Exploring Berlin by bicycle

Altogether there are 41 tours that the hotels have devised.

Altogether there are 41 tours that the hotels have devised.

Published Dec 18, 2014


Berlin - Once again, the traffic lights have turned red. Half of the large group has made it across the intersection, having to wait for the other half stopped behind the red light. Cycling in Berlin, after all, does mean cycling with big-city hindrances.

Despite that, many tourists find exploring Berlin by bike is more fun than riding trains through dark subway tunnels from one sightseeing spot to the next. Cyclists are mostly safe in Berlin, with motorists keeping a wide berth while passing them.

This particular bicycling tour group is kind of special, because many of the participants are managers of accommodation who have formed an alliance of bicycle-friendly hotels.

They have mapped out a number of bike tours around the German capital, taking in many sights. The hotels provide the bicycles for a small rental fee and keep them roadworthy.

Altogether there are 41 tours that the hotels have devised. You can even check them out before flying to Germany by consulting the city's tourism website at www.fahrrad.visitberlin.de.

Many are routed through the old historic centre of Berlin, where you can see the Brandenburg Gate triumphal arch, the sombre Holocaust memorial and the grand Unter den Linden main avenue leading to art-filled Museum Island.

But others include less frequently visited outer districts such as Teltow and Spandau, which global and even German tourists tend to miss. Tourists can download maps of the tours from the website and head off on their own.

On this bicycling excursion, Berlin tour guide Christian Taenzler stops outside the day-care centre of the German parliament, located in a flat, blue-coloured building behind the parliament.

Most tourists probably don't even notice the building, but it has a back story involving a flagrant waste of public money.

“This whole thing cost 10 million marks at the time,” he says. It was designed to handle 170 children - not the offspring of parliamentary deputies attending urgent debates, but of employees doing nine-to-five office jobs in the parliament complex.

He then leads the group along the Spree River to the futuristic-shaped Haus der Kulturen der Welt (House of the World's Cultures). Berliners, with their tradition of giving historic buildings funny nicknames, have dubbed it the “pregnant oyster” because of its design.

A gift by the US government to then West Berlin in the 1950s, the building's roof collapsed in 1980.

“It was due to a construction error,” Taenzler said about the collapse. The embarrassed Germans rebuilt the gift and renovated it, and the building now is a venue for exhibitions, concerts and other cultural activities.

After the day-care centre and the pregnant oyster, Taenzler and the hotel managers pedal off again, sticking to the banks of the river and then crossing a bridge to stop at yet another architectural boondoggle that Berliners have given an ironic name: the “Bureaucrats' Snake.”

The long, zig-zagging building was constructed with the original plan of providing housing for parliamentary deputies moving from Bonn to Berlin after German reunification in 1990.

“But this did not exactly turn out to be the case,” Taenzler drily observed, with many deputies opting to live elsewhere. So the building was opened to non-deputies.

“Great location, but no balconies,” Taenzler dismissively noted about the building, before hopping on his bike to continue the tour.

Bicycling behind him is Christoph Hecker, front office manager at the Mercure Hotel Berlin City that designed today's tour.

“We have a very fit director,” Hecker says to explain why the route is longer than might suit tourists who haven't touched a bike since childhood. Guests regularly ask at hotels about bicycling, and so the hotels' offering has gone down well with visitors to the city.

Berlin has many bike-paths and city people also get around by bike. Cyclists mainly need to be alert for jaywalkers or doors of stopped cars that can be inadvertently opened as they pass.

Tourists appreciate discovering sights that make their own stay in Berlin special, differentiating it from what the bus tourists see.

“This is not the usual city map that everyone else has,” Hecker said about the tour-by-bike guide. - Sapa-dpa

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