Last week First Daughter and I travelled together to Berlin and spent three days in the funky German capital. We both loved the summer atmosphere there and were blessed with fantastic weather.
One of the highlights of our trip was definitely our Fat Tire Bike Tour. We arrived on Thursday half an hour early for the All In One tour we had decided on. After enquiring in the bike rental shop, located at the bottom of the Fernsehturm, we were directed to the guide waiting on the other side. As we approached, my heart sank. He was holding a long list of reservations, something I had not done as it said on their website that it was possible but not necessary. I asked him if we could get on and he replied that the tour was full. As I was frantically trying to find another option the guide came up to me and said to hang around, that he could perhaps sort things out for us. I am glad that we did as they decided to split the group and therefore we could join in. However, neither First Daughter nor I realised that we were getting on the wrong tour…
So it is the Berlin Wall and Cold War tour we went on and it was brilliant. Kevin, our guide, really knew what he was talking about and had lots of facts and anecdotes for us, with the stories at every stop truly compelling. There was also interaction with the group when he asked questions and we came up with our answers or experiences. We started off with Alexanderplatz. I did not know for example that when the sun shines on the globe of the Fernsehturm it makes a cross. There was some questioning about the meaning of this cross and the government at the time came up with “It is not a cross but a plus for socialism”.
We then headed down the imposing Karl-Marx-Allee, where Café Moskau can be found. Our next stop was the wall and the East Side Gallery. You can see a few examples of the fantastic frescoes painted by different artists, but I took many more photos… Our guide told us about the recent outrage when a portion of the remaining wall was torn down to allow the construction of a luxury high-rise complex. The boundaries of the Cold War were shown to us on a map scribbled on the pavement with chalk, where the three checkpoints, Alpha, Bravo and Charlie, were also present. We heard the terrible stories of families and friends torn apart when what was to become the wall went up in one night, with everybody having to stay on the side they happen to be on when they woke up. The death strip looks completely innocuous these days but you can still feel the chill while listening to the tales.
We then cycled to Treptower Park, which holds one of the three Soviet War Memorial built in Berlin to commemorate Soviet soldiers who fell in the Battle of Berlin in 1945. The impressive monuments and statues are well worth visiting and the place has a particular atmosphere.
After lunch – during which First Daughter and I finally realised our mistake! – we stopped in front of the Axel Springer building, named after the founder of the company that is now one of the major media groups in Europe.
Our last stop was Checkpoint Charlie, which is now of course only a tourist attraction and a bustling area of the town. Hard to imagine that 50 years ago a young East German called Peter Fechter was left to bleed to death right in front of the wall after being shot in the back trying to escape. One of the members of our group had been through the checkpoint in the 80’s and passed around some photos he had taken back then. As you can imagine, it looked quite different!
As we were leaving Berlin early afternoon on Friday First Daughter and I could not get onto another tour, which we regretted. Definitely next time!
My very approprietaly named bike! Loved the fish too…
The “Plus for Socialism” cross on the Fernsehturm
Cold War Map
Kevin, our guide
Berlin Wall and Cold War Tour:
14 km long
Duration is about 5 hours, including the lunch stop
Cost is 24 Euros for adults, 22 Euros for students and pensioners
To make a reservation is a good idea, especially during the summer