Berlin. Not one of the traditional European cycling capitals like Amsterdam & Copenhagen, but a city with a growing cycling culture and reputation as one of the urban cycling hubs of Europe. I’m not sure I’ve come across any other city with such a proliferation of cycle cafes and unique bike shops, such as Standert, Keirin, Cicli Berlinetta and Steel Vintage to name just a few; which are all contributing to making this city a cyclists paradise, along with world class cycling events like the Berliner Fahrradschau.
We set out to explore the city (by bike, of course), in frigid mid-November conditions. We were however blessed with an entire weekend of sun, which took the edge off of the chill a little (our merino collars & softshell gloves helped too!) – perfect conditions for riding around and exploring this big city. There’s bikes to rent on practically every street corner, plus lots of hotels have a rental service – 25 Hours Hotel Berlin even offer guests free rental, & their Urban L rooms have a Schindelhauer bicycle ready and waiting for urban explorations.
This route is perfect for a day on the bike in Berlin – it travels from West to East, exploring well known spots and hidden gems too – with plenty of tasty pitt stop recommendations to warm up & refuel.
Start the day in the centre of town – the area known as Mitte – and head first to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. It’s an unusual (and controversial) memorial, designed by architect Peter Eisenman and engineer Buro Happold to be unsettling and confusing. As you walk into the narrow rows of concrete columns, reminiscent of graves, increase in height, until they tower over you – indeed unsettling & erie, especially when contrasted with the tourists laughing & children playing in the sun outside of the deep lanes. Head here early on to explore & reflect before the crowds arrive – you could also visit the nearby Brandenburg Gate (Brandenburger Tor) and Reichstag, two of Berlin’s most recognisable icons.
From the memorial, head into the Tiergarten, Berlin’s beautiful tree-filled urban park, which stretches out towards the west over five square kilometers. Ride the network of paths through this amazing green space in the centre of the city – I’m sure you could spend an entire day exploring and still not discover all of it’s secrets.
Pop out on the star-shaped roundabout around the Victory Column (Siegessäule), before carrying on to the far western end of the park where you’ll find one of Berlin’s oldest and most famous flea markets (Saturday & Sunday,on Straße des 17.Jun) – or take a left at the Victory Column and head for Café am Neuen See for a cosy break. We warmed up with coffee and mulled wine in the beer garden overlooking the lake, enjoying the sun and the picturesque surroundings.
From here, cycle back east along the southern edge of the Tiergarten to Potsdamer Platz, continuing on to Checkpoint Charlie – one of the crossing points between East & West Berlin during the Cold War. There’s a museum here, as well as an external display detailing the history of the period.
Heading into the area known as Kreuzberg, and just a few meters down the road from Checkpoint Charlie, you’ll find West Berlin, a cafe/workspace/shop serving up delicious coffee, tasty bites, and a comprehensive selection of independent magazines (both English and German titles). It’s a good place to refuel before heading round the corner to the Jewish Museum.
Designed by architect Daniel Libeskind, it’s an impressive and evocative space. Exhibitions and displays are mixed with haunting spaces described by the architect as ‘voids’, which take up the full height of the building. Thought provoking and moving, it’s definitely worth a visit.
Riding further east through the Berlin streets, we’re amazed at how laid back and relaxed cycling in this city is. The roads are so wide, there’s more than enough space for all road users to travel in harmony, and we found that there really wasn’t much traffic on the roads anyway, especially away from the main thoroughfares. There’s also a good network of bike lanes too across the city. Pedalling around on our hired dutch style city bikes, I have to admit, it did make a nice change to the frantic chaos and congestion of London.
In the centre of Kreuzberg, you’ll find Ora, a cafe located in an old pharmacy on Oranienplatz. The interior is just stunning, retaining and repurposing many features of the pharmacy, including walls lined with wooden shelves, and a bar full of antique bottles and jars (as well as the usual bottles of spirits and glasses). It’s the perfect spot to while away a few hours over a bowl of warming soup with delicious sourdough bread, enjoying the friendly, relaxed atmosphere. It opens late too, if you fancy heading there for a cocktail in the evening.
The Kreuzberg area, part of former West Berlin, was once one of the most downtrodden areas of the divided city, attracting a vibrant population. Today it still retains it’s own identity: residential and quite untouristy (away from Checkpoint Charlie on the western edge, and the East Side Gallery on the eastern side), the grafitti covered streets are dotted with trendy cafes nestled next to donner kebab stalls.
As the Eastern edge of this area, where river Spree cuts through the city, you’ll find Kierin, a cycle shop and cafe dedicated to track racing. Stop here for a coffee and browse of the amazing collection of vintage jerseys, memorabilia, and of course, bikes.
Cross the fortress-like Oberbaum Bridge for a view up the Spree back to the centre of Berlin, and cross over to Friedrichshain. We’d recommend Silo Coffee as a stop for more delicious coffee (from Fjord Coffee Roasters), and the best eggs & bacon on toast you can imagine. We stopped there for an early evening dinner (it’s open until 5pm), but this would be a great place to head for breakfast if you’re staying on this side of city (and then do this tour in reverse!). Pop round the corner to visit Hops and Barley, a brewery and bar with a diverse range of traditional beers.
After our delicious evening brunch at Silo, we pedalled back to the Oberbaum Bridge, and rode up the eastern side of the river to the East Side Gallery, a 1316m long section of the Berlin Wall that remains, painted by artists after the reunification of Germany to celebrate freedom and the fall of the wall. Ride back on the cycle route along the wall on Holzmarktstraße, past the impressive Berliner Dom and Television Tower (Berliner Fernsehturm), ending your day on the bike back in central Mitte.
Berlin is an amazing city for cyclists – it is big, but feels manageable on a bike, especially thanks to the ease of travelling on the quiet, wide roads, you can explore in a relaxed style. Oh yeah – and it’s pancake flat too! Having said that, our short time in the city left us wanting to come back for more – there’s still so much to explore and discover. We will certainly return.