Berlin in detail

Self-guided Tours

Cycling Tour: Berlin Wall

Start S-Bahn Station Bornholmer Brücke

End Oberbaumbrücke

Length 15km; 2.5 hours

This easy ride follows the former course of the Berlin Wall and begins on the Bösebrücke (also known as Bornholmer Brücke) steel bridge. A free outdoor exhibit chronicles the events of 9 November 1989 when the Bornholmer Strasse Border Crossing became the first to open in the city.

Head east on Bornholmer Strasse, turn right on Malmöer Strasse and right again on Behmstrasse. Near the hilltop, cross the street and take the Schwedter Steg footbridge over the railway tracks. Continuing straight takes you to Mauerpark, a hugely popular park built atop the former death strip. A roughly 300m-long section of the inner wall runs along the back of the Friedrich-Ludwig-Jahn-Stadion; it was higher here than usual to deter would-be escapees from among the spectators.

Mauerpark adjoins Bernauer Strasse, home to the Gedenkstätte Berliner Mauer (Berlin Wall Memorial), a 1.4km-long indoor-outdoor exhibit that's the best place in town to understand what the Wall looked liked and how it shaped everyday life. Follow Bernauer Strasse past vestiges of the border installations and escape tunnels, a chapel, a monument and an original section of Wall.

Bernauer Strasse culminates at the S-Bahn station Nordbahnhof, a so-called ‘Ghost Station’, for the Wall also divided the city’s transportation system. Three lines that originated in West Berlin travelled along tracks beneath the eastern sector before returning back on the western side. An exhibit inside the station explains the situation in detail.

From Nordbahnhof, continue west on Invalidenstrasse, then head south on Chausseestrasse. Just past the Spree River looms a former border crossing pavilion nicknamed Tränenpalast (Palace of Tears) because of the many tearful goodbyes suffered here. Stop to check out the free exhibit inside before following the Spree via the Reichstagsufer.

Turn right on Luisenstrasse and left on Adele-Schreiber-Krieger-Strasse to the Parlament der Bäume (Parliament of Trees), a garden-like art installation by Ben Wagin to remember those who died at the Berlin Wall. For another Ben Wagin Wall Installation, carry your bike down the stairs to the Schiffbauerdamm river walk and pedal a short stretch to the Marie-Elisabeth-Lüders-Haus. Lined up in the basement is a row of original Wall segments, each painted with a year and the number of people killed at the border in that year.

Continue on Schiffbauerdamm, turn right on Luisenbrücke and right again on Unter den Linden to get to the Brandenburger Tor (Brandenburg Gate), where construction of the Wall began on 13 August 1961. Past the Brandenburger Tor, turn left on Ebertstrasse and head south to Potsdamer Platz, which used to be a massive no man’s land during the city’s division. The death strip was several hundred metres wide here. Outside the S-Bahn station entrance are a few Berlin Wall segments.

Continue south on Stresemannstrasse, then hook a left on Erna-Berger-Strasse to get to one of the few remaining GDR watchtowers. Guards had to climb up a slim round shaft via an iron ladder to reach the octagonal observation perch on top.

Backtrack and continue south on Stresemannstrasse, then turn left on Niederkirchner Strasse to get to a 200m-long section of the original outer border wall. Badly scarred by souvenir hunters, it’s now protected by a fence.

Keep going east on Niederkirchner Strasse (which becomes Zimmerstrasse) to arrive at Checkpoint Charlie, which took its name from the NATO phonetic alphabet. Continue east on Zimmerstrasse, past a memorial to Peter Fechter, an 18-year-old would-be escapee who, on 17 August 1962, was shot and wounded and then left to bleed to death by East German guards. Turn right on Axel-Springer-Strasse and left on Oranienstrasse, then left again (at Moritzplatz) onto Prinzenstrasse. Just past the intersection with Sebastianstrasse was the Heinrich-Heine-Strasse border crossing, used primarily for mail and merchandise and by West Germans.

Follow Heinrich-Heine-Strasse north, turn right on Köpenicker Strasse, left on Engeldamm, cross the Spree, turn right on Stralauer Strasse and you’ll soon arrive at the East Side Gallery, a 1.3km-long stretch of outer wall painted by artists in 1990. The river itself belonged to East Berlin and border guards patrolled the Spree in boats.

The East Side Gallery terminates near the Oberbaumbrücke, which links Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain and served as a pedestrian border checkpoint. A particularly nasty incident occurred here in 1975 when a five-year-old child fell into the water from the West Berlin side. Since the river was in GDR territory, West Germans would have been shot if they tried to rescue him, while East German border guards refused to do so. The child drowned.