Berlin by bike: The Berlin Wall Trail

Checkpoint Charly

First of all: Exploring Berlin by bike is the way to go!

Second of all: You might believe that the wall used to be around East Berlin. This is not true, but don’t worry. Many people think that way. Truth be told: The wall went around West Berlin, the simple reason for that being that West Berlin was part of West Germany, the so-called BRD. And the East Germans were not allowed to go there. But enough of history for now.

You’ve come to Berlin. Chances are that you feel a strong urge to see where the wall used to be. To understand a little better the history of it which is unique and idiotic at the same time. Uniquely idiotic, if you will. Since only a few years, the whole stretch of the former wall can now be explored by bicycle! And, weird enough, hardly anybody does…

The Berlin Wall Trail (source: Michael Cramer - Berliner Mauer-Radweg)
The Berlin Wall Trail (source: Michael Cramer – Berliner Mauer-Radweg)

Why the Wall Trail?

I have been living in Berlin for 13 years and I still love this city. But cycling along the whole length of the Wall Trail was one of the best sightseeing trips I have ever done here. You get all the history. You get a glimpse of many of Berlin’s diverse districts. You get a feeling for what it must have been like when this city was still two cities. But much more: You get to see places and things most visitors won’t ever see. And if that wasn’t enough, large parts of the path lead through pristine nature. Imagine a place between two walls, secured by soldiers, mines and guard dogs for almost 3 decades. A place where hardly anybody set foot on:

That is the death strip!

And, as much as it sounds scary, nowadays it is just lush nature that has had a chance to grow for 28 years! In fact, in most places it could just keep on growing after the fall of the Wall. The bike path goes right through the heart of it, often on the original path the GDR soldiers used to patrol.

Things to know

You won’t, in fact, see a lot of wall. The reason for this is that there is hardly any of it left. When the Wall opened in 1989, the people were so psyched that they tried to remove all of the stupid thing which had imprisoned them as fast as they could. Quite an understandable impulse. It was only later that someone realized it might be a good idea to keep a few stretches as memorials. By then, almost all of it was already gone.

What you will get to see though: Some watchtowers. Some little parts of wall here and there. Some areas and buildings which still have history written all over them. And many, many information boards teaching you a lot about this chapter of German history and informing you about the fates of almost everyone who died or was captured while trying to escape. It is all these stories of individuals which make the Wall Trail so interesting. But be prepared to feel incredulous, sad and angry at some point. The Wall Trail does not leave anybody untouched.

My suggestion: Make it 3 days

The Berlin Wall Trail is 160 km long altogether. Unless you are Lance Armstrong, the chances for cycling this in one day are rather slim. Plus, there is so much to see that you will be constantly stopping. At least, on the main stretches.

If you split the Wall Trail into three parts, you have a decent amount of kilometers per day – around 55. Not too much, but definitely enough.

You can do these three days in a row. Or – if you are here for longer or if you currently call Berlin home – you can do one now and the others some weeks later. That’s what I did. In fact, I have spread these three days over the course of almost 2 years…

Or you can just do one day with one of the stretches altogether. If that is your plan, make sure you take the one you can get most out of.

The best way to split up the Wall Trail

Day 1

No matter if you are here for the first time or if you’ve known Berlin for a while: You should start at the Wall Documentation Centre and go South, meaning clockwise around West Berlin. If you only want to do one day of cycling along the wall, that’s the route to choose.

Wall Documentation Centre
Wall Documentation Centre

The Documentation Centre gives you a very good overview of the Wall and of German history in general. There are plenty of things to visit, read and listen to. Find some of the last real bits of the Wall right here. Also, don’t miss all the stories about the numerous tunnels which have been dug right here.

Chapel of reconciliation
Chapel of reconciliation

After you have inhaled all the basic history, you probably don’t want to wait any longer to get on the road. Luckily, the first bit is downhill.

Watchtower Mitte
Watchtower Mitte

Via an old watchtower and an area that has managed to stay almost untouched since the Fall of the Wall, you make your way along the canal towards the government buildings, with the Reichstag and Brandenburg Gate being the most important landmarks to watch.

Brandenburg Gate
Brandenburg Gate

Don’t be overwhelmed. I know, there is so much to see, learn and understand around this area. But the amount of information along the way gets less after a few hours. This is just the busiest – and most interesting – stretch. Make your way past the Holocaust Memorial to Potsdamer Platz. Nowhere is the change between 1989 and now so drastic like it is here. Take some time to be amazed!

Potsdamer Platz
Potsdamer Platz

Then there is the Checkpoint Charlie Museum, very well worth a visit. Especially interesting: The area displaying many different attempts of fleeing the country. There are ever-changing exhibitions around the museum which are all interesting. And mostly free.

Checkpoint Charly
Checkpoint Charly

After that you will be zigzagging your way through Berlin Mitte. This is where you finally give up your idea of the wall going straight

There is not so much to see here, so you have time to relax for a bit. Until you get to the East Side Gallery, the longest stretch of wall still intact, designed by 100 different artists in 1990 and in 2009.

East Side Gallery
East Side Gallery

If you have seen pictures of the Wall, they have probably been taken here. You will surely recognize some of the motives, many of them now famous icons.

East Side Gallery
East Side Gallery

From there you cross back over the river Spree via Berlin’s most beautiful bridge, the Oberbaumbrücke, and find another very impressive watchtower only a few hundred meters further.

Oberbaum Bridge
Oberbaum Bridge

Then it gets a little tricky to find the ‘Wall Trail’ signs. That is a good sign that you are finally out of the main tourist stretch. Get used to it, you will encounter this problem more often later on. See it as a scavenger hunt!

Watchtower Treptow
Watchtower Treptow

Cruising along Southeast, I highly recommend to make a stop at the Soviet Monument. It is huge!

Russian Memorial Treptow
Soviet Memorial Treptow

After that you will drive through beautiful parks and backroads. If you have time, pay a visit to the abandoned theme park ‘Spreepark’, now rotting away. Then it’s through bustling Neukölln district which is a good place to stop for something to eat.

The next bit is only about making kilometers, mostly along the highway, but still nice to ride. You’ll meet many other cyclists and skaters here. I’d suggest you go at least all the way to the city limits where you have an amazing view of the city from a hill. Turn right then and head West. This is where it gets very calm and green. Enjoy the silence and the loneliness while you cycle along the old path on which the GDR troops used to patrol. Bumpy history under your wheels!

View from the hill
View from the hill

If you want to get your full first 50-60 kilometers out of the way, go all the way to Teltow. Take a train back home from there, it is very easy. If you are already done after climbing down from the hill, there is a tube station not far from there, too.

Day 2

The second day begins like the first one ended: Quiet and in the middle of nature. Slowly ride that path all the way to Potsdam. Don’t miss all the little signs along the way which explain what was going on back then.

Pass Potsdam Babelsberg, still known for its film studios nowadays. Then cross into Potsdam over the Glienicker Brücke, the bridge where secret services used to exchange agents when the Wall was still up. If you are not in a hurry, you should check out Potsdam, the capital of Brandenburg, the federal state surrounding Berlin. It gets prettier every year!

Enjoy all the lake views on your way North. And don’t miss Belvedere Castle. Once you’ve reached Krampnitzsee, the most scenic part of the Wall Trail begins. Up and down hills, through forests, along lakes and the Havel river.

Riding through the forest
Riding through the forest

The remains of the checkpoint in Staaken and the surrounding area give you a really good idea of how it must have been when the Wall was still there. In general, I recommend reading up on the respective history of the key places. Then, let your imagination take you back 30 or 40 years. For some reason, my imagination was very vivid here.

Also in and around Spandau, there are several little things to see along the way. Always keep your eyes open for the signs!

Once you have left Spandau, there is a long stretch through fields. Not much is happening here. If you would like to skip one part of the Wall Trail, I’d say it should be this one. If you decide to do that, have a bite to eat in Spandau (which really does feel like a different city), and then take public transport back home.

Cycling the old patrol path
Cycling the old patrol path

But if you really want to claim you’ve cycled the whole 160 kilometers of the wall, you will have to stay strong and continue!

But only for another hour or so before you pass beautiful Heiligensee and finally Hennigsdorf. This is a good ending point for the second day. Congratulations, you have almost made it!

Day 3

Once you have made your way back to Hennigsdorf by public transport, you have roughly another 15 kilometers through the countryside before you hit the Northern city limits of Berlin. There is another watchtower you can see as well as some information boards and small things.

If you have time, pay a visit to the Buddhist House, a very random place with very friendly people. It has nothing to do with the Wall though.

Make sure you don’t miss the so-called ‘goose-beak‘, possibly the strangest part of the Wall. The Wall went in a U-shape here. This resulted in a line of houses (West-German) having the Wall on both sides. Now what a pretty place to live in!

You enter the city from a few lush hills, only to see one of Berlin’s least attractive quarters first, the ‘Märkisches Viertel‘. In its own way the huge concrete towers are impressive though. Plus, I have met the friendliest people around this area.

Märkisches Viertel
Märkisches Viertel

There are a few parts of the wall still intact as you cruise along some old train tracks. But things get more interesting a little further: The death strip around Wollankstrasse is still undeveloped nowadays and gives you a very good idea of former times.

Wollankstrasse
Wollankstrasse

Also make sure to take a look at the Bürgerpark.

Volkspark
Bürgerpark

Altogether, this is where the Wall Trail still has the most GDR feeling. It almost looks like the Wall has only been ripped down a few weeks ago. Go see it now, I am sure it won’t stay that way for much longer!

You then cycle through Pankow, once the political heart of East Berlin and the entire GDR. Don’t miss the old embassy buildings which are now used as family homes.

At one point you will cross over the Bösebrücke, the bridge that made history on 9. November 1989. It was the first border checkpoint that was opened in the late evening. If you remember pictures of the first people walking to the other side with tears running down their cheeks, being welcomed by their Western neighbors – that’s where it was!

Then you will soon reach Mauerpark, the famous Karaoke/flea market park every tourist knows nowadays.

Mauerpark
Mauerpark

Make a right and continue for another two kilometers.

You are now back where you have started!

Of course, this is only a very rough guide on where to go.

If you want to know exactly where to turn on each corner and also learn about all the little details along the way, it is best to check out this city page.

But there’s an even better choice: This book, which really has all the information you need. Plus, the book with all its detailed maps is really good to have in places where you have lost the way and your 3G does not work!

And if you haven’t had enough after this ride: Go do the Iron Curtain Trail – a trail running all the way from Northern Finland to the Bulgarian Black Sea Coast! It is definitely on my bucket list!

The Iron Curtain Trail (source: Michael Cramer - Berliner Mauer-Radweg)
The Iron Curtain Trail (source: Michael Cramer – Berliner Mauer-Radweg)

This post is also available in: German

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