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Berlin Bike Tour – Private Guided Bicycle Tour in East Berlin

Berlin on Bike Tour of East Berlin, Germany (Jennifer Miner)East and West Berlin are, of course, unified. The Berlin Wall came down in 1989 and since then, the two formerly distinct cities have become absolutely easy to traverse — however, the two halves remain distinct and likely will remain so for the rest of our lifetimes. After all, West Berlin didn’t have a lot that needed changing from the 1990’s; it’s already a well established, democratic, free, beautiful and green city. East Berlin, however, needed a LOT of modernization and change. The reconstruction continues to this day. It’s one of the most interesting urban travel destinations in the world — a tourist who explored East Berlin 10 years ago would find it nearly unrecognizable today. All the construction and hustle and bustle and temporarily closed subways (one is being built at Brandenburger Tor — Brandenburg Gate — right now) makes city travel by car a complicated mess. Exploring East Berlin by foot or bike makes more sense, at least during the peak travel seasons. Further, joining a guided bicycle tour helps tourists get a sense of the city faster and in a more entertaining, less frustrating way than standing in the middle of a sidewalk with a large unfolded map, or a Berlin city guide app downloading onto a smartphoneBerlin by Bike is one such guided bicycles tour company, and our private guided Berlin bike tour via Berlin on Bike was one of the highlights of my family vacation in the city.

Berlin Wall bike tour with Berlin on Bikes (Jennifer Miner)

Colorful remnant of the Berlin Wall, an early Berlin on Bikes tour stop.

Berlin on Bike has several small group and private guided bike tour packages in and around Berlin; large group tours are also available by appointment, and tour guides are fluent in most of the major world languages. My family and I chose the Wall Tour, which is a four hour, seven mile trip highlighting the Berlin Wall — most of which is slow and meandering, with many stops along the way, so that young kids would be able to manage the distance well.

The Berlin Wall, of course, separated East and West Berlin from 1961 to 1989. This kept East Berliners from emigrating (as they had been, by the millions) to West Berlin, and from there to other European countries. The fascist government of East Berlin erected guard towers and many traps, such as nail-laden mats (called Stalin mats, for Josef Stalin) where people who scaled the wall and jumped would land. People were shot trying to get to West Berlin. German Shepherds were trained to be vicious guard dogs. It was an absolutely miserable time.

Peeking through at Gedenkstatte Berliner Mauer, the Berlin Wall Memorial main memorial site (Jennifer Miner)

Family and Berlin on Bike tour guide peeking through Gedenkstatte Berliner Mauer, the Berlin Wall Memorial main memorial site.

As a mother, I was concerned that Berlin on Bike’s tour of the Berlin Wall might be too depressing for my kids…but I needn’t have worried. Our bike tour guide, Josh, was perfectly suited to the task. While he didn’t talk down to my children or condescend to them, he approached the subject matter thoughtfully and with an enlightened perspective. He was amiable and friendly, and knew how to keep the private bike tour rolling along at a speed that worked for my family. Our tour guide talked about the Stasi, and described the physical shortages suffered by East Berlin residents, and the great efforts some took to escape the misery. He touched on the psychological impact it had on residents as well, but only in a way that allowed my kids to see how much things have changed from the erection to the tearing down of the Berlin Wall.

Biking through 21st Century East Berlin with a guide makes it easy to see that history is everywhere. The hubbub and youthful, punkster scene is prevalent, but a tourist who takes her eyes off the construction of modern architecture and looks down can see remnants of World War II, the footprint of the former Berlin Wall, and markings of tunnel escape routes. Having an engaging tour guide profoundly helps understand what we’re looking at, and having a bike to tour the city with brings the history up close. Tour buses can’t do this, and neither can self-guided tours. Our bike tour guide talked about Reunification and changes happening in Berlin today. He answered my kids’ questions — and having a teenager, I’m sure that she would not have been so eager to “learn from mom” if I looked up answers to her questions in a guidebook. Josh was patient when we needed to take breaks, too.

The wall at Brunnenstrasse had underground tunnel, later discovered by the Stasi (Jennifer Miner).

East Berliners near the wall at Brunnenstrasse built an underground tunnel, later discovered (and flooded) by the Stasi.

Brandenburg Gate and Checkpoint Charlie are part of Berlin on Bike’s Berlin Wall tour, but we skipped them (our hotel was close enough to both that we could see those on our own time, and other areas were more interesting to us). Josh happily accommodated this, and added more time and in-depth discussion to areas where my family was more engaged; a guard tower, which has photos of old socialist scenes and a mannequin of a guard. Underground tunnels that East Berliners painstakingly dug marked with plaques. The “death strip.” The Wall at Bernuer Strasse.

Bike tour guide describing the Gedenkstatte Gunter Litfin (memorial to Gunter Litfin, the first person killed at an attempted crossing) at this GDR guard tower (D. Miner)

Bike tour guide describing the Gedenkstatte Gunter Litfin (memorial to Gunter Litfin, the first person killed during an attempted crossing) at this GDR guard tower.

A family traveling to Berlin for vacation is advised to add a little historic knowledge to their trip; the liveliness and youth of East Berlin today is even more interesting when viewed in its historical context. While West Berlin is leafy, green and gentrified, it has no need to keep changing. East Berlin is undergoing a long-term metamorphosis, and no city I’ve been in feels more joyous and alive.  East Berlin is like the quickening heartbeat of a butterfly emerging from her cocoon. Come see the city, and witness the constant change for yourself.

Tiergarten, a park near Brandenburg Gate (Jennifer Miner)

Tiergarten, a park near Brandenburg Gate.

Berlin on Bike offers other private guided tours, such as Berlin at a Glance, Kreuzberg and Spree, and a nighttime tour. Tourists can rent bikes and explore Berlin independently as well; there are a range of bicycles and bike helmets available. There’s no better way to get around East Berlin than by bike. And, for personalized guided tours of this mosh pit of a city, there’s no better small, independent company than Berlin on Bike.

Thank you to Visit Berlin and Berlin on Bike.

27 Responses to “Berlin Bike Tour – Private Guided Bicycle Tour in East Berlin”

  1. 1
    Gary Singh says:

    A few of us took that same tour in 2010. I think it was even the same guide. We talked him into a few excursions, off the path, through the ruins of the more punk areas of X-berg, and some other more industrial sites. And the World Cup was going on, so we stopped to watch the games in a few places. But the guide was very accommodating. Highly recommended!

  2. 2
    Jasmine Forte says:

    Sounds like an amazing tour! As our kids get older, I hope to take them on more educational trips and make learning history fun and exciting!

  3. 3
    Carlos says:

    I did a walking tour of East Berlin that met at Brandenburg. In fact, I walked a lot when I visited Berlin. However, I did borrow my sons bike to ride out to a museum I wanted to see in the western side of town. Along the way, an older guy came riding alongside and said, “Nice bike.” When he found out I was an American, he said, “Lance Armstrong.” Being a bike racing fan, I mentioned I knew that Jan Ullrich was a Berliner. “Ach,” he said. “East Berlin. Bad.” Even with most of the wall down, there is a divide.

  4. 4

    what an amazing tour! Can’t wait for my kids to get older and make that trip

  5. 5

    What an amazing adventure and wonderful learning experience for the kids!!!

    So funny, I was literally just talking to a friend about a trip I took to Lenningrad (I know, it was Lenningrad at the time) and wondering how the heck my mom figured out how to cushion the gravity of everything we were immersed in so I wasn’t scared.

    I’m keeping that bike tour guides name if we ever get the chance to head to Berlin!!!

  6. 6
    Caryn B says:

    Germany was definitely one of the places we wanted to visit when we lived in Europe but we never made it. What a fun tour. We love bike riding and all things active. : )

  7. 7

    I am green with envy that you got to do this!

  8. 8
    Ana Flores says:

    This sounds wonderful! I hope to one day visit Berlin with my family and a bike tour would definitely fit our style better.

  9. 9
    Adam says:

    Ever since I moved to Berlin last year I’ve been obsessed with bike-riding! It’s without a doubt the best way to see the city.

    Sorry I missed you when you were in town!

  10. 10

    what a cool tour – and guide! thanks for the recommendation – will keep it in mind for when we go sometime!

  11. 11

    Nice story! By my count, you used the word Berlin more than 40 times here. That is some serious SEO! Takes my breath away…

  12. 12
    LeX says:

    Hi Jennifer,

    Nice written! I included the bike tour in my summer activity list! Great one! :D

  13. 13

    What a great way to see Berlin and witness history and the two sides up close and in the open air. I’m adding this to my to-do list!

  14. 14

    Jen
    Sounds like an incredible family adventure into history! WOW! I am so glad the trip was incredible! Lisa

  15. 15
    Sandra Foyt says:

    What a great way to make history engaging for kids! My kids were fascinated by the piece of the Berlin wall that they saw at the Newseum in Washington, D.C.

  16. 16

    Last year we ate at the restaurant Osseria (East Berlin), which is made in the style of the times of communism. The decor and the food reminds us of times past.

  17. 17
    Andrew says:

    Aloha Jennifer & The Gals, :)

    I just wanted to thank you again for submitting your article to the Byteful Travel Blog Carnival, and continuing to support the carnival. It’s been included in the 14th BT Blog Carnival which was published today.

    If you could retweet, stumble, or “Like” the blog carnival, I would really appreciate it.

    Thanks again. Looking forward to your submissions next time! :)

  18. 18
    Donna Hull says:

    On a recent visit to Berlin, I saw several groups touring by bicycle. This is definitely the way I would explore Berlin the next time. Did you know that Berlin has 7 major symphonies? It’s an amazing city.

  19. 19

    We have just decided to add Berlin to our itinerary and will be there in August. This bike tour looks awesome and exactly the type of thing we love to do!

  20. 20

    This tour sounds interesting. We LOVE Berlin- it’s such an amazing city. Just posted a list of Must Do’s and Cheap Eats in Berlin over at our blog-pretty sure you’ll find something to tempt you back to Berlin there. Take a look when you have a moment :-)

  21. 21

    Sorry I meant Must Dos in Berlin :-)

  22. 22
    TOHOTA says:

    Berlin has varieties of things to the visitors such as a large zoo, beautiful street arts, palaces, numerous museums and various other historical sites.

  23. 23
    Brad Bernard says:

    Great post! This is quite a unique tour and looks like such an amazing experience. I am going to include this in my Best Travel Experiences later this year with a link to this post. Thanks so much for sharing your adventures.

  24. 24
    Charu says:

    Bikes are so in! In every city. Nice tips, thank you

  25. 25

    Very amazing tour!!!! who want to interested about nepal if so …
    Nepal is the ultimate destination for the Trekking. Hiking and Trekking in Nepal is as much as cultural experience as a Himalayan adventure.

  26. 26
    Deena says:

    Amazing tour. Love to experience something like this.

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