Growing up in Mexico, I never really cared much for the sun. I actually went out of my way to avoid it the best I could—which is nevertheless all but impossible in Guadalajara, where temperatures hit the 30s already as early as February. And while the lack of sun and perpetually overcast skies of Portland, Ore., never really bothered me, I took a liking to the sun after a few years here in Germany. Now, like most Germans (or Europeans, for that matter), I’ll happily spend as much time as I can under Apollyon’s sun and enjoy every second of it—and there’s no better way to make the most out of a sunny day than by going on a serious bike ride.
The weather was exceptionally good today, so I went on a ride through Berlin with my friend (and occasional collaborator to this blog) Ruben. We rode from Greifswalder St., in the northeastern part of town, to Lichterfelde, in the deep south of the city. That’s roughly 20 km one way, and the route goes from Prenzlauer Berg to Mitte, Schöneberg, and Steglitz. All in all, it’s a long fucking ride, but one that lets you appreciate all the things that make Berlin as interesting as it is: abandoned buildings, awesome street art, Prussian arcs, Nazi buildings, and Communist monuments. Berlin is, to put it unceremoniously, a tremendous clusterfuck of influences. Berlin has a very unique historical experience, and everybody has left their imprint here in this city that changes quicker than it can process what the hell is going on. I would recommend you check out Berlin by bike whenever you come here. And should you need any tips or information, feel free to hit me up.
We set out from Greifswalder Street in Prenzlauer Berg, in the former eastern part of the city. We rode by Ernst Thälmann Park, named after the leader of the German Communist Party in the Weimar Republic. Thälmann was imprisoned by the Nazis in 1933 and spent 11 years in solitary confinement. He was executed in 1944. Incidentally, there’s an island named after him off of the coast of Cuba.
We rode down all the way down Greifswalder Street, which becomes Otto Braun Street, until we got to Alexanderplatz. I honestly dislike Alex because there’s really not much to see around there, but really like the buildings that are in the area because they are very fine examples of Communist architecture. Not far from Alexanderplatz is the Nikolaiviertel, a small but charming part of the city that preserves Berlin’s old Prussian charm. The Nikolaiviertel also succumbed to the bombs and bullets toward the end of World War II, but the area was partially reconstructed and now offers a nice glimpse into a distant time.
We rode on Leipziger Street, a quintessential Communist avenue, all the way to the most horrible part of Berlin: Checkpoint Charlie. That place is seriously a tourist trap, and if you live here you learn to avoid it like the plague. We continued past the Topography of Terror, which is across what once was the headquarters of the Luftwaffe, all the way to Park Gleisdreieck. There we decided to drink a quick beer and finally try out Brlo’s microbrews. I had a German IPA, which was decent but a bit overpriced.
From there we rode along subway line 2 to the areas around Bülow Street, which is known primarily for its excellent street art. We checked out some of it and continued down past Kleistpark toward Steglitz.
Steglitz is nothing out of the ordinary, but I did see this awesome building down below. The building is part of the subway station Schloßstrasse, but I don’t really know what it’s for. If you ride down south toward Lichterfelde and then to the west of the city toward Wannsee, you’ll notice that the architecture and general vibe of the city changes a lot. There you’re no longer in the hip Berlin that everybody idealizes but already in a provincial city full of small, one-family houses amid thickets of forest. How is that special? Houses like that are a rare find in Berlin, which is otherwise covered in apartment buildings.
We rode along the Teltow Canal past these strange buildings that looked like something out of a horror movie. To be fair, I just watched Between and Stranger Things recently so those buildings got my imagination going. On our way back, we rode on the other side of the complex to check them out, so just keep reading and you’ll get to the pics.
Eventually we got to the Fourth of July Square. This street was conceived by the Nazis as the fourth ring of Berlin, meaning that it would be a highway running to the south of the “Capital of the World”, which should be renamed Germania after the war. That day never came, but the buildings erected back then are still there. Like many former Nazi installations, the whole complex was taken over by the US Army after World War II. The buildings are now being restored and have been turned into luxury apartments.
After a quick pit stop at a nearby supermarket we started heading back. We rode past the complex we had seen on the way to Lichterfelde, which turned out to be a hospital. Most of the buildings were giants made of crude concrete. But there was one across the street that looked like a mixture between a rusting Dreadnought and a spaceship. We approached it. The building was, unlike the previous one we had just checked out, off limits. We stood outside the gate and looked and took pictures of it from the street. There were a bunch of cameras and signs saying that unauthorized persons were not allowed. Another sign informed us that that was a center of experimental medicine. After maybe a minute or two, a security guard appeared and told us we were not allowed to be there. “What do you mean here? We’re on the street and are not trespassing”, we told him, but he insisted we had to leave. Since there was basically nothing else to see there we got on our bikes and continued exploring the complex. However, we did think the whole thing was rather strange.
On our way back we rode back to Schöneberg and stopped by the Gasometer in the so-called Red Island. The Red Island is an area of Schöneberg known for being home to staunch Communists in the early 20th century. The area was also spared from destruction during World War II and is one of the best preserved areas of pre-war Berlin. From there, Ruben and I rode up almost to Potsdamer Square and then parted ways.
I hope you enjoyed this virtual bike ride through Berlin. I strongly recommend you explore the city by bike too whenever you’re here. Biking is definitely the way to go. As always, please help me out by following me on Facebook and Instagram!
Thanks for reading! Seb