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Berlin is the city which I look most forward to visit in this trip. I am a big fan of 20th century history and almost no other cities could rival Berlin’s significance in the last century. Prior to the trip, I actually made Ying watch two movies based in Berlin (Good Bye, Lenin! and The Life of Others; both highly recommended) and she was excited to visit Berlin as well.
We read many advices which recommended going on a bicycle tour as the first activity in Berlin. Several reasons why it is a good idea:-
1. Berlin’s flat as a pancake and easy to cycle around.
2. The tour can orientate the newly-arrived tourists on the different places of interest.
3. Guide can provide background information and tips on what to do/where to go for the rest of the stay.
Needless to say we were sold and decided on going on one. However there were several operators and we couldn’t decide which one to go for. In the end, Fat Tire’s All-in-One City Bike Tour was the only one which matched our schedule so we decided to go for it.
No advance booking is required and one simply turns up at 11am at its office at Alexanderplatz.
We were early and had time to check out the inside of Fernsehturm.
There was easily more than 100 people who turned up at Fat Tire’s office and one of the guides gave a funny briefing before splitting the group up into smaller ones.
Our guide was Neil, a Manchester lad who didn’t leave Germany after the 2006 World Cup.
Neil also told us the three omnipresent things in Berlin: pink pipes, cranes and graffiti.
All these buildings were actually destroyed during WW2 and were left in that state until the 1970s. To make the buildings look older, restorers ‘aged’ them by darkening parts of the exterior. So instead of around three decades old, they looked closer to several hundred years old.
Another short ride brought us to Checkpoint Charlie, the famous crossing point between East and West Berlin during the Cold War.
Neil brought us to a block away from the Checkpoint and gave us some history lesson.
After giving us the background information, we were given some time for photographs around the replica checkpoint.
The area is a typical tourist trap with plenty of shops capitalizing on its history. Apparently there was an ice-cream place named Cold War but we didn’t see it.
The longest surviving section of the outer Berlin Wall ran along the street where the museum is located.
The following stop was a slightly longer ride away and the place seemed residential. It wasn’t until after Neil’s explanation that we realized that it was the site of Hitler’s bunker. Hitler lived there from Jan 1945 until his suicide in April 1945. As he had witnessed how his pal Mussolini was executed and whose corpse was hung for display in Milan, he instructed his subordinate to burn his body after his death. Although there were legends that Hitler didn’t die, his teeth (matched against his dental records) were found among the charred remains after the war.
As it was near the border with West Berlin, the East German government had converted the area into a nice residential neighborhood for high-ranking officials. Several East German athletes were also given a unit there after winning gold medals in Olympic Games.
The last stop before the lunch break was the Memorial to the Murdered Jews in Europe.
There wasn’t any graffiti there; it was mainly due to the 24/7 patrol of security officers (instead of genuine respect for the memorial). There was also a controversy during the construction of the memorial. The company which supplied the anti-graffiti layer on the blocks was found to have manufactured and supplied Zyklon B to concentration camps during the Nazi times. No one could have scripted it better. I couldn’t recall how the story ended though.
Reaching our lunch place required us to leisurely cycle through Tiergarten.
Ying and I got something to share between ourselves and we had some interesting conversations with other members of the tour group.
We made a detour to Victory Column after lunch and Neil shared with us its origin. The British and American soldiers who used to be stationed in Berlin during the Cold War had problem pronouncing its German name Siegessäule and simply called it “girl on a stick”.
One of the bicycles had a tyre issue and needed to be replaced. We hanged around there for slightly longer while waiting for the replacement bicycle to arrive.
The final stop of the tour was at the iconic Brandenburg Gate. We would visit it again later in the evening.
It was already 4pm by the time we rode the short distance back to Fat Tire’s office. We paid €18 for the tour and also left a small tip for Neil for his excellent guiding throughout.
I truly enjoy the bike tour and thought it was value-for-money. Perhaps we would try out the other operators the next time we are in Berlin!