SWISSbuckling to Europe Pt XXI – Fat Tire Bike Tours

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Fat Tire Bike Tours

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.

Waiting for train to Alexanderplatz at Warschauer Straße station

Alexanderplatz

We were early and had time to check out the inside of Fernsehturm.

Inside Fernsehturm

One of the many Berlin Bears scattered around the city

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.

Briefing

Choosing the bicycles

My bicycle – Gorilla Monsoon

Our guide was Neil, a Manchester lad who didn’t leave Germany after the 2006 World Cup.

Neil telling us more about Fernsehturm

Also known as Pope’s Revenge

Neil also told us the three omnipresent things in Berlin: pink pipes, cranes and graffiti.

Two out of three could be seen in this picture

On our way to the next site

The next site that we went to was Bebelplatz, site of where the Nazis burnt books in May 1933.

Neil telling us about Nazi booking burning in front of Humboldt Universitaei

Plaque

Empty shelves to remind about the burned books

From Bebelplatz, we cycled to Gendarmenmarkt where Konzerthaus Berlin is. It was flanked by the almost identical Französischer Dom and Deutscher Dom.

Konzerthaus Berlin

German

French

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.

Cycling in the former East Berlin

Neil brought us to a block away from the Checkpoint and gave us some history lesson.

Map of Germany

Germany’s nine neighbors

Post-WW2 Germany

After giving us the background information, we were given some time for photographs around the replica checkpoint.

Fake soldiers at fake checkpoint

Posing with tourists

You’re leaving the American Sector

You’re entering the American Sector

Murals on Berlin Wall

Birds

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.

Checkpoint Curry anyone?

The next stop was outside Topographie des Terrors, a museum built on the former sites of Gestapo and SS during Nazi times. Neil recommended us to consider visiting the museum.

The longest surviving section of the outer Berlin Wall ran along the street where the museum is located.

Berlin Wall

Berlin Bear – one of the many scattered around the city

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.

Site of Führerbunker

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.

Memorial

Blocks

Memorial

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.

Tour mates ahead of us

Lunch place

Sausage dog

Ying and I got something to share between ourselves and we had some interesting conversations with other members of the tour group.

Hearty German lunch

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”.

Victory Column

Then our group cycled through Tiergarten again and reached Reichstag. Neil informed us that the entrance to the dome is free but tickets needed to be pre-booked in advance.

Reichstag

Us and our bicycles posing in front of Reichstag

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.

German ministries’ buildings – built after Berlin became the capital of unified Germany again

German ministries’ buildings

The final stop of the tour was at the iconic Brandenburg Gate. We would visit it again later in the evening.

Brandenburg Gate

Hotel Adlon – where Michael Jackson dangled his son in 2002

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.

Navigating Berlin’s traffic

T-shirt for sale at Fat Tire

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!

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