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
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.
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.
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.
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
✪ 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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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