Biking the Berlin Wall
Updated: Aug 7, 2021
Last week I cycled the entire former Berlin Wall. The Berlin Mauerweg (Wall road) is about 100 miles long, or 160k. It’s not particularly easy to follow; much of it isn’t paved. The route is very interesting though. It goes through forests, fields, water, residential areas, and industrial zones. Most parts have signs but they’re not always easy to find.
It’s probably better to walk than bike the route (those heinous cobblestones!) but I don’t have time or patience for that kind of thing. Plus I know how to ride on almost any terrain with my race bike, which is also light enough to swing over my shoulder when I need to climb stairs or fallen trees. I got the bike from my father, who claims it was the leisure bike of a female professional racer in the 1970s.
I didn’t have a proper map so I spent a lot of time searching for the trail. But it loved it! I looked forward to it every day. I saw a ton of Berlin. I learned a bit more about its history. And I think biking is probably the most effortless form of exercise.
Day 1. Pretty Potsdam
Route: Zehlendorf-Potsdam. Distance: 13k
To get to the Mauerweg, it was easiest for me to start in the south and ride west to Potsdam—a beautiful town famous for the palaces of Prussian kings and the 1945 conference where the US, Russia (USSR) and the UK divided up Germany.
It seemed like most of the trail wasn’t marked and some parts were definitely blocked off (the Uferweg, for example). The other reality check was that some parts of the route consisted of tiny trails, so I got the feeling it would take weeks, not days, to complete the route. I only did about 8 miles of the route that day.
I couldn’t find a real map, either. I used an app called Bikemap that showed me whether I was on the trail or not, but when the route suddenly went through water I was on my own. Without any type of guide or prior research I played “spot the monuments,” of which there were many. Most were sleek orange columns with photos and stories.
Day 2. Obstacle course
Route: Zehlendorf-Lichtenrade. Distance: 20k
The second day I went to the same starting point, but headed east. The route started with a challenge. To join what I presumed to be the trail I had to carry my bike down a long flight of stairs and ride on a narrow path. With all the overhanging foliage it felt like going through a wormhole. Then I passed a runner who warned me “Es wird zwierig!” (It’s going to get difficult) and soon came to a point where the road was completely blocked by fallen trees. Fortunately there was a gap, at hip level, big enough to push myself and my bike through.
The rest of the route was easier, with lots of signs showing the way. The area around Japaneck park is beautiful in the evening light, with lots of open fields and decent roads and forest paths.
Day 3. Golden fields
Route: Lichtenrade-Neukölln. Distance: 22k
The first part of the route followed the edge of the Berlin city limits. On the left side there were pretty houses and on the right wheat fields, which had a bright golden color in the evening sun. There were helpful signs everywhere and mostly good roads and paths.
I stopped at another historical marker (another orange column) that marked a former border crossing. It explained that all of West Berlin’s trash used to pass through there and that, because they didn’t have much space, they had to enter into long term (no doubt expensive) contracts with the DDR to haul their garbage away.
I also passed a long stretch of the original Berlin wall and a massive Mercedes Benz plant. The neighborhood was industrial for a while but soon enough I was on a beautiful path along the water again.
Day 4. From garden colonies to downtown
Route: Neukölln-Mitte. Distance 22k
Again a challenging start. No signs, closed fences, and cow trails. After passing an idyllic garden community and crossing a few bridges I found one singular sign telling me I was, in fact, still (or again) on the Mauerweg. Soon after I turned a corner and saw the TV Tower—downtown’s most distinct landmark—which helped determine my general direction.
Downtown Berlin is the only part of the route, at least so far, where the former wall is outlined on the street. Occasionally the line cuts a street right in two, but mostly new buildings stand on top of it and the divide is all but erased. I passed many major tourists destinations including the East Side Gallery, Checkpoint Charlie, the Bundestag, and the Holocaust memorial.
If Berlin was an onion then outer layer would be wheat fields, forests, and water. The next layer is dotted with garden communities. Many Berliners live in an apartment but also have a tiny house on the outskirts of the city where they plant lush little gardens. The next layer consists of factories and low income housing, but nothing too depressing: all the neighborhoods seemed clean and had nice parks. The center of Berlin has countless little neighborhoods, each with their own center and tons of parks with playgrounds. Mitte is the most touristy neighborhood while Kreuzberg is the most “happening.”
Day 5. Relying on the signs
Route: Mitte-Spandau. Distance: 60k
This was my big biking day. But since I ran out of data on my phone, I had to try something new: using handwritten notes. It worked okay, but what I really ended up relying on were the Mauerweg signs. Now that I was paying attention to my surroundings instead of my phone I noticed there were actually a lot of them! It makes me want to go back to see how many I missed on earlier parts of the route when I was checking my phone all the time.
The ride started right downtown by the federal government buildings, which I really appreciated for the first time. It was 6am and in the bright morning light, with nobody around, the giant glass complex looked as impressive as it’s probably supposed to look.
Then I angled through Mauerpark, where many people were preparing for Berlin’s most popular Sunday flea market. Vendors were setting up their stalls while a cleaning crew tried to erase the many traces of Saturday night’s partying.
Once I hit the northern part of the trail everything became even easier. It was flat with long winding roads through nature; watchtowers and small monuments; and crystal clear signage. I biked along Havel lake for a while, which felt more touristy than other places, probably because there were several swimming holes and docking areas filled with small yachts.
Day 6. Race around the water
Route: Spandau-Potsdam. Distance: 30k
The final stretch was both the most beautiful and the most stressful. It went from the northern tip of Potsdam to the border with Berlin. Most of the route ran along various lakes and the much of the road was beautifully paved. At one point when I crossed a bridge I realized that, in whichever direction I looked, I saw beautiful castles along the waterfront. Clearly the old kings and queens loved Potsdam and people still do, since there were lots of people out and about.
As idyllic as it was, I was racing against the clock. I didn't want to ride in the dark and the sun was setting fast. Even though Berlin feels safe, I got frustrated that everything took much longer than I thought each time I went out. I didn't stop for any of the monuments. In the end I actually made decent time though. When I suddenly found myself in the same place I started the route I felt happy and a bit disappointed at the same time. Adventure over!
Do I recommend?
I definitely recommend biking the Berlin wall. I might even do it again while I'm here, because it's really lovely. It's important to use a good bike though, because the roads are bumpy, and most importantly: you need to take your time. There's lots to see and it's not always easy to find the right path. You can do it in two days, but I think that would be miserable. What makes it nice is taking in the diverse surroundings, stopping at the monuments, and letting your mind wonder off to thoughts about the history and significance of it all.
The biggest challenge for me was getting TO the route each time; I biked well over 100k just to get onto the trail and go back home. Then again, it didn’t hurt. I definitely got my miles in and I listened to interesting podcasts; my favorites right now are Even the Rich, Spy Affair, American Scandal, Españolitos, What's Next).
What to bring
Phone + wireless charger
Light sweater or rain coat
Sunglasses and/or hat
Bike lock & keys
Fanny pack or phone holder
Sunscreen (and bug spray)