In autumn 2014, Berlin is full of temporary installations and memorial exhibitions commemorating the fall of the Berlin Wall 25 years ago. From 1961 to 1989, West Berlin was literally fenced off from the surrounding area of the GDR (East Berlin and Brandenburg) by a wall 3.60 m high and about 160 km long. Today that border is the route for an unusual cycling trail.
Most of the time one wouldn’t even notice where the wall was, except for those who remember it. But by cycling along the former border the knowledge sinks in that the broad green corridors between some quarters of the city – nice enough as local recreational areas – used to be the death strip, not green at that time, but completely without vegetation so that the border guards could better see and shoot “defectors” …
In some places the border was along a smaller road, and comparing the buildings on both sides, we see that some of the houses on the ground of former West Berlin are quite old, but those on the former eastern side have only been rebuilt in the past 25 years: All the houses that had been there originally were torn down for border control purposes after the wall was built.
Information panels along the Berlin Wall Cycling Trail
The City of Berlin has put up information panels all along the cycling route. Many of them introduce the fates of the numerous individuals who were killed in the attempt of leaving the GDR, at or near the place where it happened. Sometimes we stop every kilometre or so to read about pairs of friends who tried unsuccessfully to climb over the wall, or an activist from West Berlin who was shot while smuggling someone through the canalisation. People hijacked planes to get into the West or swam through the various lakes surrounding the city, which in some cases formed the border between both parts. All the panels are marked by an orange stele of exactly the same height as the former Berlin wall (3.60 m).
Pieces of the original Berlin wall
Two women who seem to be from the area – one of them is pushing a bicycle – pass behind us as we are studying the information board. “Hey, what’s this? That must have been where the wall was! But those stones are new, aren’t they? I think they’ve made it into, what do you call it, a heritage site?”
A control tower near Hennigsdorf has also been preserved as a memorial. Here, ships crossing the border into West Berlin were screened at a water border with a huge swimming barrier. For all ships without business in West Berlin, the GDR even built the Havel Channel that circumnavigates West Berlin (while the river is passing right through the city).
Behind Hennigsdorf and Hohen Neuendorf , the Berlin Wall trail leads back into the city to the North station, the main station and Potsdamer Platz and finally to Köllnische Heide, the place where we started our tour.
Reasons to cycle the Berlin Wall Cycling Trail
For a cycling trail, this is a very informative and thought-provoking route. We learned a lot not only about Berlin but also about post-War history. It is also interesting to see some new and unknown areas of Berlin that we would otherwise have no reason to visit. In our opinion and experience the Berlin Wall Trail is especially recommendable for non-native Berliners and those too young to remember the wall.
Practical considerations for doing the Berlin Wall Cycling Trail
As the cycling route is following the former border it winds considerably around settlements and lakes, sometimes following unpaved forest paths and going up and down as the territory happens to be. Roads and paths of rather mixed quality, and because of the stop and go at the many memorials and information panels it takes rather long to cover distance. Don’t aim for more than 60-70 km per day. Many points along the way are accessible by public transport (you can take the bicycle into the S-Bahn).
From Berlin you could also cycle 400 km along the river Spree to its source in Upper Lusatia.