Welcome back to another instalment of Long weekends in Europe. On our last trip we took a look at the Dutch province of Limburg, however today we are hopping over the border into Germany for a long weekend in the nation’s capital city of Berlin.
Capital cities don’t always make for amazing cycling experiences, but Berlin is one that deserves to be explored. It is an eclectic city that serves as a melting pot of German culture and is home to people from around the world, all wanting to taste a piece of what this vibrant city has to offer and to truly call themselves a ‘Berliner’.
Where should I stay?
Like most European capitals, Berlin is broken-up into districts and each one has its own distinct character. For first time visitors, the central district known as Mitte is the ideal tourist destination. The area is home to many of the city’s most famous attractions and is easily navigable by foot or via S-Bahn and U-Bahn.
If you’d like to sample Berlin’s famous techno scene, you’ll want to situate yourself in Friedrichschain as this is where you’ll find the best bars and clubs. The area is known for its young, cool population that will have you partying all night long.
If the club scene isn’t for you, perhaps a stay in the historic district of Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf is more your style. The area is named after the former Queen Charlotte of Prussia and is home to the largest surviving royal palace in Germany.
What is there for families to do?
It would be remiss of a city so teeming with culture not to have some amazing activities to keep the kids occupied. Whether it be the Tiergarten Zoo, jam-packed with more than 10,000 species of animals, or the vast swathes of museums that can be found dotted around Mitte, you won’t be short of fun in Berlin.
In January each year, Berlin plays host to the Six Day – a fast, fun, frenetic track cycling event, hosted in the Berlin Velodrome.
If you’re a football mad family, you’ll want to take a trip just outside of the city to either the Olympiastadion or the Stadion An der Alten Försterei (respective homes to Hertha BSC and Union Berlin). Each stadium is steeped in sporting history and houses a loyal fanbase that are sure to make you feel welcome.
If you have younger children, there is a LEGO Discovery Centre nestled in the Sony Centre on Potsdamer Platz. Inside you’ll be transported into a miniature Berlin as you see all of the greatest sights in brick form. There’s even a wonderful dragon themed ride to get the kids’ pulses racing!
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Berlin is a city of a thousand cultures and its cuisine reflects that. This being said, the most famous delicacy to come out of the city is unmistakably German. The sausage based dish known as Currywurst is the most popular snack in Berlin, the recipe dates back to the late 1940s and involves frying a pork sausage before cutting it into bite-size chunks, dousing it in curry-ketchup and topping it off with some curry powder. The dish is traditionally eaten with bread or fries and is available on almost every street corner in Berlin.
Aside from sausage, Berlin is also the home of the Döner Kebab. The dish was conceived by Turkish immigrants in the 1970s and has been a staple of Berlin life ever since, so much so that there are more kebab shops in Berlin than there are in Istanbul. Unlike in the UK, the German Döner is eaten as a sandwich and is much tastier than your average takeaway grub.
Cycling in Berlin
Like many European cities, cycling has become one of the best modes of transport in Berlin. Avoiding congested city centre roads and busy underground trains, you can glide your way around the city by bike and take in all the sights while you do it. There are plenty of great cycling routes in Berlin, however my favourite route is this short loop around the former Tempelhof Airport that caters for high-speed criterium training and gentle morning rides in equal measure. For a relaxed amble that takes in some of the city’s finest sights, there’s the bank of the River Spree, much of which is lined by shared use paths and dedicated bike lanes. And finally, if you’re a real history buff and want to combine that with some enjoyable off-road adventuring, there’s this gravel ride along the path of the old Berlin Wall. The whole thing is pretty massive at around 160km, but it’s already broken down into more manageable ‘stages’ that could be completed in an afternoon.
Since the bad old days of the 1990s and early 2000s, and homegrown star Jan Ullrich’s spectacular fall from grace, the German public has had a cagey relationship with road bicycle racing. In 2012, German television actually stopped broadcasting the Tour de France because of issues around transparency and clean competition. Despite that, the sport’s popularity is on the rise once more – and there are still a handful of great races that take place each year. The relatively new VeloCity Berlin is a one-day event that includes passages of the Victory Column, Reichstag and East-Side gallery as it carves its way through both east and west Berlin. The event is still some way from being a WorldTour race but is showing promising signs of growth each season.
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When should I visit Berlin?
There isn’t really a bad time to visit Berlin. In the summer the plethora of beer gardens open their doors for thirsty passers by to quench themselves with locally brewed beer and radlers (of which Berlin is renowned for). The River Spree also houses boat tours that are best enjoyed in the afternoon sun.
Meanwhile, in the colder months the city often becomes a snowy wonderland that contains plenty of traditional German markets. Berlin is further east than many think, so make sure to wrap up warm if visiting outside of summer.
The fastest way to get to the German capital from the UK is to fly, however like most things in Berlin it hasn’t been plain sailing in the mission of making air travel there easy. Construction of the new Berlin Brandenburg airport (found on the site of the old Schönefeld airport) began in 2006 and was scheduled to be completed by 2011, however, continuous delays meant the work wasn’t finished until 2020. Thankfully, the project is now complete, and Berlin has an airport for the modern age once more. Flights to the city take around two hours from London and are regularly available at great prices.
Once in the city, train prices are cheap, and the network is expansive. A single journey costs as little as three euros and tickets can be purchased with ease via the ‘BVG’ train network app.
This really is just a snippet of everything Berlin has in store for you and will almost certainly require more than one visit to truly appreciate it’s rugged charm. Before you set off, make sure you’ve taken out cycle travel insurance which covers emergency medical expenses, trip cancellation, trip abandonment, repatriation and a whole host of other benefits. If you need any help, please give us a call on 0333 003 0046