East-German-looking part of Berlin which is called Ernst-Thälmann-Park. Ernst was a big cheese in the Weimar Republic and the DDR (German Democratic Republik, i.e. East German government) decided to make a prestige project in his name. It was a residential area with high-rise tower blocks for 4,000 people, various amenities including a swimming pool and of course the planetarium. They took away a 100 year old gasworks which had previously been a major landmark to build it, and, according to the guide book, the locals protested that they wanted to keep their gasworks. They didn’t get their wish and had Ernst-Thälmann-Park instead.

In the middle of which is a huge monument to the chap, which was looking rather sad when I visited with graffiti and rather a lot of glass strewn around.


Look how tiddly my trike is compared to the statue! The sticking up bit on the left hand side of the statue has a hammer and sickle on it.


This monument is 50 tonnes in weight and is as big as a house. The granite for its base came from the Ukraine. After German reunification there was a long discussion as to whether it should be removed but the cost of taking it away was too much. Just a few bronze plaques with propaganda inscriptions were removed. It seems as though the locals have done their own decorating on it now anyway.

I carried on through Einsteinpark (lots of parks around here!) and then found myself briefly going along a main road. There were some ominous looking clouds and sure enough the rain started to fall. I quickly retraced my path back to the main road (I’d gone 200 metres down a side road) as there was shelter under a supermarket canopy. The rain seemed to be settled in, so after sitting on the bike in the shelter for a while looking upon this view…


…I decided to cross the road and went to the café. Where I ordered a strange food item whose name escapes me but was a sausage inside a sort-of rolled up pizza with some mustard. They heated it up for me and it was rather good!


After about half an hour the rain had eased off and although there was a lot of standing water I judged I was OK to continue.

The route then went to Volkspark Prenzlauer Berg. According to my guidebook this is another area where WW2 rubble was dumped (around 15 million cubic metres) and it has now become, like Teufelsberg in the Grunewald, another hill to climb. Which I found, of course, the GPS route wanted me to climb. I managed it although it was steep and slippery (wet, leafy asphalt and rear wheel drive on a tadpole trike do not for good traction make). When I got to the top there was a view over the East – the huge apartment blocks again.


The guide book explains that the DDR did huge amounts of building – in East Berlin there were 10,000 new homes built and in the rest of East Germany hundreds of thousands. Unfortunately just a few years after German reunification lots of the East Berlin apartment blocks had to be razed to the ground as they were so badly built.


Going down from the Volkspark was fun and fast if a bit bumpy. The route then went past some of the weird allotment-type gardens which have tiny dwellings in them – that I think people actually live in all round. I suppose a bit like a trailer park except the buildings are brick with foundations.

I then arrived at Sportform Hohenschönhausen which initially looked fairly uninspiring, yet another dull concrete building.


However the route took me behind this where I went past football pitches, tennis courts, an ice hockey stadium and more. This was the centre of the East German sport success and was home to Britta Steffen (swimming), Claudia Pechstein (speed skating), Franziscka van Almsick (swimming world champion) and Robert Bartko (track cycling), and the guide book explains: “after the downfall of the DDR it became clear that a not insignificant part of this success was owed to systematic doping organised by trainers and sports doctors and often without the knowledge of the athletes.”

After some more faffing around on little roads I found myself passing the Sowjetisches Ehrenmal in Küstriner Straße. This is a memorial for the dead soldiers of the Soviet army.


I now found myself entering the Hohenschönhausen area, which has a strange history. It was a restricted area which was exccessively spied upon by East German secret police and within it was the Stasi Prison.

This was an information board about the restricted area.


It all looks appallingly grey and unappealing. Not helped by the fact the rain had started again and I was beginning to get wet. The rain continued for the rest of the day’s ride.


According to Wiki: “In June 1945, at the conclusion of World War II, the Soviet Secret Police took over the Hohenschönhausen area of Lichtenberg and transformed it into a detainment and transit camp, called Special Camp No. 3. The camp served as an both a prison and transfer point. Over 20,000 people passed through Special Camp No. 3 on their way to other Soviet camps, including one at the former Nazi concentration camp at Sachsenhausen. Living conditions in the camp were deplorable, with death from malnutrition, disease, or cold common. Although official statistics list 886 deaths at the camp between July 1945 and October 1946, independent estimates put the toll as high as 3,000. Bodies were disposed of in local bomb craters. The camp was closed and prisoners relocated other camps in October 1946. After the closing of Special Camp No. 3, the Hohenschönhausen compound served as a Soviet prison during the winter of 1946-1947. The former cafeteria was converted to the underground prison area (“submarine”) by prison labour.”

And then the next building was the Stasi Prison.


Wiki explains: “The prison was reopened by the East German Ministry of State Security (MfS), also known as the Stasi, in 1951. The Stasi added a new prison building (using prisoner labour) in the late 1950s. The new building included 200 prison cells and interrogation rooms. After the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961, the prison was primarily used to house those who wished or attempted to leave the GDR, although political prisoners were also held there. The prison was used until Die Wende in 1989 and officially closed on October 3rd, 1990. The main prison also included a hospital wing, built in the 1950s and expanded in 1972. The hospital treated prisoners from all three Berlin prisons and sometimes from regional Stasi prisons as well. The hospital had up to 28 beds (in cells), an x-ray ward, treatment and operating rooms, a laboratory, a morgue, and outdoor exercise cells (called “tiger cages” by prisoners). In 1989, shortly before its closure, the hospital was run by Dr. Herbert Vogel with 28 full-time MfS staff.


I hoped to pop into the Stasi Prison but you had to go on a guided tour which takes an hour and a half. The rather scary security guards at the gate didn’t seem inclined to let me in just to have a nose around, and fearing getting locked up for years or sent to the gulag, I carried on.

This next section was just plain weird. I went round a weird German waterworks which felt like cycling round the back end of a rather down-at-heel industrial estate.


I ended up going through the Dong Xuan Center, an Asian market which was just full of Vietnamese shops. According to the guide book the area was previously the VEB Elektrokohle Lichtenberg which was one of the major causes of the appalling smog during the DDR years.

After this I popped out on Ruschestraße where, waiting to cross the road, I took a bad photo of one of the ubiquitous trams in East Berlin. The trams are about the only thing that West Berliners think was good about the East, and one of the tram lines was actually extended into the West following reunification. Edinburgh take note!


And now, what is this picture? Can you see the trike at the very bottom under the tree?


This is an enormous building, yet another East German concrete monstrosity, but not just for its looks this time. This was the building for the Stasi in Normannenstraße.


Anyone who, like me, likes reading spy books ought to be familiar with the name Normannenstraße. In fact, my reading of spy books is what really brought to life my first visit to Berlin. I was staying in the Hilton Hotel at the Gendarmenmarkt (see earlier blog for pictures of it!) and started reading a new book, I think it was a Len Deighton one (Berlin Game?) Anyway, the first two pages talked about someone jumping off a U-Bahn train at Stadtmitte station. I looked out of the window – there was Stadtmitte Station! So arriving today for the first time at Normannenstraße was a spooky experience – it’s a place that has such an ugly history and somehow its exterior continues the theme. There is now a Stasi museum inside. Oh, and some of the filming of Das Leben Der Anderen (The Lives Of Others) was done there. If you haven’t seen that film, rent it now – it is just brilliant!

There’s a bit of a building site around the back as they move the museum to a different part of the complex, and I gather there’s been a bit of infighting about who runs the museum.


Here’s an example of one of the cobbled roads that I complain about so much.


Soon I found myself on Frankfurter Allee which is also known as Karl Marx Allee and Stalinallee. It’s a very long road which leads to Alexanderplatz and is well known for its buildings. It was one of East Germany’s treasures, an attractive and wide road with excellent-looking buildings. The reality is that the facades of the buildings were good but inside they were awful and hopeless like most of the other buildings.



The actual road is one of the oldest roads in Berlin and leads from Frankfurt (an der Oder) to Berlin. In 1949 it was renamed Stalinallee as a present for Stalin’s 70th birthday and in 1961 it was (here comes a fab German word from the guidebook) “entstalinisiert” – unstalined.

The route (that you could see at the top of this page) does a weird little circly bit near U-Bahn Station Weberwieser. This is a mini diversion to have a look at the house which was one of the main locations for the film of Das Leben Der Anderen (The Lives Of Others), the house of Dreymann. This block of apartments in Wedekindstraße was chosen for the film as it still looks as it did in DDR times. I took a few pics as I wasn’t sure which was the relevant flat.




I continued along Karl Marx Allee – it was pretty easy to see my destination, Alexanderplatz, with that rather large TV tower in the middle of it!



As I cycled up towards Alexanderplatz the road became extremely wide with various lanes painted on, including the cycle lane which wasn’t at the edge of the road. I did think one had to be reasonably confident to cycle along this bit of road as you feel quite exposed. Here’s a photo I took looking back at Karl Marx Allee as I was stopped at traffic lights.


And of course a final shot of the Brandenburger Tor, this time in the rain.


Following this I took a little film of cycling along from the Brandenburg Gate to the Siegesäule. I’m not sure the iPad will be able to cope with that but hopefully when I’m home I can upload the video so you can see what it’s like cycling along here.

I got home having done 25.05 miles so a good run which took me ages but which took me to lots of new places.

The East Without Varnish was a good title for this route. Much of the ride was through places I really wouldn’t want to have to live (in such contrast with Zehlendorf and Potsdam and places like that). Everything still seems grey and graffitied and run down. Although Karl Marx Allee looks nice and fresh (it’s been spruced up since the reunification), the general feel when cycling in the East is greyness. Particularly on such a rainy day.

Tomorrow is Part 2 of the Berlin Wall. Hopefully the weather will be better!


Statistics for this ride:

Distance – 25.18 miles

Time – 3 hours 18 minutes

Moving average – 7.6 mph

Didn’t wear Heart Rate Monitor again.

Maximum speed – 21.73

Calories burned – 1318 (??)

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