Exploring the German Capital by Bicycle
Berlin, March 2016 Berlin rolls on two wheels: The capital is rapidly becoming a city for cyclists. The bicycle has become a real alternative to cars and public transport and is an integral part of the typical Berliner’s lifestyle. Sightseeing on two wheels has also become commonplace among the city’s visitors. Bicycle couriers, rental bicycles, and bicycle taxis are all now integral to the city’s streetscape. The proportion of cycling traffic has continued to grow in recent years and now represents 15 per cent of those on the go. This means that some 500,000 people ride their bikes every day in Berlin. This can be attributed especially to the steadily increasing attractiveness of Berlin’s extensive network of cycling trails.
Two upcoming events are the perfect opportunity to find out more about cycling and modern urban mobility. The Berlin Bike Show at Station Berlin as part of Berlin Bicycle Week is a unique mix of a trade show and sporting event. It will showcase everything from trendy bicycles and functional cycling fashions to biking accessories over 15,000 m². VELOBerlin, the leading international trade fair open to the public, presents the latest trends and innovations from the bicycle industry. The event is a collaboration of EUROBIKE, the world’s leading trade fair, velo:konzept (Berlin’s cycling competence centre), ZIV (the German bicycle industry association), and the Berlin Senate.
Many new ideas for a future even more friendly to bicycles have been presented recently in Berlin. The former rail line that connected Potsdamer Platz and Potsdam via Schöneberg and Zehlendorf until the Second World War could be restored as a cycling trail. Without intersections and traffic lights, it would take just 30 minutes to ride from the Mitte district to Zehlendorf. This “bicycle freeway” could be a pilot project for other express trails on the city’s disused railway lines.
Another proposal is “Radbahn Berlin”, where a cycling trail would be built underneath the elevated tracks of U-Bahn lines 1 and 2. This would create a nine kilometre route between Charlottenburg and Friedrichshain which is mostly unused today. Only parking spaces and stairs would need to be rebuilt, say those who have initiated this proposal.
Bicycle stands are also being optimised: Cyclists can now park their bikes at Pankow S-Bahn station in double-deck stands. The special construction with two levels offers room for more than 300 bicycles without disposing of more public space. The startup velo easy has lately put up ten bicycle boxes at Lichtenberg station, shielding the bikes from weather and theft at the same time. Booking and payment works via an app; further locations are planned. In addition, Berlin’s Senate is planning two bike parks: one with 90 spaces at Zehlendorf S-Bahn station, another with 40 at Gesundbrunnen station.
Cycling for Berlin Visitors
Even visitors to Berlin are joining in on the action by taking their sightseeing tours under their own power on two wheels. It’s actually quite easy to cover longer distances, such as between the Brandenburg Gate and Alexanderplatz, with the convenience of a rental bike and avoid the fatigue that comes from walking too long on brick pavements. Even sprint tours through the Tiergarten or a jaunt to one of the many lakes in the city have their own appeal.
Numerous bicycle rental stations are available across the city, with most of them clustered in Mitte (such as near Friedrichstraße station), Kreuzberg, Friedrichshain, or near the Zoologischer Garten station. The rental fee is around €10 a day, depending on whether you choose a simple three-speed bike or a sporty mountain bike for your explorations.
German rail company Deutsche Bahn has been offering Call-a-Bike, a special service for cyclists, since 2002. The DB has set up more than 1,650 red and silver touring bikes that can be borrowed at major intersections, mainline, and S-Bahn rail stations across the city for 30 minutes for just €1. A whole day’s rental with Call-a-Bike starts at €9. The bikes can then be returned at any other Call-a-Bike location in the city. More information can be found at callabike.de.
And if you don’t want to tread the pedals yourself, but still don’t want to miss out on the leisurely pace of an eco-friendly bike ride, just take a velotaxi, bicycle-powered rickshaws that take you safely to wherever you’re headed. They can be found along different routes across Berlin daily from March to October, but, like other taxis, they can also be booked for individual journeys.
Cycling Routes Across Berlin
Cyclists can choose from around 1,000 kilometres of cycling trails and bicycle lanes currently offered across the city. Meanwhile, Berlin is hard at work, developing new bike routes to connect the main parts of the city in a safe and attractive manner. Starting from Schlossplatz in the city centre, twelve major cycling routes radiate out towards the city’s outer districts. The result is an extensive network of bike routes with kilometre markings to take cyclists across the city on side streets. For example, you can ride from Rotes Rathaus via Alexanderplatz and Karl-Marx-Allee with its spectacular architecture all the way to Lichtenberg and Marzahn, or you can take the “students’ route” from the Free University in idyllic Dahlem all the way to Kreuzberg. The colourful Kreuzberg neighbourhood is also perfect for exploring by bike with its many shops, pubs and cafés around Bergmannstraße, Chamissoplatz, and Südstern. There are also seven long-distance cycling trails that cross the city, including the popular Berlin-Usedom route or the Berlin-Leipzig route that passes through the new Park at Gleisdreieck.
The Berlin section of European Route R1 also offers 68 kilometres of beautiful landscapes and interesting sights. Over a distance of 3,500 kilometres, R1 connects Calais, France to St Petersburg, Russia. Another long-distance cycle path will take you to Copenhagen. Sports enthusiasts can now ride the 650 kilometres from Berlin through the German states of Brandenburg and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern to the Danish capital.
If you’re interested in exploring Berlin’s neighbourhoods on two wheels, the visitBerlin website at visitBerlin.com offers a number of exciting tour suggestions and not just to the usual sights on everyone’s list, but also to insider tips in districts such as Schöneberg, Mitte, Friedrichshain, and Pankow that are ideal for a short afternoon outing. You can plan your own extensive tours of the Germany capital with the more than 50 detailed tour suggestions including maps. The new visitBerlin cycling brochure presents the top 12 neighbourhood tours, i.e. one per district, clearly marked out on a map of the city. Meanwhile, you can also check out all of our suggested tours at bike.visitBerlin.com.
ADFC Berlin (the German Bicycle Club Berlin) has published a special cyclist’s map for inner-city Berlin. The ADFC map of Berlin is particularly helpful for the way it marks roads and trails in terms of their cycling friendliness. It also offers suggested tours to those visiting the German capital.
Bike Tours – Tracing the Path of the Wall
A particularly interesting bike tour takes riders along the former course of the Berlin Wall. The mostly paved former border patrol road is still largely intact and is well suited for cycling. In the city centre, the route of the Wall is marked partly with a double row of special bricks in the pavement. Cyclists can follow the traces of the Wall on quiet side streets. The historic route through the centre of Berlin takes you past important attractions and memorials such as the Oberbaumbrücke, the Brandenburg Gate, and the Berlin Wall Memorial between Wedding and Mitte.
An exciting guide book for all who wish to trace the city’s recent past on two wheels is “Berliner Mauer Radweg” by Michael Cramer (Esterbauer Verlag). The book presents 19 tours along the former course of the Berlin Wall: It includes short routes from Potsdamer Platz via Kreuzberg and the Oberbaumbrücke to Warschauer Straße (7 km), but also longer routes, for example from Staaken to Hennigsdorf (approx. 20 km) , each starting and ending at S-Bahn stations. The spiral-bound book provides insightful descriptions of the most interesting places and buildings along the 160 kilometre route, including Neukölln’s Sonnenallee, the street made famous by Thomas Brussig’s novel and Leander Haussmann’s film.
Guided Bicycle Tours in German and English
A number of operators now offers guided cycling tours of the city, including some in English, Spanish and Dutch, which are becoming increasingly popular. “We have discovered so many things that we weren’t able to see from the tour bus,” one participant has commented. The fact is that no double-decker sightseeing bus is going to make it into the former Jewish quarter in Spandauer Vorstadt between Oranienburger Tor and Alexanderplatz. There are many things to discover in the city, especially in its side streets: an old Jewish cemetery here, a historic building there, and one of many small galleries across the way. And, cycling means you get to set your own pace and take breaks and have a look around at your leisure.
Berlin on Bike specialises in offering guided discovery tours of the Mitte district: Unter den Linden, the Jewish quarter and Hackesche Höfe are, for example, on the programme. They also offer a cycling tour at night: the “Nightseeing Tour”, which takes you through a city that never sleeps, past illuminated buildings, still waterways, and lively nightspots. The tour starts at 8 pm at the Kulturbrauerei in Prenzlauer Berg several times a week from May to September.
English speakers will want to check out the tours offered by Fat Tire Bike Tours Berlin. The company offers a four-to-five hour tour of the city’s main highlights, including the Topography of Terror, Checkpoint Charlie, the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, the Brandenburg Gate, and the Reichstag. A special Berlin Wall and Cold War bike tour is offered four times a week from April to October. The tour provides specific information on life in the divided city, the Berlin Airlift, and the Fall of the Wall. Another special feature of the tours are the bicycles. Participants explore the city from a wide, comfortable saddle of a city cruiser bicycle, offering a high level of comfort with wide tires, wide-shaped handlebars, comfortable three-speed gears, and reliable brakes.
In addition to being an advocate and a source of information on cycling, ADFC Berlin also offers special tours that move far off the beaten track and also beyond Berlin’s city limits. For example, you might opt to take a tour form Biesdorf-Süd to Karlshorst or go on a discovery tour through Friedrichshain. They also issue an annual brochure entitled Rad & Touren with Berlin’s S-Bahn. It can be picked up at ADFC or at S-Bahn offices or downloaded free of charge on the ADFC website. Hundreds of guided tours through Berlin, Brandenburg, and beyond are also offered there, always starting from an S-Bahn station in Berlin. Also a helpful piece of information: Bicycles can be taken on public transport at a discount rate. Exact dates, descriptions of tours, as well as ways to order the cycling map can all be found on the ADFC website.
About 40 partner hotels in Berlin have adapted their offerings to be of assistance to guests who cycle. They offer options for secure storage of bicycles, a room for drying clothes and equipment, and provide tools for simple repairs and maintenance. For guests who arrive without a bicycle, a bicycle rental service is available. To help their guests explore Berlin’s neighbourhoods and surrounding areas, the bicycle-friendly hotels have devised tours of their own areas and are always happy to assist with personal recommendations. Book your Berlin cycling-friendly hotel and find all neighbourhood tours at bike.visitBerlin.com.
Flat Tires and Cycling Lessons: Services Every Cyclist Might Need
Flat tires and other bike problems are annoying, but can be solved with a little guidance. ADFC offers regular lessons in basic bicycle repairs at its offices. An interesting offer for Berlin visitors who plan on staying for a while in the city is purchasing a used bike cheaply. Then you can sell the bike back to the used bicycle dealer when you’re done with it, assuming it’s still in good condition, of course. Not available at bicycle dealers, however, is a curiosity that Fahrradstation offers: the “conference bike”, where seven adults are seated on a giant orange-red bicycle with the saddles grouped around it like around a conference table, with one cyclist sitting in the middle to steer the bike. If a tandem will do, you can get one at Zentralrad at Oranienstraße 20 in Kreuzberg. And if you prefer your bike to be small and compact, you might like a folding bicycle, available, for example, at Faltrad-Direktor, Goethestraße 79 in Berlin’s Charlottenburg district.
Repairing and tightening the screws is all the range at Kreuzberg´s new Berliner Fahrradmarkt at Waldemarstraße. Every last Saturday of the month, biking enthusiasts meet up to sell, buy, repair, and simply get together. Whether consumer or retailer: Anyone who likes to repair their bike in company or needs advice is welcome. Food, drinks, workshops, and good music round off the visit at the Fahrradmarkt.
For many recreational cyclists, getting used to traffic in the big city is not always easy. You might want to prepare yourself for the city’s day-to-day hustle and bustle with a little refresher course in cycling before heading out on two wheels. For example, the Radfahrschule cycling school does offer lessons for adults.
All of Berlin on Two Wheels
Every now and then, cars are told to stay off the roads whenever the ADFC calls for the city’s cyclists to take over the streets for a rally. The world’s largest cycling demonstration has long been an integral part of the capital’s events calendar and will take place this year for the 40th time on 5 June 2016. On 18 routes, including from far-flung parts of the city such as Oranienburg, Strausberg, and Erkner, cycling fans will descend upon the Großer Stern in Berlin’s city centre. There’s also a six-kilometre children’s route where the next generation of cyclists can explore Berlin’s main streets without having to worry about motorised traffic.
Another major Berlin cycling event is just as much a part of the city’s identity: the famous Six-Day Race, held annually in January when 70,000 spectators come to cheer on their countries’ riders. Since 1997, the showdown of the fastest and best cyclists has made its home at Berlin’s Velodrom, but the tradition dates back to 1909, when the first European Six-Day Race was held in the exhibition halls at the Zoological Gardens.
The Velothon Berlin, the second largest cycling race of its kind in Europe, will take place for the ninth time on 19 June 2016. More than 12,000 participants will ride either 60 or 120 km along an attractive route past many major attractions: Brandenburg Gate, Potsdamer Platz, Tempelhof Airport, East Side Gallery, the government district and the Victory Column, with Straße des 17. Juni as the finish line. There will also be a Kids Velothon for children aged 6 to 12 years over a 1.3 km loop starting and finishing on Straße des 17. Juni. Professional participant support and technical and medical services ensure the smooth running of the race.
Orientation for Cyclists
The BBB cycling route finder helps identify the best cycling routes between Berlin and Potsdam, covering 9,000 of Berlin’s more than 1,000 streets and about 400 streets in Potsdam. You can enter criteria such as preferred speed, road type, and traffic lights to identify the best route for your cycling pleasure. An English version also helps international tourists find their way.
More information at bike.visitBerlin.com.