Cycle Tour Around West Berlin
Dag/day 1: Berlin Mitte-Mahlow
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Added on 18 Jul 2023
on 08 Aug 2023
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by Ottocolor on 18 Jul 2023
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Berlin, BE, DE (46 m NHN)
Blankenfelde-Mahlow, BB, DE (37 m NHN)
06 Jul 2023
Hot and sunny, 26-27°C. Light to moderate southerly breeze.
Slope Gradient Distribution
The third day of my holiday was my cycle trip's first. The first day had been a transport day by train from Odense to Berlin and the second day had been without bicycle, by foot and by public transport.
On Thursday I had ordered a rental bike at the Fahrradstation in Dorotheenstraße, which required a short bus ride with my heavy luggage, which consisted of a large bag with my tent equipment, two bike panniers and a small backpack. Not fun to lug around. After handing over to me what the rental guy claimed was a female touring bike, I set off on the Mauerweg, the Berlin Wall path that I would follow all the way around former West Berlin.
My starting point and destination was Nordbahnhof, which had once been called Stettiner Bahnhof. At that time, Berlin had no main railway station, but like London and Paris a whole series of large railway stations, from which trains arrived and departed from in different directions. During the time of the Wall, it was closed, as the tracks from it led into West Berlin territory in an unmanageable tangle, which had been the scene of a number of escape attempts. And escape attempts were to be the core of my theme. What did the people of East Berlin and the GDR do to obtain their freedom which their country denied them? In particular, I delved into the tragic, unfortunate escape attempts that ended fatally. Fortunately, far more attempts were successful, but many also ended with arrest, conviction and imprisonment for up to five years for so-called "escape from the republic".
My first stop on the tour was precisely the scene, where an escape attempt had ended in a murder, namely on Günter Litfin already a few weeks after the Wall was built. He tried to swim through Humboldt Harbour near today's Central Station, but never reached the West Berlin brink. His brother insisted that a memorial site be set up, because he was the first of approx. 140 people who were shot, drowned or otherwise lost their lives at the Wall.
The very first victims were people who jumped or fell from roofs or out of the windows of the houses in Bernauer Straße, as the houses stood in East Berlin, while the pavement in front of them was already in West Berlin Here the fire brigade tried to save desperate refugees in their jumping blankets in the very first chaotic weeks, before the roofs were blocked off and the windows closed with bricks. It was not always possible to save these people.
I was lucky that just as I was there, a guide with a group of young people on bicycles told them and me about the circumstances of Günter Litfin's death. I also entered one of the few GDR watchtowers that still stand as part of the great museum that the "wall sites" in Berlin are.
The route now went south into the city centre. Here it follows the river Spree very closely. In fact, you cycle on the bank itself past the modernist buildings that are part of the German federal government quarter. At the Reichstag, where the Bundestag, the German parliament, is located, I had to take a small detour around the building, as a meeting was just taking place in the assembly hall, explained a friendly police officer. In the square in front of the Parliament, there was a lot of mess and reconstruction. On the other side, close to the Brandenburg Gate, a sausage stand appeared, so I had a quick lunch and a nice chat with two ladies who were taking a break from their working day in a nearby government office. Afterwards I looked at the white crosses that have been put up on a fence in honour of some of the victims of the Wall.
Afterwards, I continued south towards Potsdamer Platz, which is Berlin's actual old central square, which lay completely fallow for the 28 years the Wall stood. There had already been traffic chaos here in the 30s. When the Wall came down, there was plenty of space for new office buildings, which totally removed coziness and orderliness from the square. So I didn't stay there long, but turned left onto Niederkirchnerstraße, named after a local communist. Here another preserved section of the Berlin Wall soon appeared, here in front of the Gestapo's old torture cellar under the headquarters of several of the repressive bodies of the Nazi era. So here two German dictatorships had left their mark on display for posterity.
I continued quickly, but not far, as to the left I saw the round building where the German-Iranian Yadegar Asisi has painted a large panorama of everyday life in the shadow of the Wall. He had lived on both sides of it, and it struck him how easily and quickly people came to terms with its existence and with living separately from the people in the other part of the city. While he lived in Kreuzberg in West Berlin right up to the Wall and the death strip, he absorbed the impressions, and precisely that district and Mitte on the other side are shown in the panorama painting in the mid-80s. Really well done, I think.
Now I had better cycle a few kilometers, because I hadn't come far yet. I noticed a very modern building on the left, i.e. in Mitte, which turned out to be the new headquarters of the publisher Springer. The bourgeois and anti-communist publishing house, which, among other things, is behind the boulevard paper Bild, had had its headquarters directly opposite in a scyscraper close to the Wall. It is quite ugly, but their new house, I think, is architecturally very interesting. Soon I had reached the river Spree, which formed the border between the two Germanys here. On the other bank, I stopped at a piece of wall painted by artists on the east side, the so-called East Side Gallery. There are several good and thought-provoking paintings. Along the beautiful Oberbaumbridge with its two towers, I cycled back to Kreuzberg, a district known for its thriving nightlife and alternative lifestyle.
Soon after, the wall trail was blocked in several places due to improvements, but it was in large parks, so you could easily find alternatives, which were also signposted. I crossed the roadworks on the A100 motorway extension. I had read that it's an insanely expensive scandal piece of construction, unless of course you love cars in the city.
I now went briskly in southeastern direction, for several kilometres along another highway. I should have at least bought some water, because soon I was out in the wild, especially after East Berlin had stopped to the east and the state of Brandenburg had taken over. Here there was nothing but nature, and the trail quickly deteriorated. It would have been nice if I wasn't thirsty for both water and coffee. I got the former at some kind of club, I don't remember for what, but they weren't allowed to sell anything to me as a non-member. Well, the water did very good. And now it wasn't that far to the campsite by the town of Mahlow either.
In several places I read the text on the steles, which are erected all the way along the wall trail and which refer to special places worth remembering. Often they describe special border crossings, e.g. for West Berlin waste that, for hard currency, was driven across the border to the GDR. Elsewhere, victims of the Wall who did not survive escape attempts or otherwise lost their life near the concrete monster are remembered.
I was happy to turn from the wall trail and cycle the last two kilometers to Mahlow, where I pitched my tent in the fairly crowded tent site. Surprisingly enouth they offered a nice lawn here. Shortly afterwards I cycled down to the bathing lake with a restaurant, but as it soon closed, I ate first, fried herring with fried potatoes, before refreshing myself with a bath in the lake. Afterwards there was a party with live music outside some tents behind the lake. Cool. Entertainment was provided, and my thirst was duly quenched as well. The two musicians were quite funny and got the audience involved, but I was only partially captured by them. They were deeply ironic, and I usually have a hard time with irony.
It had been a good first stage on the Iron Carpet Tour Special around West Berlin.