A bike tour of East Berlin

A bike tour of East BerlinThis article may contain compensated links. Please read disclaimer for more info

I first visited Berlin 20 years ago, a couple of years after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Back then the city was still finding its feet and adjusting to reunification. This time around I was excited to discover how the city had changed, particularly in the former East Berlin.

My honours degree was in European Politics and History and I enjoy tours that encompass a lot of history and political perspective. So when we found a tour that could accommodate children we jumped at the chance to take this bike tour of East Berlin.

A brief look at Berlin’s recent history

a bike tour of east berlin - two sides of the wall

You might be wondering what the situation was in Berlin that caused so much upheaval in the city..

Berlin was a divided city for 28 years. Though this is only a short amount of time in the context of European History, the division of Berlin, the building of the Berlin Wall/Berliner Mauer and the subsequent demise of the East German state are key moments of an extremely interesting time in recent history.

Escalating tensions in the years that followed the end of the Second World War in 1945 led to the creation of two German states – The Federal Republic of Germany (supported by the Allies – UK, France and USA) and German Democratic Republic (supported by the Soviet Union).

Under this arrangement, Berlin was also divided in this manner due to its strategic importance. Lying in the middle of the Soviet controlled German Democratic Republic, West Berlin was isolated from the rest of the Federal Republic of Germany and was used as a corridor for those who did not want to live under the Soviet regime.

During the 1950s, relations continued to sour between the West and the Soviets and in 1961 the now famous wall was built by the East Germans to completely divide the city and prevent its citizens from defecting to the West.

Related  How visiting the Somme changed my perspective on ANZAC Day

A bike tour of east berlin - check point charlie

During its short history, the Berlin Wall represented the division not only of the city but also of the ideologies of East and West. With the end of the Cold War in 1989, the destruction of the Berlin Wall  perhaps best represented the collapse of the Soviet Bloc. I can remember watching this history being made on television and feeling a sense of relief in the easing of tensions between the superpowers.

I can remember watching this history being made on television and feeling a sense of relief in the easing of tensions between the superpowers.

Of course our world landscape has changed considerably since then. With the establishment of the European Union freedom of movement is now possible across much of the European continent for citizens of its member states. There is a spirit of cooperation that was unimaginable only a few decades ago.

I found Berlin to reflect this cooperation with its multicultural population and spirit of regeneration of the former east. What I also appreciated about Berlin this time round was its thoughtful eye on its past.

The city has preserved some of the architecture and spirit of East Berlin and also acknowledges its role in some of the most shocking and horrific events of recent European history.

About the bike tour of East Berlin

We chose a group tour by Fat Tire Tours as they offered an interesting itinerary of East Berlin covering the Berlin Wall and Cold War. We like to try something a little off the beaten track wherever we go and this tour gave us a mix of both well known and lesser known sites of the city.

The tour took us to major sites around the city including the Wall and Checkpoint Charlie. We also visited places that we would not have visited if we were not on the tour including the Soviet Memorial at Treptower Park.

Our bike tour took us past sites of historical significance and along the line where the wall once stood and we got an idea of what it must have been like to live on either side of the wall that divided families and neighbours.

a bike tour of east berlin - listening to our guide explain the geography of Berlin

Throughout the day and at each stop our guide Alex gave thoughtful observations and historical insight. I particularly enjoyed his stories of life in East Berlin, of escape attempts, propaganda and the realities of living in a divided city. In this way, we were transported to another era and felt like we understood the city a little more.

Our group totalled about 15 adults and we felt our guide managed the group well. We also appreciated his advice on how to navigate the city and traffic. Fat Tire Tours were very flexible with booking arrangements and storing some luggage for us. I thought the entire operation was very professionally run. It was an interesting yet leisurely day.

a bike tour of east berlin-architecture

Highlights of the Berlin bike tour

✪ East German architecture – I love it. It’s a little bit crazy retro cool and maybe an acquired taste for some

✪ Murals along the international memorial for freedom known as the Eastside Gallery of the Berlin Wall

✪ Soviet Memorial – a very moving and peaceful place where thousands of Soviet troops are laid to rest

Soviet Memorial in East Berlin

✪ Riding through Kreuzberg along the sites and roads where the wall once stood

✪ Stories of escape and life in the divided city

✪ A fantastic middle eastern style lunch en route

Berlin Wall mural

Practical information about the bike tour

The tour lasted 4.5 hours starting and ending at Alexanderplatz, a major transport hub and shopping precinct. During that time we covered around 10km of the city and had many stops to listen to stories of divided Berlin and background information about the political situation there at the time of the Cold War. The ride was very easy and safe even for those of us who had not been on a bike for a while.

The ride was very easy and safe even for those of us who had not been on a bike for a while.

Icons of East Berlin as seen on our bike tour of the city

Along the way we stopped for a delicious (and cheap) lunch. This was also a chance to get to know our fellow riders better and refuel for the remainder of the tour. Our bike tour started at 10.30 and finished at around 15.30 so it does take up the best part of a day of your trip.

Tip – If you are travelling solo I recommend a tour like this as a great way to meet fellow travellers.

Bring with you: plenty of water, comfortable clothing and shoes, sunscreen and/or clothing layers depending on the weather, your camera, some cash for lunch.

Check availability and pricing for the bike tour of East Berlin

Frequently asked questions

Do I need to be a great bike rider or someone that uses a bike regularly to do a bike tour in Berlin?

No. I last used a bike a couple of years ago. The bikes provided are very sturdy and easy to use and the route taken is mostly flat and along bike paths. We took our tour on the weekend and rarely encountered a lot of traffic.

Do I need to be super fit to do a bike tour?

No. The areas we covered in Berlin are quite flat and I would describe the style of riding as cruising along. If you have any concerns about this I would contact the tour company.

How about safety – do I need to wear a helmet?

Helmets are not required by German law but the company has them available should you choose to use one.

Can I take my children on a bike tour of Berlin?

Yes! We did. You can read all about our experience including tips for family travellers below

Berlin bike tour ideas

Summary

Unlike some of Europe’s other major cities, many of Berlin’s attractions are not easily managed entirely on foot. Bike tours such as the one we went on are a great way to see a larger area of the city and perhaps some more unusual places to visit. We enjoyed our bike tour of East Berlin and especially liked the more unusual and out of the way places to visit.

Visiting a city with a guide who has strong knowledge of the history, politics and stories of the places you are seeing can really enrich your experience. I certainly got a strong sense of the mood of the city during various points in its recent history from this bike tour.

a bike tour of east berlin-berlinermauermural


Family travel tips for a city bike tour


Our 2.5 year old twins came along for the ride in a chariot pulled behind my husband’s bike. They did brilliantly for the most part and loved zooming along the bike trails. They also managed a nap (as planned – phew!) in their ride so it must have been quite comfortable. However we both felt the tour was too long for them and felt we may have impacted others experience by being a bit slow.

If you would like to try a tour like this with your family don’t forget to take lots of water, snacks and sunscreen if the weather is sunny. Talk to your guide about the terrain and number and type of stops along the way. Our guide let us know when we were stopping for a longer break so we could have a run about with the children.

The tour company will also let you know what options you have for carrying the children by bike. We had a nap scheduled so the chariot worked well from this and a safety point of view. Storage was also key, the company stowed our pram for us and there was plenty of room in the chariot for the children and all their stuff.

Special child friendly chariot for our bike tour

Obviously you will need to supervise children a little more closely around bikes and traffic in general. We were also hyperaware of inappropriate loud noise and behaviour. We took turns supervising the children away from the group while the other listened to our guide. Lastly, as the tour lasted a little longer than expected I had luckily bought along my phone loaded with games. There is a time and place for technology and they definitely needed the distraction after a long day.

We would love to do similar bike tours with the children. It is difficult to cover a lot of ground on foot with toddlers so the bike plus chariot was an ideal way to get around.

Next time we will look for shorter tours and even a private bike tour so we could set our own pace. We really appreciated the time our guide and other riders on the tour took to make us feel comfortable but in the end I think we disrupted the pace for others and that did not sit well with me.

Berlin | Germany - A bike tour of East Berlin taking in points of historical and cultural interest around the city


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39 Comments

  1. 31st May 2016 / 5:31 PM

    This sounds absolutely fascinating, Katy. East Berlin still holds a real fascination for those of us in the west. I think that a bike tour’s a great way to get around a larger city and a tour is always a good idea if you want an insider’s view. It’s really useful to get your tips and suggestions about whether or not this sort of tour works for children. It’s good that they had the option of the chariot for your two little ones. I agree that a bike tour’s a particularly good way to meet people if you’re travelling alone – I remember doing one in Florence and having a wonderful time. Thanks so much for linking up with #citytripping.

    • 31st May 2016 / 9:54 PM

      Thanks Clare. There are so many extra things to think about when you have the kids in tow. Winging it is no longer an option ?

  2. 31st May 2016 / 9:10 PM

    Such a fabulous city. I loved it. Would love to go back…

    • 31st May 2016 / 9:57 PM

      It is great isn’t it Lydia. I think we barely scratched the surface this time!

  3. 1st June 2016 / 9:29 AM

    The bike tour sounds like a great way to see the city and learn some of its history. Have marked it to revisit when I do get the opportunity to visit Berlin. Thanks for sharing this, Katy. #CityTripping

    • 1st June 2016 / 4:03 PM

      Thanks Ahila. I think bike tours are especially nice when the terrain is flat!!

  4. 1st June 2016 / 10:40 AM

    This bike tour sounds great, a really good way to see a very spread out city. East Berlin/Germany is one of the few places in Eastern Europe I didn’t get to before the fall of the Iron Curtain or at least visited shortly after the fall, and I so wish I had. Bizarrely I’ve still not been to Berlin! I will get there one day! I like your honesty in this review about how you felt you held up the other people on the tour because of your kids.

    • 1st June 2016 / 4:02 PM

      Thanks Phoebe. I remember being fascinated by the eastern bloc as a child especially around the Moscow Olympics. Sounds like you’ve done some interesting travels ?

  5. 1st June 2016 / 3:55 PM

    I love the sound of the bike tour – I did one recently (solo!) in Ljubljana and it was such a great way to see more of the city. It’s a relatively compact capital there too, so I can imagine how great it would be to get a sense of somewhere as big as Berlin, especially with so much history and important sites to cover. It’s really useful to know about the family-friendly angle too. My daughter’s at that in between age where she’s not big/old enough to ride or go on a tagalong, but she’s a bit big for me to pedal her round if I tow her behind (and I think would get bored inside now). In a few years, I do hope we’ll be able to do something like that as a family though. #citytripping

    • 1st June 2016 / 7:42 PM

      Thanks Cathy. A solo bike trip sounds wonderful. I’d planned to do one with my friend in Copenhagen recently but she was too pregnant to manage. She was very annoyed about that too! Having gone on a very recent girls weekend trip followed up by the family one it was an absolute shock to the system to be in Mum mode on the road again. I was getting used to lying in and cruising around at leisure! As you say, you have to make some compromises when travelling as a family and some exciting things will just have to wait. Even bike tours 🙂

  6. 1st June 2016 / 4:52 PM

    This sounds like a fascinating way to see Berlin, and love all your history at the beginning as a refresh. Seems like you nailed it perfectly with the trailer (that’s what we call them) and nap time! Such a brilliant way to sight see!! #citytripping

    • 1st June 2016 / 7:37 PM

      Thanks for the lovely comment Corey. The trailer was fun and there wasn’t too much squabbling. I have a brilliant photo of nap time but it won’t be going on social media until they are teenagers – hee hee!

  7. 1st June 2016 / 6:23 PM

    I’m hoping to visit Berlin in the future. I think the history there is so interesting and complicated. The bike tour sounds like a wonderful way to experience the city! #citytripping

  8. Neve
    2nd June 2016 / 11:44 AM

    We took the fat tire bike tour in Berlin in March as you clearly stated it was terrific!
    Exceeded all of our expectations an it was very affordable! We had done the Fat Bike Tour in Paris a couple of years ago so we knew they had a great reputation and they excelled ~ it’s a fantastic way to see a fabulous city! Our goal is to do the other two tours … In Barcelona & London!! Can’t wait!!!!!

    • 2nd June 2016 / 3:12 PM

      Hi Neve, I agree it’s an excellent tour company. I think they were very professional and flexible as well as providing a great guide and experience. We chose them because my husband had done one of their tours in Paris. I’m also going to look into the Barcelona and London ones. Happy travelling x

  9. 4th June 2016 / 4:15 PM

    This I wanna do if I make it to Berlin again!

  10. 4th June 2016 / 7:31 PM

    Sounds like an awesome tour! I’m visiting Berlin this summer, but sadly, I’ll only have one day for exploring, I would have definitely liked to go on this tour.

    • 5th June 2016 / 8:27 AM

      I’m sure you will find many other interesting things to share Vlad. I think Berlin warrants a few return visits actually. I felt like we really just scratched the surface

  11. 4th June 2016 / 10:09 PM

    Sounds like a fascinating tour that takes you through a great deal of Germany’s history and architecture. It’s great you get to learn so much of Berlin’s past and current situations.

  12. 5th June 2016 / 12:06 AM

    Looks fascinating and a bike tour seems to give you a chance to cover more ground, see more. Glad to know about Fat Tire tours and longing to see Berlin – east or west!

    • 5th June 2016 / 8:24 AM

      Thanks for stopping by Elaine. I’m sure you will make it back to Berlin very soon

    • 5th June 2016 / 8:28 AM

      Thanks Elaine. This is not a sponsored post but I cannot recommend the tour company highly enough. Great day out

  13. 5th June 2016 / 2:17 AM

    We do a lot of cycling when we travel but have never done an organised bike tour. This sounds really interesting and lots of fun.

    • 5th June 2016 / 8:26 AM

      Thanks Lyn. The organisation of the tour was fantastic. My husband has done a tour with this company in Paris and found it just as good. It really was a great way to explore Berlin

  14. 5th June 2016 / 5:48 AM

    I love crazy retro cool architecture and I enjoy bicycle tours. We’ve not been to Berlin and will definitely do this tour of East Berlin when we do get there.

    • 5th June 2016 / 8:23 AM

      Thanks Jan – Berlin is a fantastic city. Judging by the content of your blog I am sure you will fall in love with the city

  15. 5th June 2016 / 7:22 AM

    We’ve been to Berlin a few times, it’s one of my favorite cities, but we haven’t done the Bike Tour yet. It looks and sounds like an excellent way to get out a little further from the center and see more of the city. #wkendtravelinspiration

    • 5th June 2016 / 8:22 AM

      It was great Jim and I really recommend the Soviet Memorial as something a little different for your itinerary

  16. 5th June 2016 / 8:28 AM

    Hubby did this tour with our daughter in 2012 and said it was excellent.

    • 5th June 2016 / 8:30 AM

      Thanks Rhonda – I think that shows the mark of a great tour company if they can maintain that level of consistency over time. Good to know!

  17. 5th June 2016 / 6:20 PM

    What an excellent find. Both the topic of the tour and the method. It would never have occurred to me that a bike tour would be suitable for small kids, but actually, what better way of shuttling them around? Very cool.

    • 5th June 2016 / 7:51 PM

      Thanks so much. The kids liked most of the tour. On reflection it was better than sitting still on a boat or bus!

  18. 5th June 2016 / 9:38 PM

    my hat is off to your for trying this. We did a walking tour of Charleston with an almost 2YO. It was manageable and the guide was understanding, but my husband and I each heard only 1/2 the tour because we took turns keeping our toddler out of trouble. That tour was not nearly as long as yours! We used Fat Tire for their museum tours in Paris and the guides were very knowledgeable. But the pace is not kid friendly — wish they would develop some tours just for families, where the guide talk a little more slowly and the pace is different.

    • 6th June 2016 / 3:14 PM

      That is such a great idea Eileen. I think in some ways the toddlers could handle this kind of your better than a 5 year old. I’d love to know if there are any kid friendly bike tours in Europe. I’ll let you know if I find any ?

  19. 15th July 2016 / 11:23 AM

    This sounds totally intriguing, Katy. East Berlin still holds a genuine interest for those of us in the west. I feel that a bicycle visit’s an awesome approach to get around a bigger city and a visit is dependably a smart thought in the event that you need an insider’s perspective.

  20. 24th July 2016 / 9:27 PM

    What a fun experience. I visited East Berlin for the first time about the same time as you did. I still have my bag of pieces from the wall I bought. It must be incredibly different 20 years later.

    • 25th July 2016 / 5:28 PM

      You would notice a huge change Alexa. It is a thriving, buzzing city with a great vibe. Multicultural, interesting and lots of art. We really enjoyed our weekend in Berlin

  21. 6th May 2017 / 5:14 PM

    I would love to cycle through Berlin! This would be my perfect kind of travel! Great post, Katy!

    • 7th May 2017 / 9:06 AM

      It’s so much fun Agness! Hope you make it to Berlin soon

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