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Savoring a frothy cappuccino, I took in my surroundings — a funky cafe and collective run by drag queens in Prenzlauer Berg. This edgy, singular coffee shop was probably not the type of spot I would have discovered on my own but, thanks to my spontaneous bike tour guide, I had an experience that the average visitor to Berlin might not. We chatted about what it means to be a Berliner in the 25th anniversary year of the fall of the Wall, toured many major tourist sites (including Checkpoint Charlie, Brandenburg Gate, Alexanderplatz and the East Side Gallery), discovered hidden gems and burned a ton of calories — all in a day’s work.
Cycling is the preferred method of transportation among Berliners, and the city goes out of its way to cater to bikers. Its efforts seem to be working, as approximately 500,000 people ride their bikes around Germany’s capital each day.
“With more than 620 miles of cycling lanes, abundant parks to explore and a number of bike tours to choose from, Berlin is ideal for cyclists of all skill levels,” said Christian Tänzler, a spokesperson for VisitBerlin and an avid bike rider.
Berlin Food Tour
When I heard that Fat Tire Bike Tours was offering a brand-new food tour on e-bikes, the glutton in me booked it right away. Since the 4½-hour evening tour is still new, there’s a likelihood that guests could end up with a private tour rather than a full tour of 14 cyclists, which was fortunately the case for my friend and me.
Our tour guide, who happened to be American, got us quickly acclimated to the e-bikes, despite the fact that neither of us had ridden one. The beach cruiser-style bikes change between different speeds and gears with the flip of a switch. Each time we pedaled, the motor turned and gave us a boost, allowing us to cover more ground with minimum effort.
After a quick safety briefing, we cycled to our first course at Restaurant Die Schule in Prenzlauer Berg. Die Schule, which translates to “The School,” occupies the former classrooms of a language school built in 1961 and offers patio seating, excellent for people watching. Locals come here for light meals consisting of contemporary German tapas (yes, there is such a thing) including pork boulette on a bed of mashed peas, mini schnitzel and Berliner currywurst with curry catsup.
Our progressive dinner continued nearby at Rice Queen, a small Vietnamese fusion restaurant. Although Asian cuisine isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when visiting Germany’s capital, there are a number of top-notch Vietnamese restaurants in the east side of Berlin, the residual effect of a skilled workforce who immigrated to Germany in the 1970s.
We couldn’t pass up the opportunity to sample the unusual beverages on the menu, including bamboo, millet seed and lychee liqueurs. While alcohol is not included in the tour price, the cocktails were rather affordable at Rice Queen as well as the other restaurants we visited on the tour.
For our main course, we dined on fish curry with rice, a veggie coconut curry, duck and a variety of dumplings. The food just kept on coming, and it was hard to believe that we still had one more restaurant to visit before the end of the tour.
Turkish food is integral to Berlin’s culinary scene as approximately 170,000 Turkish residents make up the largest minority group in Berlin. So for our final course, we biked approximately four miles to Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg, the hub for the city’s best Turkish restaurants. Our guide suggested Mercan for home-style Turkish food ranging from white bean stew with lamb to stuffed bell peppers. A word of advice to anyone taking this tour: Be sure to come hungry.
Berlin Wall Tour
After an evening of gorging ourselves, my friend and I were ready to turn up the intensity on our next biking tour. We booked a private Berlin Wall Tour with Berlin on Bike and customized the excursion with a visit to the East Side Gallery, a mile-long stretch of the Wall that features more than 100 murals.
The tour operator is located in Prenzlauer Berg’s Kulturbrauerei, a former brewery turned “culture project” with artist studio space, theaters, restaurants and clubs. Our guide Michael, who was also an American, possessed near encyclopedic knowledge of the city’s history. Before we were even on our bikes, we were already learning about daily life in World War II Berlin.
The Berlin Wall Tour, which takes about four hours to complete, takes guests to former border checkpoints, such as the ever-popular Checkpoint Charlie, as well as to the striking open-air Holocaust Memorial designed by Peter Eisenman and Buro Happold. We also spent time cycling around Mauer Park, a former section of the heavily guarded “death strip” that is now an incredibly popular gathering place for locals.
At the Berlin Wall Memorial Museum, we learned the lengths to which East Berliners went in order to escape from the grip of the DDR. Approximately 70 underground tunnels were built in the 28-year history of the Wall, and representations of the tunnels as well as famous photography of East Berliners escaping were on display during our visit. Visitors can also see the last intact portion of the “Anti-Fascist Protection Rampart” and an original guard tower on the museum grounds.
Throughout the excursion, our guide was extremely flexible and sensitive to our needs, whether we wanted to sit down for a rest in front of the Brandenburg Gate or grab a quick sandwich in Alexanderplatz. If anything, the tour felt as if we were exploring the city with a local friend —which just happens to be my favorite way to travel.
Airberlin, Germany’s second-largest airline, will soon offer increased service out of the U.S. Starting in May, flights from New York to Berlin will increase from daily departures to 10 flights weekly. The additional flights from JFK will operate every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday leaving New York at 9:55 p.m. and arriving in Berlin at 11:50 a.m. the following day. In addition, service from Chicago to Berlin will increase from five flights per week to daily service.www.airberlin.com
Berlin on Bikewww. berlinonbike.de/en?
Fat Tire Berlinwww.fattirebiketours.com/berlin